Seizure of Gun Parts at California Port Highlights Continuation of Chinese Arms Embargo

September 6, 2019 Updated: September 6, 2019

Coordination was the key to the seizure of 52,601 firearms parts in violation of the Chinese Arms Embargo worth $378,225 at Los Angeles/Long Beach Seaport in August, reported the government agencies involved.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Machinery Center of Excellence and Expertise (CEE) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) all participated in the interception of sights, stocks, muzzles, brakes, buffer kits, and grips, according to a statement.

China is one of the countries for which federal regulations impose restrictions on the trade of weapons. The United States declared an arms embargo on China after the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square. The arms embargo restricts or sanctions all weapons, as well as technology that may be used in weaponry.

In addition to being in violation of the Chinese Arms Embargo, the shipment was a breach of the Arms Export Control Act and International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which further restricts the trade of defense and military related items.

The firearms parts were headed for a legitimate United States-based seller and distributor, officials said. They came in three shipments in ocean containers over a period of three months and were not concealed. While no one has been charged in the incident, the planned recipients are being investigated.

CBP could not divulge the entity that shipped the parts, the entity to which they were being shipped, or the status of an indictment related to the seizure because of limitations mandated by the Customs Secrets Act.

A spokesperson for CBP, Jamie Ruiz, told NPR that the recent seizure was unusual.

“We can’t characterize this as a new trend, but something really unusual, as China historically is the main source of other items like wearing apparel, footwear, watches, jewelry, handbags, wallets and electronics,” Ruiz said.

CPB told the media outlet that the recent seizure of gun parts from China made some people speculate whether the shipment was a test to see if such items could pass through the port undetected.

CBP officers regulate trade and immigration at more than 300 land, air, and sea ports of entry throughout the United States, in addition to several stations overseas. It’s the country’s main border control organization and the largest federal law enforcement agency of the Department of Homeland Security.

“This seizure is an exceptional example of CBP officers’ and import specialists’ vigilance, commitment, and keen focus in enforcing complex arms embargo regulations. The Chinese Arms Embargo is just one of the hundreds of regulations CBP enforces, ensuring the safety and security of our country,” said Carlos C. Martel, who serves as CBP Director of Field Operations in Los Angeles.

LaFonda Sutton-Burke, CBP Port Director of the LA/Long Beach Seaport, added, “We work closely with our strategic partners to ensure import compliance while maintaining the highest standards of security at our nation’s largest seaport. This interception underscores the successful collaboration between CBP officers, import specialists and ATF investigators.”

In fiscal year (FY) 2018, the Office of Field Operations (OFO) intercepted 18.4 percent more firearms-related goods than the previous year. The agency seized 266,279 explosives, fireworks, firearms, firearm parts and ammunition at 328 ports of entry throughout the United States.

Recently, the CPB has also witnessed an increase in counterfeit computer networking equipment from China. A Homeland Security report (pdf) from 2018 indicated that CPB and Homeland Security Investigations confiscated 213 shipments with counterfeit trademarks, with an estimated value of almost $15.5 million. This was a 25 percent increase in seizures and a 112 percent increase of value from 2017.

Will Carter, deputy director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Technology Policy Program told NPR that the fake routers might be associated with the Chinese government, but the larger concern is that the routers are not adequately maintained by a supplier. Thus, they can include low-quality components that could wreak havoc on unsuspecting consumers.

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