Guilty!Jury finds airgun silencer illegal

by B.B. Pelletier

Michael A. Crooker was found guilty, last Wednesday, of illegally making a silencer. He faces a mandatory sentence of 15 years in federal prison. The case was followed by Massachusets newspaper The Republican.

The actual charge was “causing a firearm to travel in interstate commerce.” You see, under federal law, a silencer is considered to be a firearm.

The law
From U.S. Code, Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 44, Section 921 Definitions:

(3) The term “firearm” means

(A) any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive;

(B) the frame or receiver of any such weapon;

(C) any firearm muffler or firearm silencer; or

(D) any destructive device. Such term does not include an antique firearm.

(24) The terms “firearm silencer” and “firearm muffler” mean any device for silencing, muffling, or diminishing the report of a portable firearm, including and combination of parts, designed or redesigned, and intended for use in assembling or fabricating a firearm silencer or firearm muffler, and any part intended only for use in such assembly or fabrication.

Mr. Crooker made the silencer for a Big Bore 909 air rifle. Then, he sold the rifle to an Ohio man in 2004 and shipped both it and the silencer by mail to the buyer. The package was intercepted enroute by government authorities and the silencer was tested by BATF&E by installing it on a firearm, where it muffled the report. That is the test that determines whether or not something is a silencer.

The jury
The jurors deliberated 10 hours before reaching their verdict. They came back to the judge one time, asking for a better definition of a silencer (join the club!), but the judge told them they would have to go by the definition in the law as it is written.

Oops!
In his closing argument, defense attorney Vincint A. Bongiorni told the jury that he defied them to find any evidence that his client had actual knowledge that the silencer he made would work on a firearm. That was probably the wrong thing to say, because Mr. Crooker was already a convicted felon with a history of skirting the law.

What does this outcome mean?
This verdict will probably serve to embolden the BATF&E, which has many cases that are waiting for this kind of result. The fact that this was a jury trial is very significant, because the judge had ruled that the prosecutor had to prove the INTENT of Mr. Crooker to make a firearm silencer. The jury obviously concluded that he had that intent. If this case had been decided by this judge, alone, it is doubtful that the same verdict would have been reached.

In my opinion, the future of silencers that are not part of the integral design of the airgun is in jeopardy. My thanks to Tom Gaylord’s blog, All About Airguns, for alerting me to this news.

22 thoughts on “Guilty!Jury finds airgun silencer illegal


  1. Hey B.B.,

    Since I can’t figure out how to email you, I’m resorting to asking a question unrelated to this post. I hope that’s OK.

    I’m interested in purchasing an air rifle with the objective of improving my .30 caliber rifle marksmanship. My thinking is that I will practice more frequently in my backyard than I would if I had to trek to the range. I also like the idea of avoiding the expense of center-fire ammo and range fees.

    My problem is choosing an air rifle. I’ve narrowed the field some by limiting my choices to spring pistons under $200, but the choices are still overwhelming.

    Since my objective is to improve my .30 caliber marksmanship, I would like my air rifle to be as ergonomically similar as possible in terms of weight, trigger and sling.

    Therefore, can you recommend one or more spring piston rifles, under $200, that weight between 7 and 8 pounds, have a 2-stage trigger and may have a sling attached without impeding operation or performance?

    I’ve enjoyed reading and learned a lot from your blog.

    Thank you for your help.


  2. d’Heat,

    First, let me tell you what you are doing is very common. Top .30 cal. competitors are fond of installing FWB 300 target rifles in stocks with the outside profiles of M1As or Garands.

    An inexpensive way to do the same thing would be to install an IZH 61 action in a Garand stock. It would be a project, fo certain, but with careful work (your own) you could keep the cost under $200 and have nearly the same accuracy as the FWB 300. Since the 61 is a 5-shot sidelever, it would be easier to adapt to than a breakbarrel. The weight of the wood could be adjusted with lead to give you both the weight and balance you seek.

    As for buying a rifle off the shelf, you aren’t going to get the realism you want – unless!

    Here’s a wild thought. How about a Marui M14 airsoft with an aftermarket tight barrel? I don’t know if the accuracy would be good enough for you, but it might.

    See it here:
    http://www.pyramydair.com/cgi-bin/model.pl?model_id=882

    Those are my thoughts.

    B.B.


  3. Thanks B.B.,

    I hadn’t even thought of an air soft option. I’ll look into that.

    You mentioned accuracy but I forgot to do so. Whatever I purchase must be able to shoot 4 MOA (1″ groups at 25 yards) or better.

    Is either the IZH 61 or the Marui M14 capable of shooting 4 MOA or better?

    Thanks again for the input. I appreciate it very much.


  4. under that definition of a “firearm”, the ball point pen in the prosecutor’s pocket could get him his OWN long-term residency in a federal facility at taxpayers’ expense … not to mention all the ones used in post offices, where weapons are prohibited … so WTF !!!!!!! how about some consistency, huh ?


  5. I think when you get charged w/ possesing a silencer it’s an automatic felony. Not worth the risk just to muffle an airgun. A silencer could be defined as anything that reduces the noise of a gun as lil as 1 dB if they really wanted to charge you.


  6. dHeat,

    The IZH 61 will do 2 MOA or possibly better. The Marui MIGHT make 4 MOA with a tight barrel and no wind.

    B.B.



  7. seems simple to me.

    don’t use or make a silencer, particularly if you plan on selling them across state lines.

    the bottom line is that people need to airgun responsibly.

    That includes making sure the actions of dealers and buyers aren’t using airgunning to sheild illegal firearm activity.

    I don’t see a problem with this decision at all.


  8. i dont understand- why are the laws so tight around silencers? what serious harm can they do (what harm can they do AT ALL?)airguns have that small potential. damaging an eye, breaking glass, and perhaps in the case of the big bore pcps, killing someone. understandable. last time i checked, a silencer couldnt do that. why are they SO careful with silencers? oh, and as long as you go through the laborous process of getting a sliencer registered, what negative attention will that bring to airgunning?that isnt illegal, just horribly expensive.
    as for the spring gun tuning series, i dont think i’m up for a two hour job. perhaps i will try with a broken breakbarrel a friend of mine has, just to look inside and see if i can get it back together. apparently it shoots whenever it pleases- the end of the sear’s life?


  9. that’s very interesting because i was just looking at the diana website ans saw their silencer and totally wanted one. then i see all this contraversy over them and now darn it, its not worth it.

    also to be off subject,
    i can’t get a response from the diana site about what might void the warranty. i am looking at a rws 34 to replace my trusty 5 year old 66 powermaster. since the 34 has no buttplate, if i added one if that would void the warranty if i did it myself? or would i have to get installed by a diana authorized repair center? also if i did some engraving on the stock if that would void the warranty as well? any info would help.


  10. Shaffer78… then we are ALL guilty of owning a “silencer” then, cuz we simply can muffle the vibrations of the barrel with the non-trigger hand … file the charges as soon as Mom’s pee test turns the prego color, let’s not waste precious court time waiting to be born !


  11. I assume you are in the U.S.? If so, your warranty originates with Umarex USA, the Diana importer, so they are the ones to ask. Call 479-646-4210, Central.

    I would think the modifications you mention would void the warranty because they alter the rifle.

    B.B.


  12. The “Silencer ” was initially made(without the tax stamp) illegal to help with a poaching problem, not prevent “Silent Killer” from getting another contract, and I feel this is a bit of history lost to the ages as far as the U.S. judiciary is concerned.
    I think what B.B. suggested and I practice is far bulkier, but safer legaly, and that is make a box with no ends and line it with something. I use poly foam, but lots of things will work, even egg crates(I tried them out).
    Again, PLEASE do not tempt Fate and make a slincer, muffler, whatever pet term you like, as society has already made up it’s mind on the matter, and you will find few friends with the local P.D. when a complaint is made.

    d’heat
    My IZH61 does 1/2 inch at ten yards with a 4X glass and twice a month practice. Custom stocks usually end up costing a bit to much to make it woth it in my opinion, but with the IZH you will end up with a reliable, accurate piece in the end, and for a relativly small amount. How much the barrel quality varies ,I don’t know. But most of the compliants about it I found were older, and considering some of the gleaming reports I have seen in recent months and my experience, it couldn’t be that big a gamble. Good luck with whatever you choose.



  13. BB,

    Hi. I just got my FAC and im going to buy a weihrauch hw97k from pyramidair.com(because its cheaper there)Here the new hw97k has chequering in the fore end were you place you left hand(if you right handed).I dont trust the pics because the pic is the standard one.I wanted to know if the one pyramid air has had the new chquering on th stock.

    Thanks

    Paul.


  14. Did I read on one of your sites that it is federally illeagle for any govermentaly agency to list or try to say that airguns are firearms


  15. Yes. It is a federal crime for any federal, state or local municipality to declare an airgun to be a firearm. That does not preclude laws that assign the same controls to airguns as exist on firearms.

    B.B.


  16. so that now we see convictions for illegal airgun silencers in the US why do several noted ” airgunsmiths” and distributors manufacture blatantly illegal shrouds/silencers?????


  17. Shrouds are probably not illegal. It boils down to can the device be removed and put on a firearm and will it work there. Many makers know this and are careful to build devices that cannot be easily moved to firearms and will not work when they get there. Those devices are not classified silencers under the law.

    You are right, though, that many hobby airgunsmiths flirt with the law and probably do cross the boundary.

    B.B.


  18. This is the reason that the GAMO Whisper series has it’s sound arrestor (52% reduction) as part of the barrel and cannot be removed. I suspect for it to be legally sold this was a REQUIREMENT…

    Makes sense after reading this post.


  19. There has to be intent to silence a firearm as well as just the ability. Otherwise, if you had a plastic bottle or a pillow and some duct tape you would be guilty of a felony. Now a previously convicted felon shipping a removable silencer through the mail in a caliber suitable for a conventional firearm obviously went far enough to convince a jury of intent. The jury may also have been privy to more information about that intent than was reported.

    In any event, almost all airgun shrouds could be easily adapted to a firearm with a hacksaw and a hose clamp. Of course the same thing could be said for small mufflers and 2 liter bottles as well. Even a simple barrel extension that consisted of nothing more than another section of rifled barrel would be illegal under the law if it was intended for use on a firearm and reduced the volume of the shot by 1 db.


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