This Investigation Comes Two Weeks After the White House Lifted a Bush-Era Ban on International Sales of Silencers “That Was Intended to Protect U.S. Troops from Ambushes”
The Investigation Will Focus on the Involvement of Michael B. Williams –– A Former Gun Industry Lobbyist Who Now Works for the Trump Administration –– in Pushing for the Ban to be Lifted
NEW YORK –– Today, Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund and its grassroots networks, Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, responded to Congressional Democrats “investigating the Trump administration’s decision to lift a ban on firearm silencer sales to foreign private buyers that had been enacted to prevent the devices from being used against American troops.” The 2002 policy that the Trump administration overturned limited silencer sales to government entities, police, and military for countries who are allies and friendly to the U.S., and explicitly said that private or commercial buyers would not be authorized. The investigation is being led by Representative Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on National Security, who sent a letter Tuesday to the White House budget office requesting documents related to the decision.
The investigation will focus “in part” on Michael B. Williams, a former lobbyist for a gun industry association who previously wrote a failed gun lobby bill designed to gut silencer laws and now works for the administration. The Times reported earlier this month that the administration’s decision to lift the ban was championed by Williams, and that the gun industry was “thrilled” with the administration’s decision, which “pave[s] the way for as much as $250 million a year in possible new overseas sales for companies that Mr. Williams had championed” as a gun industry lobbyist.
“Two weeks ago, Donald Trump put the lives of American troops at risk when he caved to the gun lobby and lifted the ban on selling silencers overseas,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “We applaud Congressional Democrats for stepping up and investigating this dangerous decision by a president who will clearly do whatever it takes to make sure the gun lobby helps him get reelected.”
“American troops are at greater risk of being ambushed because Donald Trump is in the pocket of the gun lobby,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. “Trump is endangering American service members’ lives by lifting the ban on selling silencers overseas. That type of behavior is not only corrupt, it’s potentially deadly––and we thank Rep. Lynch and House Democrats for holding this administration accountable.”
“When the commander in chief lifted the ban on selling suppressors overseas, he chose special interests over his obligation to protect the men and women of our Armed Forces,” said Chris Marvin, a combat-wounded veteran of the war in Afghanistan, and a member of the Everytown Veteran Advisory Council. “I applaud Congressional Democrats for doing their job and ensuring that we get the bottom of this potential corruption.”
In their letter to the White House, Congressional Democrats are specifically asking for “records of Mr. Williams’s communications related to the ban with various government officials and agencies tasked with overseeing foreign arms sales, as well as with outside groups that had been pushing to overturn the ban.” The groups include “the American Suppressor Association, which was started by Mr. Williams’s brother, who remains the group’s president and executive director; the National Shooting Sports Foundation; and SilencerCo, a leading silencer maker.”
When the Trump administration lifted the ban, military experts “expressed alarm,” because the ban was “intended to prevent American equipment from making its way to hostile groups that might use it against American service members.” Lincoln P. Bloomfeld Jr., who was an assistant secretary of state when the ban was enacted by the George W. Bush White House in 2002, told the Times that the ban was implemented because “Terrorist groups were using garage door openers to blow up U.S. troops; you kind of think twice about what you are exporting.” He added that “such dangers still exist today,” and said, “Who are you selling these silencers to? I sure hope that none of these are aimed at U.S. or allied forces.”
Government watchdogs also raised concerns. Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, said, “When Michael Williams exits through the revolving door to return to the gun industry, I’m sure he will be greeted with open arms.” The NRA, which was the single largest outside spender in President Trump’s 2016 election, called the Trump administration’s decision “long overdue.”
According to previous reporting from the Times, Michael B. Williams “spent nearly two years” helping run the American Suppressor Association––a trade group “focused on expanding sales of firearm silencers by American manufacturers”––before joining the administration. Throughout his time in the White House, Williams “maintained close ties to the suppressor association, which is funded by silencer manufacturers, distributors, retailers and customers.” He also spoke with his brother, who founded the American Suppressor Association, “almost every day.” Additionally, records show that Williams––who previously worked as a law clerk for the NRA––was invited by the National Shooting Sports Foundation to three meetings “about countering gun control measures after the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla.” The NSSF says Williams did not attend.