Ask Foghorn: Legal Considerations for Traveling with a Silencer?

Harold asks:

What are legalities of/procedures for traveling with an NFA device? What, if any, notifications to the ATF or local LE do you need to make if you are traveling with a can? I’ve heard mixed stories of guys having to tell their local ATF Offices that they are traveling with an SBR or a can but others say that’s not needed. What’s the deal?

Here’s the caveat: I AM NOT A LAWYER and this is not legal advice. However, I will happily impart to you the sum total of my understanding of the situation based on my own travels with cans and conversations with industry experts . . .

In general, when items registered under the National Firearms Act cross state lines the ATF needs to be notified. There’s a quick and easy form that needs to be submitted to the ATF called the 5320.20 or “Application to Transport Interstate or Temporarily Export Certain NFA Items.” Click here to get the form. This usually takes about a week to get back from the ATF. The form requires an address for the destination as well as the means used for transportation.

The good news is that for people who frequently cross state lines with NFA items, you can specify a date range for the travel. One of my friends who lives in VA but uses a range in West Virginia put the range address as the destination and used a one year date range. It was duly approved by the ATF. So now for the next year he’s clear to go to and from WVa as he pleases.

There’s one exception to this rule: you don’t need to bother with the paperwork for interstate travel for silencers.

Silencer owners aren’t required to fill out the paperwork for crossing state lines with cans. The only time you would fill out one of these forms is if you are moving permanently (in which case you’d check “NO” on “Firearm to be returned to the original location” question), but even then there’s some question about whether that is necessary. I still did it when I moved just to be on the safe side. So while the rules apply for machine guns and SBRs, not a soul needs to know that there’s a silencer in your gun case.

For air travel, you still need to declare the silencer as a firearm even if you’re not actually traveling with any guns. The silencer is legally considered a firearm and you can’t take it into the secured areas of an airport. So it needs a locked, hard sided case and a firearms declaration tag from the check-in counter. Same process as checking any other firearm, except you get to laugh when they ask “is it loaded?”

The only difference really between traveling with a silencer in your bag and any other firearm is that you have to be aware of which states are NFA friendly. Sure, the Firearm Owners Protection Act helps a little bit with being able to pass directly through unfriendly states if you’re going somewhere better (in theory), but I still avoid them if at all possible when I have my can in the bag.

Happy travels!

[Email your firearms-related questions to “Ask Foghorn” via guntruth@me.com. Click here to browse previous posts]

comments

  1. avatar Matt in FL says:

    Just when you think you know everything…

    Thanks, Nick! I did not realize that the rule didn’t apply to silencers. Of course, I don’t own one (yet), but it’s good to know for the future.

  2. avatar Greg Camp says:

    Borodin: I will get a pickup truck, or maybe a recreational vehicle, and travel state to state. Do they let you do that?

    Ramius: Oh, yes.

    Borodin: No papers?

    Ramius: State to state, no papers.

    Which country are we living in, again?

    1. avatar Brian says:

      + 10 bonus points

    2. avatar Sean says:

      Today, sir, you win the internet.

    3. avatar twency says:

      There could be no more appropriate quote to accompany this post. None.

  3. avatar Hal says:

    Much obliged for answering my question Nick. Safe travels.

  4. avatar Rich says:

    So if a suppressor is a firearm, what does that make my bow and arrows? In Ontario hunting regulations a bow and arrow are called a firearm. They however are not treated as such when crossing the border from the US. At least not yet.

    1. avatar Kory says:

      In Sioux Falls, SD it would be considered a missile.

      “As used in section 26-53, “missile” means any object thrown or projected, or intended to be thrown or projected, including, without limitation thereto, class C (common) fireworks, as defined in SDCL 34-37-1(1).”

    2. avatar Matt in FL says:

      In my 120-second look at the Florida Statutes, the only place I can find mention of bow and arrow is in the hunting statutes, where in the definitions sections it says:

      “Firearm” means a weapon capable of firing a missile, including a pistol, rifle, or shotgun using an explosive charge as a propellant; a spearfish gun; a crossbow; or a bow and arrow.

      Silencers are firearms because they have been defined as such by statute, because you have to draw the line somewhere, and it was decided that silencers fall inside the circle. It’s the same reason that a stripped lower receiver is a firearm… because they said so.

      “Firearm” means any weapon (including a starter gun) which will, is designed to, or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive; the frame or receiver of any such weapon; any firearm muffler or firearm silencer; any destructive device; or any machine gun. Fla. Stat. § 790.001 (6)

  5. avatar sasquatch says:

    sorry to revive an old discussion, but do you have a statutory reference or ATF opinion letter regarding the silencer exception? thanks in advance

    1. avatar Stepcof says:

      Amen Sasquatch, I’d like to know too. You can’t be too carful these days. Anyone out there with an answer?

  6. avatar cristine reyes says:

    my business partner needed to fill out ATF 5320.20 some time ago and came across an online platform that has a lot of fillable forms . If people need ATF 5320.20 as well , here’s a http://goo.gl/6rs5VS.

  7. Some really interesting information, well written and broadly speaking user
    genial.

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