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Silencers & Short Barrels for Home Defense



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Using NFA Items to Protect You and Yours 

Passionate arguments about what’s ideal for home defense have been going on since the cavemen Grogg and Ogg had both rocks and clubs. This article isn’t about the standard “pistols versus rifles versus shotguns” debate, but instead about the use of federally regulated National Firearms Act (NFA) items like short-barreled rifles, silencers, and machine guns. 

The old easy button in terms of a handy and short weapon in a rifle caliber was a braced “pistol.” However, as they were reclassified earlier this year, that’s no longer a legal option. Still, due to the fee-free amnesty period in early 2023, there are a ton more people with registered SBRs now than this time last year. This has led to a number of questions about the use of these and other NFA items for home defense. 

For a great many, the answer to NFA will be a simple “no way” — but there are some important pro/con considerations worth contemplating. As always and as usual, local laws apply and your-mileage-may-vary. 

SILENCERS: DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD 

The main reason to use a silencer on most guns is to reduce the sound signature. Using short barrels, especially in rifle calibers, can be extremely loud — doubly so when indoors like in a home-defense scenario. While “movie quiet” levels of suppression don’t exist outside of a small handful of cartridges, quite often it can be the difference between your ears ringing for days and simply being a little uncomfortable.  

Reducing that muzzle report also makes it easier to communicate with family members and 911 dispatchers. However, this auditory reduction may also mean that your neighbors won’t be notified in the event you have to open fire.

If you’re in the midst of a home invasion, you want the authorities to respond right away. And while people have neighbors at different distances and we all have differing relationships with those who live nearby, chances are if they hear a string of fire in the middle of the night one of them will call the police. 

 THEFT: THE #1 THREAT 

Unless you’re involved with the illicit narcotics trade and living in a trap house, or your place is home to an underground gambling ring, the number-one threat won’t be armed men breaking in raid-style, but instead theft — people breaking in when you aren’t home and burgling your stuff. When we talk about home-defense firearms, there’s a balance to be struck; you want the firearm to stay safe from tiny hands and sticky fingers while still being easy to access.

In terms of storage and security, there are many effective options (see CONCEALMENT Issue 27), but you have to find the one that works best for your home, weapon, and situation. Very often, you’ll store a home-defense weapon differently from the others that reside in the safe between range trips. Take note that there are some locales and situations where secure storage of firearms is also a legal requirement. 

While we certainly know people without children who leave their defensive weapons in the open, having NFA items unlocked and unattended is just double-extra asking for trouble. Though the base NFA items don’t always cost more than their unregulated brethren, the additional cost of a $200 tax stamp, plus paperwork, plus fingerprints, plus a wait time measured in months means replacement can be an extreme hassle, at best.  

While state and local laws can vary greatly with respect to reporting stolen firearms, any theft of NFA items must be reported to both the BATFE and municipal law enforcement within 48 hours of discovery. It’s best practice to officially report any sort of firearms theft to both catch criminals as well as vastly increase the odds of recovering your property, but you need to keep this extra required step for NFA items in mind. The BATFE has a 24/7 toll-free number for this express purpose, (888) 930-9275. 

 CONFISCATION/DETAINMENT 

One of the most compelling arguments to be made for using NFA weapons for home defense is that in many cases you have the most training and practice with them. Short-barreled rifles are also much better suited than their longer-barreled brethren when maneuvering in tight quarters, which is why entry teams the world over use them more than anything else. It simply doesn’t make sense to intentionally use a worse or less-capable weapon as your primary plan if your life is literally on the line.  

“The police will confiscate it!” 

Well, maybe. Kind of. It certainly wouldn’t be unusual for law enforcement to impound your weapon if there’s a possibility of an active investigation. It also wouldn’t be unusual for them to allow you to keep it in the meanwhile. Regardless, even if your primary is temporarily taken after an incident, it would’ve already served its purpose well — and even if it’s expensive, it’s certainly worth less than your life.  

Also noteworthy: even if it’s local law enforcement that temporarily took it, you should still report it directly to the BATFE yourself.  

 PROSECUTIONS 

In theory, if deadly force is authorized, then how it’s applied makes little difference. In practice, this isn’t always the case. There probably isn’t an incident where the mere selection of gear used made the difference between a conviction and a “not guilty” verdict, but how something looks to a prosecutor and grand jury can mean the difference between a routine report and someone being charged with a crime. Same goes for putting three new holes in someone versus 37 of them.  

Castle doctrine or not, if a prosecutor decides you’re worth charging, then everything will be used to paint you in a bad light — that’s how prosecutions work. While ostensibly you’ll have a jury of your peers if you go to trial, it’s unlikely to consist of people you’d otherwise be friends with. 

It’s here where your local political environment greatly comes into play. What prosecutors in Connecticut frown upon might not be the same in Texas. Take some time and look at some cases in your state and area if you want to sanity check this.  

 MACHINE GUNS 

No, just no. No machine guns, no “full-auto simulators,” no bump stocks — nothing of the sort. If you’re in Baghdad or Bagram, go with God. But if you’re in Boise or Boston, don’t do it.  

LOOSE ROUNDS 

Always keep in mind that the main goal is to stay alive and uninjured. Think about what you actually need on-hand to accomplish this task. If you decide that it requires a 7-inch barreled rifle emblazoned with Punisher skulls, that's your prerogative — just don't be shocked if it's used against you if the shoot is anything but clear-cut. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use a short-barreled rifle for home defense, just that you should consider all of the factors and be prepared to successfully articulate why you made the decision that you did.  

 

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