ATF Issues Open Letter Classifying SOME “Solvent Traps” and Other Parts as Silencers By: Kevin P. Fenchak, Esq.

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The latest development in the ongoing controversy over the sale of “solvent traps” to customers in the US took place on Monday, November 20th with the issuance of an ATF Open Letter advising Federal Firearms Licensees of the agency’s examination of devices marketed as solvent traps. As Attorneys Dillon Harris and Joshua Prince have previously written about here, ATF has sent thousands of Warning Notices demanding the surrender, abandonment, or forfeiture of these types of devices, and when contacted, requested much more detailed information from purchasers.

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It has been said many times before, but if you receive any type of communication from law enforcement, especially any communication requesting that you voluntarily give up any type of information, DO NOT RESPOND EXCEPT THROUGH YOUR ATTORNEY.

So far, the ATF has generally been reluctant to take more dramatic measures to come after purchasers of solvent traps without positive evidence that they have illegally converted them into functional suppressors, but federal warrant applications, controlled deliveries, and actual prosecutions are not unheard of.

In the November 20th letter, the ATF contends that such devices may be classified as silencers based on “objective design features and characteristics,” such as the presence of a pilot hole or marking that may be used to drill out the end cap of such a device. According to the ATF, such features allowed the device to function as a silencer but make it useless for its ostensible intended purpose as a “solvent trap.” They went on to list the presence of “baffles, spacers, ported inner sleeve or tube, expansion chamber, end caps, and dampening material” as among the other objective design features that they would consider in determining whether an item is a “silencer.” According to the ATF, these features increase the effectiveness of a silencer, but offer no advantage in collecting or filtering cleaning solvents. beyond this brief insight, the letter does not explain the ATF’s evaluation process or how they weigh the features to reach a determination on any specific product or design.

The Open Letter highlights the definition of a “silencer” under the Gun Control Act, which, for those unfamiliar is:

The terms “firearm silencer” and “firearm muffler” mean any device for silencing, muffling, or diminishing the report of a portable firearm, including any 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.

The letter goes on to focus on the “combination of parts” and “any part intended only for use” in a silencer portions of the definition and it seems to make it clear that the ATF is paying attention to the industry. Specifically calling out end caps, which may often be little more than a threaded metal plate with no special functionality besides to retain the internal components of the silencer, and are sold over the counter by many manufacturers and dealers, ATF said:

For example, a silencer end cap falls under the federal definition of a “firearm silencer or firearm muffler” at 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(25) and therefore it is regulated as a silencer under the GCA and NFA even when the silencer end cap is individually sold and transferred and not installed as a component part of a silencer.

It is unclear what, if any, enforcement action might follow from this letter in relation to solvent traps, end caps, or other similar or associated products, but what is clear, is that you should never speak to the ATF or any other law enforcement agency without first speaking to an attorney.

If you are a seller of, or have purchased any such components, and you are contacted by the ATF or any other law enforcement agency seeking information, DO NOT RESPOND EXCEPT THROUGH YOUR ATTORNEY. If you or someone you know have any questions, or has been subjected to an inquiry or charged in connection with this or any other matter, contact us today.