ATF targets triggers, plays fast and loose with the law

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

The ATF launched a new administrative attack on the Second Amendment Thursday afternoon, this time going after certain triggers. Just under an hour after getting an open letter via email, an FFL tipster sent to me the notice they received. What’s that all about? It is or was, not really sure what the status is actually (more on that later), about a drop in trigger group called the Forced Reset Trigger (Subject: Open Letter to All Federal Firearms Licensees – Forced Reset Triggers (FRTs)). The email and accompanying letter set out to vilify the devices, a subject of which is still going through litigation.

From the email: 

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) recently examined devices commonly known as “forced reset triggers” (FRTs) and has determined that some of them are “firearms” and “machineguns” as defined in the National Firearms Act (NFA), and “machineguns” as defined in the Gun Control Act (GCA).

These particular FRTs are being marketed as replacement triggers for AR-type firearms. Unlike traditional triggers and binary triggers (sometimes referred to generally as “FRTs”), the subject FRTs do not require shooters to pull and then subsequently release the trigger to fire a second shot. Instead, these FRTs utilize the firing cycle to eliminate the need for the shooter to release the trigger before a second shot is fired. By contrast, some after-market triggers have similar components but also incorporate a disconnector or similar feature to ensure that the trigger must be released before a second shot may be fired and may not be machineguns.

The email is seemingly identical to the letter that was attached to the message. I had received a similar dime from a tipster that sent me a hyperlink to the letter and the ATF’s Twitter page was sharing it as well.

The problem with all of this is, as of the writing of this article, the letter is no longer available via the ATF’s twitter account, nor through the link my other tipster sent me. For whatever reason, the ATF has now done some takes-backs-ees on the letter, but I’m not aware if it’s a full retraction of their “policy”. However, if you’d like to take a look at the letter, the link to the attachment in the email blast from the ATF is still active HERE (or if that link ends up dead, the text of the letter is included at the end of this article in full). How long it’ll still be accessible is not known, as we still don’t know the reason for the letter being scrubbed from other areas of the ATF’s hosting.

The entire hub-bub over the trigger group is that it acts similar to an automatic firearm. The problem for the ATF in trying to regulate the device and say that it’s illegal, is that the FRT does NOT meet the statutory definition of a machinegun. The letter states the following on the subject though:

Both the NFA and GCA regulate machineguns. “Machinegun” is defined under 26 U.S.C. 5845(b) and 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(23) as—

Any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger. The term shall also include the frame or receiver of any such weapon, any part designed and intended solely and exclusively, or combination of parts designed and intended, for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun, and any combination of parts from which a machinegun can be assembled if such parts are in the possession or under the control of a person. (Emphasis added.)

The makers of the FRT were actually ingenious in both their design and naming of the trigger group. As the name implies, Forced Reset Trigger, the trigger assembly through the course of fire is forced to a reset potion, thus the trigger MUST travel rearward in order to fire again. The device is constructed to where it’s physically impossible to fire a subsequent shot after the first without moving the trigger back and forth. Thus, the ATF is grasping at straws to cram this round peg into a square hole. The actions needed do not fit the description outlined in the statute they cite: “…by a single function of the trigger.” Perhaps if the ATF explained this to all of us like we were a child of the age of 5 we’d better understand it. Like really think about what words have what meanings ATF.

Twitter users have already called out the ATF for its duplicity.

 

In short, the ATF is trying to make up their own laws and the last time I checked, they’re part of the executive branch of the government. While the ATF is going through dust covered boxes in back rooms to illegally scan 4473’s they’ve collected, they should check to see if they have any old reel to reel or Betamax copies of the School House Rock to learn about Bill and how he becomes a law. Or we can cut right to the chase and remind the ATF that Congress, and Congress alone can make a law.

The ATF can poo poo all day long about how the FRT acts similar to a fully automatic firearm, but that’s not going to change the fact that by the definition, they’re not. The 1934 NFA needs an overhaul anyhow, with massive deregulation having to take place. The FRT is a solid loophole in the law, and loopholes are simply freedoms finding a way.

As for the litigation? As noted, this is still in litigation, and we’ll be watching that closely for sure. In the meantime we can all point and laugh at the ATF because they packed up their marbles and went home prior to the big taw coming out, which will with all probability knock all the marbles out of the circle. We’ll also be keeping our eyes peeled on why the ATF has a bunch of broken links to the letter they issued and report back if we learn anything new.

The complete text of the letter that was attached to the email can be read below, where it’ll remain for posterity regardless of what the ATF does with their links to it.

U.S. Department of Justice

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, 

Firearms and Explosives 

Office of Enforcement Programs and Services 

Office of Field Operations 

Washington, DC 20226 

www.atf.gov 

March 22, 2022 

OPEN LETTER TO ALL FEDERAL FIREARMS LICENSEES

 

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) recently examined devices commonly known as “forced reset triggers” (FRTs) and has determined that some of them are “firearms” and “machineguns” as defined in the National Firearms Act (NFA), and “machineguns” as defined in the Gun Control Act (GCA). 

These particular FRTs are being marketed as replacement triggers for AR-type firearms. Unlike traditional triggers and binary triggers (sometimes referred to generally as “FRTs”), the subject FRTs do not require shooters to pull and then subsequently release the trigger to fire a second shot. Instead, these FRTs utilize the firing cycle to eliminate the need for the shooter to release the trigger before a second shot is fired. By contrast, some after-market triggers have similar components but also incorporate a disconnector or similar feature to ensure that the trigger must be released before a second shot may be fired and may not be machineguns.

Both the NFA and GCA regulate machineguns. “Machinegun” is defined under 26 U.S.C. 

  • 5845(b) and 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(23) as— 

Any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger. The term shall also include the frame or receiver of any such weapon, any part designed and intended solely and exclusively, or combination of parts designed and intended, for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun, and any combination of parts from which a machinegun can be assembled if such parts are in the possession or under the control of a person. (Emphasis added.) 

ATF’s examination found that some FRT devices allow a firearm to automatically expel more than one shot with a single, continuous pull of the trigger. For this reason, ATF has concluded that FRTs that function in this way are a combination of parts designed and intended for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun, and hence, ATF has classified these devices as a “machinegun” as defined by the NFA and GCA. 

Accordingly, ATF’s position is that any FRT that allows a firearm to automatically expel more than one shot with a single, continuous pull of the trigger is a “machinegun”, and is accordingly subject to the GCA prohibitions regarding the possession, transfer, and transport of machineguns under 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(o) and 922(a)(4). They are also subject to registration, transfer, taxation, and possession restrictions under the NFA. See 26 U.S.C. §§ 5841, 5861; 27 CFR 479.101. 

Under 26 U.S.C. § 5871, any person who violates or fails to comply with the provisions of the NFA may be fined up to $10,000 per violation and is subject to imprisonment for a term of up to ten years. Further, pursuant to 26 U.S.C. § 5872, any machinegun possessed or transferred in violation of the NFA is subject to seizure and forfeiture. Under 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(2), any person who violates § 922(o) may be sent to prison for up to 10 years and fined up to $250,000 per person or $500,000 per organization. 

Based on ATF’s determination that the FRTs that function as described above are “machineguns” under the NFA and GCA, ATF intends to take appropriate remedial action with respect to sellers and possessors of these devices. Current possessors of these devices are encouraged to contact ATF for further guidance on how they may divest possession. If you are uncertain whether the device you possess is a machinegun as defined by the GCA and NFA, please contact your local ATF Field Office. You may consult the local ATF Office’s webpage for office contact information.

Alphonso Hughes

Assistant Director 

Enforcement Programs and Services 

 

Digitally Signed by George Lauder On March 22, 2022 @ 13:25:39 -04’00’

Assistant Director 

Field Operations