U.S.A. –-(AmmoLand.com)-– From some time in 2019 to the present, the Department of Homeland Security, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, has been running an Operation Silent Night to intercept items coming from China that can be used to make suppressors/silencers. The operation has seized a lot of material, with relatively few arrests. The items seized are routinely marketed as solvent traps, fuel filters, or pill containers. As most of them do not have holes so that a bullet can travel through them, it is difficult to prosecute people for importing a “silencer” or even “silencer parts” when similar items in the United States are legally marketed and sold.
Many of the items directly ordered from China are also available through U.S. companies such as Amazon or Wal-Mart. Items sold within the United States, which do not cross an international border, are more difficult for the government to seize.
The fiscal year (budget year FY2019) for the federal government runs from October 1 to September 30. It is possible Operation Silent Night started in the calendar year 2019, and fiscal year 2020. The end of FY2019 would have been September 30, 2019. The number of “silencers” seized and arrested in FY2020, (October 1, 2019, to September 30, 2020) has been released by ICE. From ice.gov:
In FY2020, Operation Silent Night resulted in:
- 25,492 firearm silencers seized
- 2,305 firearms seized
- 99 criminal arrests
That is about 255 seizures for every arrest. Those are arrests, not convictions. This correspondent does not know how many products come through without being questioned. The percentage of items inspected varies quite a bit. It appears less than 25% are normally inspected. Conservatively, if 25 thousand items were seized, probably 100 thousand or more were sent.
In FY 2021, the numbers of seizures was down a bit, and the number of arrests up, very slightly, from 99 to 105. The total through FY2021 was 204 arrests. ICE changed the nomenclature from “criminal arrests” to “criminals arrested”, contrary to US usual practice of assuming innocence until guilt is proven. From ice.gov:
For FY 2021
Operation Silent Night: Keeping dangerous weapon components off the streets. HSI Operation Silent Night is a global operation targeting the smuggling of firearm silencers into the United States from China. The operation is led by the HSI National Targeting Center-Investigations, and targets the manufacturer, supply chain, and end users of these illegal weapon component. HSI’s efforts on this operation help to keep dangerous weapon components out of the hands of criminal organizations and off our streets.
•42,888 firearm silencers seized
•4,868 firearms seized
•204 criminals arrested
The number of items seized dropped from 25,492 to 17,396 (42,888 – 25,492). The number of seizures per arrest dropped to 166 per arrest. How many of these would be found to be illegal silencers, in a court of law, is uncertain. The ATF has conflicting rulings about what is, and is not, a silencer.
Common practice is if the parts cannot be assembled into a working silencer, or if each individual part cannot be placed into a working silencer and the silencer will still work, then the collection of parts is not a silencer, or the particular part is not a dedicated silencer or silencer part.
For example, a thread adapter is not considered to be a silencer or a silencer part. An oil filter is not considered to be a silencer or a silencer part. But, a thread adapter and an oil filter which has a properly placed and dimension hole in the oil filter, together, may be considered a silencer, especially if there is powder residue from a firearms cartridge, inside the oil filter.
This correspondent has seen only two pictures of “silencers” identified as seized by ICE in this program. Both of them contain what might be considered mono-core baffles, which could be considered a dedicated silencer part, because the hole through the entire mono-core would allow it to be inserted into a properly constructed tube, and used a part of a silencer, without modification.
How many of the arrests result in prosecution are not known. Previously, the number of federal prosecutions for illegal possession of a silencer was estimated at about 30 per year. Operation Silent Night has the potential to significantly increase the number.
Prosecution for potential silencers or potential silencer parts is not a clear example of federal law. Challenges to the law on the grounds of vagueness are likely.
John Crump reported on this activity on AmmoLand in May.
About Dean Weingarten:
Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of Constitutional Carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.