The ATF warned Texas firearm dealers in an open letter that federal law continues to supersede House Bill (HB) 957.
“HB 957 claims to exempt silencers (also known as suppressors) that are manufactured in Texas, and which remain in Texas, from Federal firearms laws and regulations, including the federal registration requirements. However, because HB957 directly conflicts with federal firearms laws and regulations, federal law supersedes HB957,” wrote Alphonso Hughes, ATF assistant director of Enforcement Programs and Services.
“These federal requirements apply regardless of whether the NFA firearm/silencer has crossed state lines.”
“NFA” refers to the National Firearms Act, a 1934 law passed in response to gangland shootouts like the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. It requires suppressors to undergo a months-long ATF registration process. Buying a suppressor also requires a $200 transfer fee.
Federal law also requires dealers to pay a special occupational tax to sell NFA firearms and silencers.
Other NFA firearms include machine guns as well as shotguns and rifles with barrels under 18 inches long.
HB 957, set to take effect September 1, would forbid Texas government bodies from enforcing federal laws on suppressors that are made in Texas. Currently, it is a third-degree felony in Texas to own a suppressor that runs afoul of federal regulation.
Anticipating a legal challenge, the bill sets up a process for Texas to skirt federal law through the courts.
First, a private citizen looking to manufacture Texas-made suppressors must first tell the state attorney general. Then, the attorney general would seek a declaratory judgment from a federal court that HB 957 complies with the U.S. Constitution.
So far, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has not weighed in on the bill’s constitutionality.
Congress has flirted with removing suppressors from the NFA before. In 2017, a congressional bill to remove silencers from the NFA died in committee. Removing silencers from the NFA would have made the purchasing process subject only to the regular rules for buying a normal firearm. In other words, the registration and $200 tax would no longer be required.
Dubbed “The Hearing Protection Act,” the congressional bill followed the same motive as HB 957. State Rep. Tom Oliverson (R-Cypress), a physician, said suppressors can safely allow hunters to forego earmuffs.
In a number of European countries, suppressors are treated with the same legal leeway afforded to other accessories, like scopes.
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