If you want to buy a gun "silencer" or noise suppressor this Christmas, sorry: You might already be too late.
But a lengthy wait time is possible for nearly any item controlled by the National Firearms Act, a 1930s attempt at gun control that initially governed firearms, such as short-barrel shotguns and machine guns.
Websites that track wait times for approval of owner registration for National Firearms Act or NFA-controlled devices show waits of just over 60 days to nearly one year.
Sometimes called "silencers," suppressors are attached to the barrels of guns to muffle or lower the sounds of gunfire. They do not actually silence the gun, whose report is still very audible.
Suppressors became legal in Ohio in March. Proponents say they use them for hearing protection and improved accuracy, as the devices can help control weapon recoil.
The soup can-sized suppressors are legal in 41 states.
'Still not fast'
Knox Williams, executive director of the American Suppressor Association, an industry advocacy voice, says wait times are improving but still take too long. About 12 to 18 months ago, it took perhaps 10 to 14 months to get registrations approved.
"It's still not fast," Williams said. "It still takes way too long in our opinion. But they have been getting better."
Five years ago, there was perhaps only a 30-day turnaround for new purchases of gun noise suppressors.
But the devices are legal today in more states and are more popular than ever, particularly with hunters, Williams and others say
Joe Eaton, a spokesman for the Buckeye Firearms Association, said his organization's focus is state not federal laws.
Still, he added, "Does it take months and months to do background checks for regular government employees and other similar areas?"
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) reports that suppressor registrations are growing yearly.
According to the 2014 ATF report "Firearms Commerce in the United States Annual Statistical Update," the number of forms for devices requiring processing under the NFA jumped to 1,085,749 in 2013 from 719,262 in 2010. There are also currently 571,750 suppressors registered in the United States.
In the AFT's 2015 report, there were 792,282 suppressors registered in the U.S. — a jump of 220,532 suppressors, an almost 39 percent increase — with the total number of NFA form registrations put at 1,370,344 in 2014.
A chart on the ATF website shows wait times between one month and six months for NFA-controlled items. Non-government websites, though, show longer times.
ATF spokesman Corey Ray said the number of applications to be reviewed has steadily risen. More than 1.3 million weapons were processed in 2014, he said.
In response, he said the ATF is adding staff and overtime opportunities for workers, as well as contractors. The bureau also created a call center.
"These changes also helped ATF — for the first time in years — process more applications in a year than received," Ray said in an email.
John Thyne, owner of Peabody gun shop in Centerville, says there is no question that suppressors are popular, which gives federal regulators more applications to review.
Thyne sees wait times of three to four months — or longer. He indicated an application filed March 19 that was finally approved, or"stamped off" on Aug. 5 — nearly five months.
Even forms regulating dealer-to-dealer transactions take six weeks. He believes such transactions should take just one to two weeks for approval.
But like other dealers, Thyne readily remembers when approval took closer to a year.
"I don't really think it's affecting our business," he said. "Most people involved in NFA (regulated items) understand there's a time wait. In some cases, people are surprised when we tell them it's only going to be … four months."
Items requiring registration under the National Firearms Act (NFA) include short-barrelled rifles and short-barrelled guns, as well as "destructive devices" and "machine guns." (Civilian ownership of new machine guns was banned in 1986. Civilian trade continues in machine guns made before 1986, although there are exceptions for Class III dealers with law enforcement permission.)
The legal hurdles for buying a silencer are well known among gun enthusiasts. A Utah-based manufacturer of silencers, Silencer Co., even created a company to help navigate those hurdles, EasyTrust.
For a $130 fee, the company says EasyTrust will provide legal counsel to help customers meet regulatory requirements of buying a silencer, CNNMoney reported in February.
Jennifer Thorne, Columbus-area-based executive director with the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, doesn't think anyone should be in a hurry to buy gun suppressors. And buying one should not be easy, she said.
"Our issue with gun silencers is that they disguise the fact the gun is going off," Thorne said. "They can easily make dangerous and or illegal activities easier."
She acknowledges that hunters increasingly want the devices, but she says she wonders why. "I'm curious as to why the ads for them (suppressors) always show gun men in military-style garb."
"I think it's good that gun silencers are heavily regulated," she added.
Simply because a prospective buyer passes a background check at purchase doesn't guarantee that he or she is "always going to have that good intent with that weapon or silencer," she said. "Background checks are one of the most effective ways we can reduce things like gun violence."
David Becker, owner of The Miami Armory, agrees that wait time is improving, although it's still long. He said part of the wait depends on how customers file paperwork, however. His gun shop is classified as a Class III dealer, so it can take care of the $200 tax stamp itself.
Generally, customers are looking at a three- to four-month backlog for NFA devices of most sorts, Becker said. That's after the purchase.
Becker said he has come to accept the delays as "part of my business."
"It's much better," he said. "Quite honestly, a year and a half ago, it was not unusual to see it (wait times) pushed out nine months."
Williams, with the American Suppressor Association, said an earlier attempt at electronic filing "crashed" but is being brought back online.
"It takes a warm body, not a computer, to go through" the documentation, Becker said.
He believes the delay could even be seen as beneficial to the extent that it sometimes creates "foot traffic" in gun shops as customers wait for their new devices.
By Thomas Gnau - Dayton Daily News, Ohio (TNS)
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