When we run into an entrenched, bureaucratic problem, the easiest way out is to find someone who has been through the maze. Even better is to find someone who has made it his mission to guide you through. When it comes to buying suppressors, Brandon L. Maddox, founder of Silencer Central, is such a sage.
Maddox is a pharmacist with an MBA who got into varmint hunting when he moved to South Dakota years ago. He found that using a suppressor upped his game, but he had trouble navigating the system to get one. He also wasn’t happy with the product that was then available to him. So, he went and built Silencer Central.
A1F: How does a pharmacist become not only interested in suppressors, but the founder of Silencer Central?
Brandon Maddox: Like most things in life, all by accident! I was raised in the Southeast (Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina), but was transplanted to South Dakota, as my wife is from South Dakota. I was a regional manager for a pharmaceutical company and started hunting prairie dogs as I traveled the vast prairie region. Like all hunters, I was always in search of the ultimate advantage to enhance my prairie dog hunting hobby. It never made sense to me to drive four hours west, set up a shooting bench and take a few shots, only to have the prairie dogs disappear due to rifle noise. I decided a sound suppressor might be the advantage I was looking for.
The first time I went prairie dog hunting with a silencer, I ran out of ammo. I quickly became obsessed with hunting suppressed. My varmint hunting went from fun to amazing. The recoil reduction, the ability to talk with others in the hunting party, the reduced worry about having your ears on made prairie dog hunting a lot more satisfying.
When I bought my first silencer, the purchase process was beyond painful. The gun store worked hard to convince me not to buy a silencer because they hated doing all the paperwork! The owner’s son was the only one allowed to “work with silencers,” so the process was beyond broken, locally. I loved the benefits of silencers/suppressors and even started buying them for when my brothers visited.
A severely flawed buying experience set the stage for getting licensed to sell suppressors and creating what is now Silencer Central. I was fortunate my father-in-law had a federal firearms license in his local pharmacy, so my wife was very familiar with, and accepting of, firearms. I just announced one day I was going to get the necessary licenses to sell silencers from our home so I could make the process easier for myself and my family to buy silencers. I honestly started in the silencer business primarily to simplify life for myself and a small group of relatives.
I found that the entire process was a mystery. Everything I read online was conflicting and inaccurate. I made the statement years ago that everything online about the silencer process was inaccurate, which at the time was true. I just decided one day to become an expert on the silencer laws and the processes to better understand the Class 3 mystery.
I hired former ATF employees and read everything I could find on silencer laws. I even bought the domain class3.com. I started attending firearms compliance conferences. I sat in the front row and asked the actual regulators questions to fully understand the entire National Firearms Act (NFA) processes.
I have worked closely with the state and federal regulators over the last 15 years to thoroughly understand the laws and ensure we are compliant. We ask the ATF for guidance when we are unsure how they interpret the laws.
Several years ago, the ATF was updating the NFA Handbook reference publication, and the lady coordinating the project reached out to us and asked for feedback on areas not covered or that were unclear. They know that we know our stuff.
It’s probably hard to see the connection between silencers and the pharmacy, but medicine involves both state and federal law, and requires an extremely high level of attention to detail. The silencer process requires many of the same skills necessary to be successful in the pharmacy. I am fortunate to be licensed to practice pharmacy in NC, FL and SD, but even more fortunate to be licensed to sell silencers in 42 states: AL, AK, AR, AZ, CO, CT, FL, GA, ID, IA, IN, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MI, MN, MS, MO, MT, NE, NH, NM, NV, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI and WY.
My pharmaceutical employer was a French company with USA headquarters in New Jersey. As you might guess, they soon fired me for starting what is now Silencer Central, the country’s largest silencer dealer. We now have over 75 employees and pay income, property and sales tax in 42 states.
A1F: The media pretends suppressors are the tools of assassins. Hollywood pretends they make guns whisper quiet. Isn’t it true that, like mufflers on autos, suppressors basically just make guns a little more polite?
Maddox: Indeed, I think our trade organization, the American Suppressor Association, has done a great job with its legislative efforts to better communicate these facts.
A1F: With regard to suppressors, what changes in federal law do you hope to see?
Maddox: In my opinion, politicians will need further education before we see any major positive changes related to silencers. As silencers become more popular, this will happen, but it will take time. More lawful ownership equals better educated voters.
Being realistic, in the short-term, I would like to see a mandated timeline for silencer approvals. To get a federal firearms license, the government must respond within 60 days. We should have a mandated response time of 30 days for those who wish to purchase a silencer.
A1F: Silencer Central will actually thread customers’ barrels for suppressors. How much does this cost and how does this process work?
Maddox: Good question. In our quest to removing barriers to making silencer ownership simple since 2005, we built a machine shop to thread barrels. Many customers would ask: How do I get this silencer on my gun? We realized many rifle owners either did not have access to a gunsmith they trusted to thread their barrel, or they preferred we recommend someone we knew that did good work. Honestly, 99% of warranty returns were due to poor threading locally, and even poor factory threading jobs.
We purchased a new CNC lathe. We paid a firm to come to our shop and write the machining programs to thread the barrels based on our unique application and unique metals in rifle barrels. It was expensive, but our goal was to be able to accommodate high volume, to have the highest level of precision, and to keep the price affordable. Most shops use manual lathes, which take much longer than our CNC lathe that can thread a barrel in 65 seconds. We average 75 rifles per day for 200 days per year—one man disassembling, one man threading and one man shipping.
Our contactless process has been wildly popular, especially during COVID-19. You can purchase a 360-shipping package on our website. We send you an empty gun case with return postage paid to send the rifle to us. We thread the rifle and ship it back to your front door. Threading is $79.99 and a high-end thread protector is $19.99. This service is more popular than I ever imagined; a service focused solely on suppressor usage.
A1F: What differentiates your suppressors from competitors?
Maddox: I started this business working gun shows. My business philosophy was the gun show is where the “thought leaders” are. I worked every gun show personally for the first five years, and now I still work 15 to 20 gun shows personally per year. My educational background, after pharmacy, is marketing. My MBA from Duke was focused in marketing, and I spent many years in the pharmaceutical industry in executive-level positions in direct to consumer (DTC) marketing. The key to successful marketing is listening to your customer. When I first started selling silencers, I quickly realized all silencers on the market at that time were focused on the “tactical” market. I live in the middle of a prairie; tactical is cool, but not what our customers were seeking. Our customers demanded a few key things that were not available: Hunter quiet, titanium light, and a silencer that comes apart to clean (user serviceable for centerfires).
Our customers were hunters; to get the additional coyote or prairie dog, it had to be quiet! This is why we focus solely on being the quietest silencer on the market. The Banish silencers are always leading the class on sound reduction.
We use 100% titanium in our rifle silencers because weight matters. Yes, titanium is expensive, difficult to machine and hard to source, but if the customer demands it, you must deliver.
A1F: Suppressors are commonly used on hunting rifles in other countries, such as Finland and the United Kingdom (in the UK they are often called “sound moderators.”), so why do they have such a negative stigma with the mainstream media in America today?
Maddox: Lack of exposure and lack of education. It’ll take time. The silencer market is still relatively “new” and small, with about 150,000 sold annually. When I first started working gun shows about 15 years ago, 95% of gun show attendees thought they were illegal.
A1F: Despite their usefulness and popularity, some politicians are trying to ban suppressors—some even want to confiscate the 1.5 million-plus suppressors now owned by American citizens. Is this a topic in which the truth simply needs to find its way to the voting public?
Maddox: We find most politicians, once educated about the lengthy process to acquire and limited number of crimes committed using these tools, will soften enough to move on to other topics. Again, an education opportunity. We have seen a few states legalize or broaden ownership and use over the last 15 years, so the trend is positive.
A1F: Suppressors are currently regulated under the National Firearms Act of 1934. To legally purchase or possess a suppressor you must live in an area that allows them to be sold and then pay fees and wait for approval from the ATF. How do you help gun owners navigate this gauntlet?
Maddox: Good question. This is what we do all day, so this has become our focused area of expertise.
Step 1: Silencer Central has worked to become an expert on the state and federal laws regulating our business. We read everything we could find on the subject. We attend compliance events hosted by the ATF, we hire attorneys with expertise in firearms statutes and more. Knowledge equals power, and as our knowledge has grown, so has our confidence.
Step 2: Silencer Central’s next step for success was to get involved; we started working with politicians to change and enhance laws that impact our business. We learned a lot about the process to change firearm-related laws. We even helped to change several state laws impacting our business.
Step 3: Silencer Central has kept educating consumers. We work hundreds of tradeshows a year and, by actively educating those who come to our booth, we have become a major influencer.
Step 4: Silencer Central takes ownership of the entire process. We manage the entire process from start to finish and keep the customer updated throughout the entire process. We have an entire software suite that manages the process, a process we have finetuned over the last 15 years.
Step 5: Silencer Central offers flexible payment plans with no fees or interest. It is the concept of we are in the boat with you, so we want this approved quickly as well. Silencer Central also offers to mail your silencer purchase(s) to your front door once approved. Being licensed in all 42 states where silencers are legal also provides advantages to a customer that might be moving.