The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives is proposing to change how suppressors are marked, leaving trade groups and manufacturers puzzled.
The ATF published the ATF 29p Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on May 4 seeking comments on amending the regulations that currently require firearm suppressor and muffler manufacturers, importers, and makers to place identification markings just on the device’s outer tube.
Since the National Firearms Act was adopted in 1934, suppressors and silencers in the U.S. have had a mandate to be serial numbered. In 2002, very specific guidelines were instituted requiring the serial, model, caliber, maker’s name and location be the engraved, cast, or stamped to a minimum depth of .003 inch and in a print size no smaller than 1/16 inch.
However, just where this marking is applied is now at issue.
In 2008, the ATF agreed with a petition from the National Firearms Act Trade and Collectors Association that the best practice for the industry was to mark the outer tube of a suppressor.
Now, eight years later, a number of suppressors are on the market that do not have a traditional outer tube and NFATCA has withdrawn their petition, saying, “ATF’s waiting 8 years to address those concerns is neither helpful nor responsive. The current market, products, techniques and best practices bears little resemblance to the past. The concerns expressed in 2008 are not applicable to today.”
The proposed rulemaking could result in requirements for more markings in more locations, which some in the industry feel is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.
“As long as the information is in a conspicuous location on the exterior of the suppressor there should be no problems with identification or tracing,” Chris Graham, co-founder of Yankee Hill Machine, a Massachusetts based gun maker and suppressor manufacturer, told Guns.com.
“Handguns and long guns are only required to be marked in a conspicuous location on the exterior of the firearm,” pointed out Graham. “On those types of firearms you are even given the option to mark different information on different parts of the firearm. For example, you may mark the caliber of the firearm on the barrel. Silencers should be under the same guidelines.”
Graham notes the biggest problem he sees with how the current ATF proposal is worded is for suppressors that do not utilize an outer tube. Another issue is that with the recent surge of multi-caliber, configurable suppressors it may be desirable to mark the endcaps with the caliber in order to provide a visual indication of the current configuration of the suppressor.
Trade groups for the industry feel the impetus for the increased regulation is murky.
“From our perspective, we don’t really understand where it came from. Seems like it came out of left field,” American Suppressor Association President Knox Williams told Guns.com last week at the Knob Creek gun range, as shown in the above video. “Our question is: what is this really trying to solve? What problem– legitimate problem– are they looking to address and we don’t know the answer to that.”
Williams pointed to a new generation of sound moderators that lack what would traditionally be termed an outer tube such as the SilencerCo Salvo and devices made by Sig Sauer. With a growing movement to deregulate suppressors from NFA registration, the timing of the proposal is peculiar.
“It seems to us that it is just an attempt by the ATF to just kind of heckle the industry in any way that they can,” he said.
Comments are open for the proposal and must be submitted on or before August 2, 2016.