The short answer for your first silencer…a year ago.
The long answer is that a silencer takes about a year to clear ATF paperwork and if you wanted it before that time, it takes a very understanding gun dealer to work with you. The process is pretty straight forward these days with the indivual purchasing the silencer from the dealer, then the dealer prepares the ATF Form 4 paperwork for the purchaser, who will in turn, will also have to do some steps to the forms before submitting them to the ATF NFA branch for processing.
You see, gun silencer purchases are regulated by the NFA branch of the ATF. The National Firearms Act branch regulates many specialty firearms such as machine-guns and sawed off shotguns. This list even includes the silencer as well even though it is treated as a firearm yet is in no way able to act as a firearm at all… But I digress…
A silencer that is purchased by an individual will need to be taxed before the individual can legally posses it. You see, it is really about the money and not about regulating the silencer. As long as the tax is paid, the ATF really doesnt care about the suppressor, only that it is possessed by the person who paid the tax on it. That is all… It is kinda strange when you submit your paperwork in that you would think that it shouldn’t take very long to do a back ground check and then put your name in the registry by your serial number and be done with it, but it isnt that simple. It seems that the office where the paperwork is done is staffed with between 10 and 20 people usually and the number of forms submitted is well north of 1/2 million annually. This means that each person is processing thousands of applications each year and each one of the applications has several steps that must be done internally.
On top of all that , there is the 200$ tax associated with the transfer and this tax is due on every silencer that is submitted. Additionally, the tax is due every time the silencer changes ownership too, so if you sell it to your neighbor, that same suppressor you paid 200$ to register in your name, will now be taxed at 200$ again to be registered in the neighbor’s name. Every time it changes ownership, it is taxed. Now dealers have special rules associated with them doing business, but if it is on a Form 4 and it goes to a dealer, it is a taxed transfer to goto the dealer! The only action that is not taxed, is the destruction of the item, they do not tax this action for some reason. So if you get tired of owning a silencer and want rid of it but nobody will buy it or even take it, even for the tax owed on the transfer, then you can legally destroy the silencer and let the ATF know that is has been destroyed and they will make it destroyed in the NFRTR and you are good to go…as long as you actually destroyed it.
Now with all this out of the way, there are times of the year when it is good to get your silencer depending on what you plan to do with it. Summertime is good if you want to get it in time for the spring competition season, the silencer should clear ATF by then and you are good to go. If you want it by hunting season, then no later than December or January would be my target window so you will have it by opening day. If you want some time to work up handholds to use with your new silencer before hunting season starts then you will probably want to submit forms in July, this should get it out of transfer in the May or June time frame, giving you time to develop your load before you need it in hunting season.
Basically the best time to get your silencer is one year ago, but if that isnt possible, then right now is the next best time followed by the suggestions above for when you plan to use it, pretty much plan for a year to get everything cleared and in your possession. Sometimes this isnt even enough time, but that seems to be the exception and not the rule lately. If the e-Forms system ever gets going like it should, these time will be dramatically reduced, we can only hope…
Until next time, keep your powder dry.