ABC News asks if forced reset triggers are machine guns

AP Photo/Lisa Marie Pane

Forced reset triggers weren’t really a thing when the Las Vegas shooting happened. In the wake of that tragedy, though, lawmakers considered legislation that would have caused problems for the new technology. Congress was seriously looking at a bill that would ban any kind of modification to a firearm that would allow it to shoot faster, which could have been a problem.


After all, it can be argued that a trigger with a lighter pull allows you to shoot faster.

When President Donald Trump directed the ATF to reverse its ruling on bump stocks, it seemed parts of that problem went away.

Yet forced reset triggers eventually saw a similar decision from the ATF. They don’t meet the NFA definition of a machine gun, but the ATF says they are.

Now, there’s a legal battle over this disagreement.

ABC News decided to ask if the triggers are machine guns or not.

The internet videos are alarming to some, thrilling to others: Gun enthusiasts spraying bullets from AR-15-style rifles equipped with an after-market trigger allowing them to shoot seemingly as fast as fully automatic weapons.

The forced-reset triggers so concerned the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that it ordered the company making them to halt sales only months after they began in 2020, declaring the devices illegal machine guns.

Rare Breed Triggers, founded in Florida and now based in Fargo, North Dakota, said the ATF was wrong and kept selling its FRT-15 triggers, setting the stage for a legal battle now in federal courts in New York and Texas.

The triggers are the latest rapid-fire gun accessories to draw scrutiny from government officials worried about mass shootings and police officer safety, joining bump stocks, which were banned by the Trump administration after the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 60 people, and cheap parts called auto sears that can make a pistol fire as if it were fully automatic.

“The defendants are illegally selling machine guns, plain and simple, with conversion devices that transform AR-15 type rifles into even more lethal weapons suited for battlefields, not our communities,” Breon Peace, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said when he sued Rare Breed in January, accusing the company of fraud.


It looks to me like they made up their minds.

Comparing forced reset triggers to bump stocks is fine with me. After all, both are devices that don’t change the functioning of the rifle itself, they just allow you to pull the trigger much faster.

But comparing them to full-auto switches–called “auto sears” here–is different. Full-auto switches don’t facilitate pulling the trigger faster. They actually do turn handguns into machine pistols, making it so a single pull of the trigger allows one to fire multiple rounds.

So yeah, it seems ABC News made up its mind already.

Moving on, though, because there’s more to see.

Both the bump stock and forced-reset legal battles involve how to apply the National Firearms Act of 1934 — a law passed in part to try to curb gangland violence — as modified in 1968 and 1986.

The law bars the public from owning machine guns, which are defined as firearms capable of firing more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single pull of a trigger, or “any part” that converts a weapon into a machine gun.

Maybe it’s just me, but I see the phrasing here as problematic. The way “any part” is included, suggests that forced reset triggers may well be included.

However, what those two words actually mean within the context of the NFA is any part that allows a weapon to fire more than one round with a single trigger pull. For example, full-auto switches would fall under this. Bump stocks and forced reset triggers don’t.


In fairness to ABC News, though, they do seem to acknowledge this.

But under the law, the key to whether a part turns a weapon into a machine gun isn’t the rate of fire, but whether or not multiple rounds can be fired with a single pull of the trigger.

Rare Breed’s owner, Kevin Maxwell, and its president, Lawrence DeMonico, both appeared in federal court in Brooklyn this month to argue their device is not a machine gun because it forces the trigger to return to the start position after each shot, so only one shot can be fired with a single “function” of the trigger.

They also acknowledge that the ATF approved another company’s forced reset trigger while going after them, as well as binary triggers being legal in most states.

Binary triggers fire once when you pull the trigger, then a second time when you release it.

Of course, ABC News doesn’t give a definitive answer, but while they acknowledge the difference between a machine gun and one equipped with a forced reset trigger, they do it later in the piece, when a lot of people would have quit reading, convinced they had a grip on what was happening.

Still, it sure seems pretty clear that these aren’t machine guns and never were.

After all, if a fast rate of fire made something a machine gun, Jerry Miculek would have to be registered with the NFA.


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