An Ohio machinist arrested last year over what federal agents contended was a shop full of illegal suppressors was found not guilty last week.
After a two-day trial before U.S. District Court Judge Donald C. Nugent, a unanimous jury decision cleared Brent See, 40, of East Palestine after just an hour of deliberation.
Last August, See, on probation for a 2014 charge of making illegal firearms suppressors without a license, was arrested after a probation officer visited his home and saw what were later determined by a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives expert to be three unregistered silencers. A resulting search warrant on See’s residence and business turned up what agents believed to be 196 silencers.
See had allegedly sold the devices, advertised as muzzle brakes and “Pitch Recoil Reducers,” on the website eBay. See’s social media page for his shop had photos of threaded barrels, muzzle couplers and other firearms milling projects but no images or references to producing suppressors themselves.
In technical documents submitted to the court, the ATF held the parts in question were sufficiently similar to mono-core or monolithic baffles designed to be enclosed by an outer tube to contain enough gasses when fired to suppress a firearm, comparing them to suppressors that are commercially available.
See’s legal team argued that the ATF did not test fire the seized items and did not conduct additional machining needed to create functional suppressors from the parts. They further questioned the government’s expert witness’s ability to ascertain just what a suppressor was as he did not come from a manufacturing background.
David J. Betras, See’s attorney, told Guns.com the 11 members of the ATF’s Firearms Technology Branch have a lot of leeway in how they decide a firearm complies with federal law.
“There’s no book they go to, there is no peer review, if they look at it and they determine it’s either a suppressor or a part of a firearm suppressor that’s the determination. They have given 11 people a lot of power,” said Betras, pointing out that his expert witness, Steve Howard, testified that See’s devices were very effective muzzle brakes — reducing recoil significantly — but had no machining present to attach a tube to convert them to a suppressor.
“These muzzle brakes actually made the gun louder, not quieter,” said Bertas, noting they were imprecisely machined and no tubing was marketed with the brakes.
Bertas did recommend that anyone making firearms parts should first seek a determination letter from the ATF to make sure they are within current guidelines.
“If you manufacture without it, you are running a risk,” he said.
See faced 10 years in prison as well as fines and forfeiture of the alleged suppressors impounded by the government.