Time is your only major expense
Looking to buy a firearm “suppressor” or “silencer” in South Carolina? Learn from my experience. They’re legal to own and easy to obtain! Time is the only major expense.
This advice applies primarily to South Carolina residents who will buy a silencer for their own personal use. There are some important differences if you create an NFA gun trust.
Pick your manufacturer & retailer
You’ll find any number of suppressors made by any number of companies. Innovative Arms, for example, resides near the capital city of Columbia. They make various suppressors for various applications, both integral or detachable, from small handguns all the way up to sniper rifles. They also do laser engraving and other custom work.
Tax stamp paperwork can take 5-8 months to process for South Carolina residents.
Next you’ll need to find an NFA-licensed dealer. If you choose to keep your entire transaction inside South Carolina — say, you decide to buy an Innovative Arms product — then I suggest you contact Innovative Arms for info on where you can buy their products. You might want to buy from them directly, or perhaps you might want to buy from an NFA-licensed dealer local to you. It’s always your choice.
Pick your suppressor model & caliber
Here’s where it pays to do a little research up front. Manufacturers make a different product for each major caliber in order to optimize its suppression — but with the right thread adapters, you can adequately suppress, say, a 9mm pistol with a .45ACP can, or a 5.56 rifle with a 7.62 can.
If your “POU” (philosophy of use) allows for it, you might buy one suppressor for multiple calibers of handguns & rifles if you pick the right model. Seek advice from your NFA-licensed dealer.
Learn from my previous lack of knowledge
My POU doesn’t allow for a larger-caliber can on my 22LR firearms. I went with the Innovative Arms “Apex” .2x caliber model.
My only real decision was if I’d buy the lightweight aluminum model or the heavier stainless steel model (sold as the “Apex-S”). The aluminum model is rated only for 22LR-L-S, whereas the stainless model is also rated for .223, 5.56, .22-250, .224, 5.7x28mm, .22 magnum, .17 HMR, .204 Ruger, K22 Hornet, .220 Swift, and so on.
I could easily afford the extra price of the stainless model … but I didn’t want the extra weight at the end of my .22LR rifles. Yes, I do plan to buy a 5.7x28mm bullpup and I might splurge on a .223 target rifle … but they both shoot supersonic rounds. Oh, sure, I could reload .223 to subsonic specs, but why? I already shoot match-grade subsonic .22LR. Again, my decision rested entirely on weight—
BATFE will immediately cash your $200 check, thus proving they got your paperwork.
—and then I took my rifles to Innovative Arms for threading. They asked “what barrel length do you want to end up with?” A 16-17″ barrel works best for subsonic rounds like the ones I use. After some debate, I settled on 16.5″ to “generously satisfy” NFA1934 requirements for a long gun.
One of my barrels lost a whopping 5.5″ of steel. This weight loss more than justified the Apex-S stainless model. On the other hand, my S&W 22A-1 doesn’t handle well with so much stainless steel beyond the muzzle.
I made the right purchase for my POU, but not for all the right reasons.
I didn’t make the same mistake when I considered my next purchase: a centerfire rifle suppressor. And I won’t go in blind if/when I ever decide on a pistol suppressor.
Buy two passport photos; don’t do it yourself
You must include two passport-grade photos with your BATFE paperwork. Visit a local Walmart, Walgreens, Rite-Aid, or wherever else they do real passport photos. Two photos run anywhere from $7 to $10.
Good luck if you decide to take & print the photo on your own just to save a ten-spot. I mean, you’re gonna blow hundreds on the suppressor, plus two Benjies on a tax stamp — what’s the point of cutting corners on a photo?
Fill out your paperwork at the store
You can’t take home a suppressor the day you buy it. You need to acquire a tax stamp, which can take 5-7 months for South Carolina residents. Yet you must actually buy the suppressor so you can file paperwork based on the serial number of the device. Your suppressor will sit in the store’s safe until the tax stamp comes in.
Your NFA-licensed dealer will give you all the BATFE paperwork & fingerprint cards. They’ll gladly answer any questions you may have.
Your NFA-licensed dealer must fill out some of the paperwork for you. They’ll write down the product, the serial number, the date of sale, the length of the suppressor, and so on. Then it’s your turn to fill out paperwork. Your NFA-licensed dealer will want you to do it in your handwriting, not theirs.
Fill out the paperwork at the store, or maybe do it in your car. This way you can ask questions — or you can start over with a new form if you make a mistake.
Take special care to fill out absolutely as much as you can for each of the fingerprint cards you received with your paperwork.
Get your fingerprints and your sheriff’s signature at the same time
Now you can visit your local sheriff for two things. First, he/she must sign your paperwork verifying you as an upright citizen. Second, a deputy can fingerprint you as part of the paperwork.
If you live in Sumter County, you can drop off your paperwork and get your fingerprints done on weekdays from 9am-1pm and 2pm-4pm. Call the sheriff’s office in advance so they know to expect you. The sheriff’s secretary will call back when your paperwork is ready for pickup.
(Contrary to any rumors you may hear, Sumter County’s incumbent sheriff will sign this paperwork for law-abiding citizens.)
The Sumter County sheriff’s office charges a fee for fingerprinting. Your NFA-licensed dealer may (or may not) know where you can get them done for free.
Make sure the sheriff wrote “Sheriff” after their signature.
Bring a large envelope to protect your fingerprint cards. Don’t include your fingerprint cards with the paperwork the sheriff must sign.
Important! Check the paperwork before you leave to make sure he/she wrote “Sheriff” after their signature.
Return the paperwork to your NFA-licensed dealer
Okay! You’ve got two fingerprint cards, each properly signed by the deputy who did your fingerprinting. You’ve got two application forms, each properly signed by the sheriff saying you’re worthy to own a suppressor. You’ve got two passport photos, each properly attached to an application. You’ve got one check for $200 written out to “B.A.T.F.E.”
You can now take everything back to your NFA-licensed dealer. They’ll carefully inspect it for errors.
When the person behind the counter says “you’re good to go,” you need to back it up with one last question. “Does ‘I’m good to go’ mean the ball is now entirely in your court?” The answer should be “yes.” The NFA-licensed dealer will submit everything to BATFE.
Now you wait. And wait. And wait. And wait…
BATFE will immediately cash your $200 check, thus proving they got your paperwork.
Never, never, NEVER contact BATFE directly.
The store will someday receive your tax stamp. They’ll someday call you with good news.
If you’re like everyone else, you’ll visit your NFA-licensed dealer roughly once a month to see where you stand in the BATFE paperwork process. “We just received packages filed (X) months ago, so you’ve probably got another (Y) months before yours comes in…”
If you’re like me, you’ll say “I hope you realize I never called you to ask about this paperwork. I left you the hell alone for more than a half-year.” He/she will thank you for it.
Each time you visit the NFA-licensed dealer, ask if they’ve got a sale on ammunition. Hey, you never know.
Did BATFE find an error in your paperwork?
The NFA-licensed dealer may someday call you with not-so-great news. “They found an error on your paperwork.” You’ll need to return to the store to fix the problem. Once it’s fixed, they’ll resubmit it to BATFE for processing.
Errors can add anywhere from 2-4 weeks to the processing time. The reason has to do with BATFE’s knack for bundling paperwork. If they know your NFA-licensed dealer has a few packages right behind yours, they’ll probably set yours aside until the envelope fills up. The bureaucracy can hold your paperwork up to 30 days before they must send it out.
Never, never, NEVER contact BATFE directly
Leave BATFE alone. Your NFA-licensed dealer may tell you horror stories about customers who dared to annoy the paper-pushing bureaucrats.
Learn how to avoid a bogus hidden charge known as a “transfer fee.”
Remember: your suppressor takes up space in a safe. Your NFA-licensed dealer wants you to have it. They’re working in your best interests to give it to you as soon as possible. Let them deal with the bureaucracy.
A bogus hidden charge?
Let’s say you buy a suppressor right out of a display case. It’s obviously in stock, not a custom order. The NFA-licensed dealer may still whack you with a bogus hidden charge: a final “transfer fee.”
Basically, the store wants to recoup (a) their paperwork efforts and (b) 5-8 months of storage time. They don’t want to include these fees up front in the cost of the suppressor. So they tack it on at the end when you’re itching to go home with your new toy.
You can skirt this fee by asking for a coupon that waives any final undocumented fees. If they say “we don’t charge any hidden fees,” you can say “great, then you won’t mind giving me a coupon for it.” Make that coupon the sweetener that seals the deal.