Bump stocks seized by federal agents as Millcreek resident charged in machine gun case

Newly unsealed court records have revealed why police and agents with the Department of Homeland Security surrounded and searched a house on West 12th Street in Millcreek Township in a standoff with the occupant earlier this month.

The occupant has been charged with possessing bump stocks and scores of other devices designed to convert legal firearms into machine guns in violation of federal law.

The occupant, Timothy A. Tressler, is accused of one count of possessing an unregistered firearm, according to a criminal complaint that was unsealed in U.S. District Court in Erie on Wednesday. The charge stems from a search following the standoff at Tressler's residence in the 3000 block of West 12th Street on the evening of May 9.

The one count covers bump stocks and all of the other items Tressler is accused of possessing. The devices numbered more than 60, according to the complaint.

A Millcreek Towmship man has been charged in federal court in Erie with illegally possessing bump stocks and other items classified as "machine gun conversion devices." A bump stock shown here is installed on an AK-47 semi-automatic rifle. A bump stock device fits on a semiautomatic rifle to increase the firing speed to make it similar to a fully automatic rifle, or machine gun.

A bump stock modifies the stock of the gun so the recoil helps fire rounds in rapid succession, similar to a fully automatic rifle.

Among the other devices that Tressler is accused of possessing are four "auto sears," also known as switches or chips. They are used to convert semiautomatic weapons, such as AR-15-style rifles, into fully automatic machine guns, according to the criminal complaint.

Tressler is also accused of possessing two AR-15-style frames with auto sears installed, and 11 "Glock switches," also known as "auto switches." They are used to turn Glock semiautomatic handguns into machine guns.

Seized items defined as 'machine gun conversion devices'

Agents found the bump stocks, auto sears and other devices inside Tressler's residence, at 3218 W. 12th St., just west of Oregon Avenue, in the search following the standoff on May 9, according to the complaint. It states that the bump stocks and other seized items are classified as machine guns because the items are "machine gun conversion devices."

Civilians must obtain a special license to possess a machine gun ― a fully automatic firearm that fires as long as the trigger is depressed and bullets are chambered. Tressler, 39, is charged with possessing the machine gun conversion devices without having the special license under the National Firearms Act.

Concerns elsewhere: Turning pistols to machine guns: York police worry about Glock switch found after killing

Tressler is properly registered as the owner of a machine gun and five firearm suppressors, known as silencers, according to the complaint. He is not charged with the illegal possession of those items.

Defendant appears for initial hearing in federal court

The U.S. Attorney's Office on Monday got an arrest warrant for Tressler, who made his initial appearance at the federal courthouse in Erie on Wednesday morning, according to court records. Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard A. Lanzillo let Tressler remain free on an unsecured bond of $10,000.

Millcreek Township resident made his initial appearance in federal court in Erie on Wednesday on a charge that he illegally possessed devices design to convert regular firearms into machine guns.
Millcreek Township resident made his initial appearance in federal court in Erie on Wednesday on a charge that he illegally possessed devices design to convert regular firearms into machine guns.

The lawyer listed in court records for Tressler, Chad Vilushis, could not be immediately reached for comment. The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Anglin, declined to comment because the case is pending.

Tressler could be indicted later on the same charge filed against him in the criminal complaint. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Erie typically charges defendants through indictments rather than criminal complaints, though the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies often uses criminal complaints to file charges swiftly and before a grand jury is able to meet and return an indictment.

Bump stocks at center of Supreme Court case

Overall, the criminal complaint alleges Tressler had more than 40 illegal machine gun conversion devices at his residence, including the auto sears, Glock switches and at least five bump stock kits. He is also accused of trying to obtain another 27 devices via the U.S. mail.

Bump stocks have been on the market for more than a decade. They were not classified as machine guns and their possession was unregulated until 2018, when then-President Donald Trump banned bump stocks after they were used in the killing of 60 people in Las Vegas in 2017— the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The ban classifies bump stocks as illegal machine guns.

The bump stock ban is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. It heard arguments on the legality of the ban in February.

How did probe in gun case start?

In addition to covering the items the government said were found in his house, the charge against Tressler also covers 26 auto sears and another machine gun conversion device. The Department of Homeland Security alleges Tressler had those items mailed to him from China, according to the criminal complaint.

The investigation of Tressler originated with the parcel that the government said contained those devices.

On April 19, according to the complaint, agents with the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection examined the package at a warehouse near John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Customs and Border Protection had jurisdiction because it recognizes the airport and the warehouse as the "functional equivalent of the border," according to the complaint.

The complaint does not state why agents become suspicious of the parcel, which was sent by priority mail through the U.S. Postal Service. The shipment, according to the complaint, was marked as containing items for carburetor repair with a declared value of $80.

Law enforcement officers searched this house at 3218 W. 12th St. in Millcreek Township following a standoff in a gun case on May 9.
Law enforcement officers searched this house at 3218 W. 12th St. in Millcreek Township following a standoff in a gun case on May 9.

The customs agents examined the parcel and found the 26 auto sears and another machine gun conversion device inside, according to the complaint.

The discovery led an agent with Homeland Security Investigations to get a search warrant for Tressler's Millcreek residence on May 8, according to the complaint. As they prepared to execute the search warrant on May 9, agents had a "sham" package delivered to the residence, the complaint states. The package was empty of the auto sears and other device.

Law enforcement used robot, 'chemical munitions' in standoff

An electronic device inside the package notified agents that it had been opened shortly after 5:11 p.m. on May 9. Once that alert was made, a "tactical team" of law enforcement officers surrounded Tressler's residence at 3218 W. 12th St. and ordered him to come out over a loudspeaker, according to the complaint.

The agents said Tressler refused.

"Law enforcement subsequently breached a window of the house and deployed a robot," according to the criminal complaint. "Utilizing the robot, law enforcement moved through the house.

"Law enforcement subsequently observed Tressler pacing nervously around the house. Law enforcement continued to command Tressler to surrender. Tressler refused to comply."

The complaint continues: "After approximately 25 minutes, due to Tressler's noncompliance, and being considered a barricaded subject, law enforcement was forced to use chemical munitions, which resulted in Tressler surrendering the residence."

The agents then searched the house.

They seized the machine gun conversion devices, according to the complaint, as well as "manuals for the conversion of weapons into fully automatic machine guns."

Contact Ed Palattella at epalattella@timesnews.com or 814-870-1813. Follow him on X @ETNpalattella.

This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Man charged with possessing bump stocks, auto switches after standoff