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The New York Times reports that on July 3, the United States State Department lifted a ban on selling firearm silencers to private overseas buyers. The Times explains that Michael Williams, a counselor and deputy assistant to President Donald J. Trump, played a pivotal role in lifting the ban.

  • The ban was originally enacted in 2002. Lincoln P. Bloomfield Jr., who was assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs at the time, explained to the Times that the policy was implemented in order to prevent American equipment from being used against soldiers in ambushes.
  • Bloomfield said, “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 continue today, saying, “Who are you selling these silencers to?” and “I sure hope that none of these are aimed at U.S. or allied forces.”
  • A spokesperson for the State Department claimed that lifting the ban is meant to help American manufacturers and that silencers are more readily available in foreign nations today than they were in 2002. She said, “U.S. companies should have the same opportunity to compete in the international marketplace as other manufacturers around the world.”

Williams became involved in efforts to overturn the ban in 2014, when he started to work for the American Suppressor Association founded by his brother Knox Williams.

  • Williams managed the association’s budget, drafted legislation, and lobbied lawmakers.
  • “One of his main issues,” the Times explains, “was the fight to open up sales of silencers to private foreign buyers,” though Williams was largely unsuccessful at this point.
  • This changed in September 2016 when Donald Trump Jr., son of then-candidate Trump, appeared in a video expressing support for making silencers easier to purchase in the United States.
  • Williams left the American Suppressor Association that month to become the director of Election Day operations for Trump’s North Carolina campaign. He also worked as an associate counsel for Trump’s inaugural committee, and he joined the Office of Management and Budget in January 2017.
  • After the office’s head, Mick Mulvaney, became acting Chief of Staff, Williams followed him to the White House and became a deputy assistant and counselor to Trump.
  • Knox Williams explained to the Times that his brother did not violate the administration’s ethics rules prohibiting government officials from working on matters that would affect their former employees within two years after leaving their previous job.
  • However, when that two year timespan was fulfilled in 2019, Michael Williams “set to work on gun issues without those constraints,” the Times reports.
  • The Times reports that Williams returned to working in the Office of Management and Budget in June 2020, just before the State Department announced lifting the silencer ban in July.

Knox Williams credits his brother with setting the groundwork for this policy change. He called it “a yearslong effort and buildup that just finally got across the finish line.”

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