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.

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.