STERLING, VA -(Ammoland.com)- A joint operation between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and Postal Inspection Service have intercepted multiple firearms-related devices shipped from China to gun owners in the United States.
The c-Investigations led the federal operation titled Operation Silent Night, targeting imported silencers, solvent traps, and firearm devices shipped to the United States from China. The operation has been ongoing since 2019 when the United States Post Office noticed an influx of the named devices purchased on Chinese websites such as Wish and Aliexpress.
The operation claims to have seized 42,888 illegally imported suppressors. Since federal authorities consider solvent traps imported from China the same as fully functioning silencers, it is unknown how many of the intercepted items were actually working suppressors. Most devices sold on Chinese websites are not working suppressors. The end-user still had to convert the Chinese devices to function as a suppressor.
The operation also seized 4,868 “firearms.” Some of these firearms were Glock switches. A Glock switch converts a semi-automatic pistol into a machine gun. These devices have recently turned up on the streets, with high-profile busts taking place across the country. These devices are cheap to produce and were available for as little as $25 on multiple internet sites.
Out of all the devices seized by the operation, federal authorities only arrested 204 people. Most buyers of the items were law-abiding citizens planning to file an ATF Form 1 with the ATF to convert a solvent trap or fuel filter into a functioning silencer. The end-user purchased what the sites listed as solvent traps or fuel filters, thinking they were not breaking any laws. The ATF disagreed.
Solvent traps have been a gray area in the eyes of the Federal Government. The ATF has shown up at multiple people’s homes to confiscate the items. Most of the time, the ATF has not pressed criminal charges since the gun owners purchased the items in good faith. The ATF has been cracking down on Form 1 suppressor applications by issuing mass rejection letters to gun owners. The new ATF rule due to go into effect in August will all but kill off gun owners making their own suppressors.
Federal authorities have also been working with Chinese companies to remove the items from the websites. The Chinese companies have not broken any Chinese laws and are not subject to U.S. gun laws since the companies are wholly operated in China. Despite that fact, most sites have pulled down Glock switches, although the items can still be found on multiple sites.
The operation is also concerned with the 3D printing of suppressors. It isn’t clear how the agencies plan to target 3D printed silencers. Sharing and downloading 3D printing files (STL) is protected speech. It only becomes an illegal item when the end-user prints out the suppressor. The federal government could monitor the sites and track who is downloading the files, but that could be a gross violation of gun owners’ Fourth Amendment rights.
AmmoLand News reached out to the HSI National Targeting Center comment but has not received a response at the time of publishing.
About John Crump
John is a NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. John has written about firearms, interviewed people of all walks of life, and on the Constitution. John lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and sons and can be followed on Twitter at @crumpyss, or at www.crumpy.com.