On July 13, 2020, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Detroit and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan announced the seizure of an internet domain located at https://lafoauto.com/ pursuant to an international arms trafficking investigation into gun silencers from China. HSI Detroit led the investigation with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Visitors to the site will now see a seizure notice bearing law enforcement shields.
HSI determined that more than 350 silencers were seized by law enforcement. The silencers were smuggled from China into the United States and disguised as automotive parts. The website advertised the silencers as automotive components, but the images on the website clearly resembled firearm components.
“This website, operated from China, blatantly disregarded our customs laws, smuggled illegal silencers into our country, and placed the American public at risk,” Vance Callender, the Homeland Security special agent in charge for Michigan and Ohio, stated. “By shutting this website down, we keep illegal silencers off the streets and protect our communities from harm.”
HSI’s practice of seizing websites involved in illicit activity is relatively new and helps suppress illegal commerce from entering the United States. Using a Court order, HSI redirected the suspect website to one controlled by HSI, which posts a banner with a public service announcement warning against consumer purchase of illegal goods. The seizure of https://lafoauto.com/ is the first instance in which a website wholly dedicated to illegal arms deals has been seized by the agency.
Silencers, also known as suppressors, reduce the sound and muzzle flash from gunshots. Purchasing a silencer without a proper license is illegal in many states. Silencers were regulated under the 1934 National Firearms Act (NFA). Before purchasing a silencer, the NFA requires buyers to submit identification materials and answers background questions, as well as pay a $200 tax to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). An amendment to the NFA in 1986 regulates parts intended for use in the assembly or fabrication of a silencer. The activities of https://lafoauto.com/ fall under this amendment. It will be interesting to see if the HCI’s success in this case leads to future investigations and seizures of websites illegally trafficking arms or other goods in the U.S.