Man guilty of smuggling suppressors in from the UK

A Tennessee man originally from Britain was found guilty by a federal jury Monday after he sent six suppressors back to the states from that country without the proper licensing or permits.

Paul Gratton, 50, of Murfreesboro, was found guilty of five counts of illegal importation, shipment, receipt, and possession of firearms/unregistered silencers after a two-day trial.

According to court documents, Gratton, who holds passports from both the U.S. and Britain, owns UK Aero, a helicopter servicing business in Tennessee. While traveling to England in 2015 for work and to visit his sick mother who still resides there, he purchased six rimfire suppressors over the counter — which is legal in that country — paying about $50 for each. He then disassembled the devices and shipped some suppressor components to his business in the U.S. via DHL labeled “aircraft-related parts” then carried other parts with him in his checked luggage when returning to the Tennessee.

What tipped off authorities to the action was a call from one of Gratton’s employees to federal agents. The employee turned confidential source forwarded pictures of the parcel containing the suppressor parts as well as text messages and an email from Gratton about the items. Once Gratton returned to the country and retrieved the package, an agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives armed with a search warrant paid him a visit at his home and asked about the suppressors.

Calling the items “moderators,” Gratton pointed out five of the devices which were located on a credenza in his office and retrieved the sixth from behind a panel in his workshop.

The ATF inspected the six devices and found they were made by Oulun Työstökeskus Oy, a Finnish suppressor manufacturer. When later evaluated with a Walter P22 pistol at a test range in West Virginia, the suppressors could drop the sound of gunfire by about 20 decibels. The suppressors were imported illegally and not registered to Gratton in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.

In motions to the court on the lead-up to last week’s trial, Gratton contended that suppressors and similar devices have no regulation requirements in many countries — such as Britain, and he was caught unaware.

“Indeed, in the land from whence I hail, non-antique guns and high powered air rifles are required to have some accessories prior to use, and strongly encouraged in the remainder of target venues,” he noted. “Indeed, anything from air pistols to shotguns fall in this category as the shooting enthusiasts become more environmentally friendly. Conversely, in American, I have learned (much to the detriment at the hands of a CS) silencers and similar devices have a special set of rules about their purchase and keeping.”

The government countered with the assertion that Gratton had heard suppressors ran as high as $900 in the U.S. and that he went to great lengths to camouflage his actions because he knew he was in violation of the law.

Gratton was found guilty of delivering of a firearm to a common carrier without written notice; illegal shipment of a firearm with intent to commit a felony; illegal importation of a firearm; illegal receipt of a firearm that had been imported; and unlawful possession of unregistered silencers. He faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. While a hearing for temporary release from custody is scheduled for Thursday, a sentencing date has not yet been set.