The National Firearms Act (NFA) is the primary federal law governing suppressors. Passed in 1934 in response to mob violence like the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, it requires a months-long registration process and a $200 tax stamp to buy a suppressor. Licensed dealers also have to pay a special tax to sell NFA firearms and accessories.
House Bill (HB) 957 declares that gun suppressors made in Texas are not subject to this process. The law forbids state and local government authorities from enforcing federal regulations on these Texas-made suppressors and threatens to withhold funds from any government authority that does.
However, HB 957 begins with an important first step. A Texan citizen must tell Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in writing that he or she intends to manufacture a Texas-made suppressor free of federal regulation. Then, the attorney general “shall” seek a declaratory judgment from a federal district court that HB 957 complies with the U.S. Constitution.
Until a citizen takes that step and the attorney general complies, the new law lacks teeth.
HB 957 tasks Paxton with setting the law in motion for a reason. After Kansas passed a similar law in 2014 attempting to exempt Kansas-made suppressors from federal regulation, one Kansas citizen sold an unregistered silencer to another. Both ended up with federal convictions which the Supreme Court left in place when it declined to hear their case in 2019. By charging Paxton with the responsibility to first seek a judgment that the law is constitutional, the bill avoids repeating this scenario in Texas.
Even though at least one hopeful manufacturer has notified him, Paxton’s office has neither indicated publicly nor confirmed to The Texan that the attorney general has sought a judgment in court yet.
Furthermore, despite this safeguard, most of the few suppressor companies in Texas are doubtful that HB 957 will ultimately let Texans buy suppressors without federal oversight, even if Paxton follows the procedure. In fact, the mere threat of federal action has deterred some Texas companies from even reaching out to Paxton.
Seth DiSarro of the Texas Silencer Company, the state’s largest suppressor manufacturer, said his company has not written to the attorney general.
“We’re subject to the regulations of the ATF regarding that license, and they’ve made it clear that if we sell a silencer, transfer a silencer without all the proper paperwork, we will lose our license. So, regardless of how we feel about the law, we are beholden to the ATF to stay within their rules to maintain our license,” DiSarro said.
After the legislature passed HB 957, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) warned Texas firearm dealers not to expect any changes. Even if a Texan makes and sells a suppressor entirely within state lines, the ATF said it will still enforce federal requirements for the transaction.
DiSarro further floated the possibility that reaching out to Paxton in accordance with HB 957 might alone be enough to raise eyebrows at the ATF.
“You could possibly just catch the attention of somebody in the ATF who would see that as intent to sell the silencers without doing the paperwork. But I couldn’t answer that question. It’s not something that they’ve told us,” Disarro said.
“I think that likely the best route for that would be an individual contacting the attorney general rather than a federal firearms license holder.”
The head of another Texas suppressor company echoed DiSarro’s pessimism, even arguing that the law has hurt the industry, but said he has sent a letter to Paxton.
“We have submitted our letter to the [attorney general]. However, suppressors are governed by federal law, not state law. The only way we see this getting any traction is if the state issued licenses, which they didn’t. Either that or the federal judge would have to impose jail time on ATF agents that violated the state law,” Torrent Suppressors CEO Trey Trosclair wrote.
“In either of these cases, the ATF would just revoke the [license] of any participant, making it then illegal to do business outside the state. Either way, it’s basically a no-win situation. The paper the law was written on was far more valuable when it was blank. All this law has served to do at this point is to hurt Texas manufacturers because locals aren’t buying suppressors because they think this will pass and they are waiting and nothing is going to change.”
A spokesman from the Dark Horse suppressor company, based in Santa Anna, said he did not submit a notice of intent since he did not want to attempt to change federal law through litigation.
“I didn’t really see how you could do it without taking unnecessary risk,” he said.
“I don’t think the right way to change laws is going through the courts. Which — I think the intent of this is to spur a federal court case. Well, somebody’s going to have to be that court case, and I sure don’t want it to be us.”
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