Law governing firearm silencers causing confusion

Matthew Lane • Updated Jul 31, 2017 at 9:33 AM

KINGSPORT — The Tennessee Hearing Protection Act went into effect July 1, thus clearing the way — at least on the state level — for residents to use silencers legally on their pistols and rifles.

However, anyone looking to purchase a silencer in the state of Tennessee still has to follow federal guidelines. And therein lies the problem, said Sally Simpson, the owner of the Gun Rack in Kingsport.

“The people in Nashville signed the paperwork, and people think you can now come in and buy your silencer by just doing a gun check,” Simpson said. “But silencers are regulated by the federal government, so they overrule the state government.”

A silencer, otherwise known as a sound suppressor, is a metal device attached to or part of the barrel of a pistol or rifle which reduces the amount of noise and muzzle flash generated by the firing of the weapon.

Supporters of the act say silencers are useful to protect the hearing of the person firing the weapon or others in the vicinity and can be helpful to hunters in the woods.

If you wish to purchase a silencer, you must go to a licensed firearm dealer, fill out an application and send $200 to the ATF, which then does a background check on the buyer, Simpson said, noting that some folks are waiting up to a year to hear back from the federal agency.

“I’m not sure why the ATF is dragging their feet. They tell me they can only do two checks a day,” Simpson said.

Michael P. Knight, special agent and public information officer with the Nashville field office of the ATF, said the issue simply comes down to resources.

“It is taking several months (to do the background checks). Our staff is working day in and day out processing the applications, but it is very time-consuming,” Knight said.

Although Tennessee does not define a silencer as a firearm under state law, silencers are still considered firearms under the federal Gun Control Act of 1968. The National Firearms Act also governs silencers.

There are times when state law and federal law do not run parallel, leaving consumers with the responsibility of figuring out which way to go. Depending on the state and what criminal charges are against you, Knight said, a person could be denied a concealed carry permit, but still be allowed to purchase a firearm.

“We’re in the process of putting together an information bulletin to send out to the media because it is an area that is causing some confusion,” Knight said.

But this begs the question of why did state legislators pass the THPA to begin with? Simpson believes it was done to make the legislators look like they’re doing a good job.

State Sen. Steve Southerland, a co-sponsor of the bill, did not comment on why the legislature approved the act, but forwarded the Times-News’ request to state Rep. Tilman Goins, the other sponsor of the bill. Goins did not respond.

Knight said the act was not passed to add confusion to the purchasing of silencers.

“Part of it is when senators and representatives talk with their constituents, they’d like to see this passed,” Knight said. “They also realize it’s contradictory of federal law, but they still want it passed because it shows support for that particular issue or topic.”

More than a dozen people call or come into her store every day asking to purchase a silencer, and every time Simpson has to explain the process and the necessity of going through the ATF. She would prefer the sale of silencers follow the same laws as firearms and not take six to 12 months for approval.

“If you can legally take a firearm, why is it a problem to take a suppressor with you?” Simpson asked. “It’s nothing but a paperweight unless you have a firearm.”

Recommended for You

    Kingsport Times News Videos