Today, the Texas Senate passed HB 957 which prohibits state and local agencies from enforcing federal laws on Texas-made suppressors. There are a lot of misconceptions about what this bill does, so before you start making silencers, read the fine print.
The bill passed both the Texas House and Texas Senate and now goes to Gov. Gregg Abbott for signing into law. Once signed, the law takes effect on Sept. 1, 2021.
What the Bill Does
Rep. Tom Oliverson (R-Cypress) put forth HB 957 on January 4 with 31 Republican sponsors and one Democrat. From the flurry of social media posts and chatter, you might think that this bill allows silencers made in Texas to be immune to federal regulations. This is not the whole truth. While that may be the eventual outcome, here are three things the bill actually does:
Amends the Texas Penal Code to remove a firearm silencer from among the prohibited weapons whose intentional or knowing possession, manufacture, transport, repair, or sale constitutes an offense.
Amends the Government Code to state that a firearm suppressor that is manufactured in and remains in Texas is not subject to federal law or federal regulation, including registration.
Prohibits state or local entities from adopting policies that would allow the enforcement of federal laws regulating a firearm suppressor or that imposes a regulation that does not exist under state law.
In short, the bill removes silencers that are made in Texas, using Texas-sourced materials, from the list of prohibited weapons. However, there is currently a path to owning a silencer, which is to follow the NFA laws and pay the federal government a $200 infringment tax.
The bill states that a silencer made in Texas from Texas materials with no imported material or parts are exempt from federal registration. We will dive into the implications of this further down.
The bill prevents state employees from enforcing federal laws.
The Bill Does not Protect You
This bill does not protect you from the ATF or federal regulations. It prevents the state from helping the feds, but it does not stop them from coming into Texas to enforce the federal laws. Federal law trumps state law. We have seen in other states that have passed similar laws, and the ATF simply ignores the state law. An example of this is Kansas where Jeremy Kettler purchased a “Made in Kansas” silencer that was not registered with the federal government and was prosecuted in federal court. Kansas had recently passed a similar version of Texas’s law. The gun store owner and Kettler were arrested by the ATF, prosecuted, and convicted.
The Supreme Court let stand a ruling by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that found the National Firearms Act falls within Congress’ power to tax.
With that being said, Texas’s law states that the Attorney General must seek a judgment from a federal district court in Texas that Texas’ law is constitutional, upon written notification by a Texas citizen of their intent to manufacture a silencer. If the federal court were to rule in the favor of the law, this could limit how much the ATF could enforce current federal laws in Texas. However, if the court were to rule that Texas’s law was unconstitutional, then the citizen would not be protected from the ATF.
It seems that the law is intentionally seeking a Texas citizen to spur a federal court case by writing to the Attorney General to obtain a court ruling.
If Governor Abbott signs this bill into law, then things could get very interesting for Texas. If the state was able to protect its citizens from federal regulations, this would be a huge win for gun rights nationwide.
One thing that gets brought up when discussing this law is the marijuana laws in certain states. It’s easy to see how states like Colorado and California get around federal prohibitions for marijuana possession and draw similar conclusions about suppressor manufacturing. However, regulating drugs and firearms are two different things. Federal law currently has a legal process for owning silencers where such provisions don’t exist with marijuana. Additionally, those states have far more marijuana users per capita than Texas does potential suppressor manufacturers or owners, making it tougher for the feds to regulate marijuana versus silencers.
Lastly, since the Texas law would define silencers as firearms, they would still have to be purchased through a firearm dealer or made at home. If it went through a dealer, it would be subject to a background check and all other firearm regulations. If the firearm dealer was audited by the ATF, which happens annually, there would be a record of the silencer sale, which could alert the ATF to enforce federal laws. When it comes to marijuana sales, there are no records of who made a purchase, so customers aren’t at risk of jail time or fines if the feds step in. That would be the opposite case in Texas.
We believe Abbott will sign the law into effect, and we can continue moving gun rights in a positive direction. Hopefully, we can see “Made in Texas” silencers on the shelves without any federal strings attached.