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ATF officially declares certain gun triggers ‘machine guns’

AR-15. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
March 24, 2022

On Thursday, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), issued an open letter ruling that a type of gun trigger, known as a forced-reset trigger, will be considered a machinegun despite functioning differently than a true automatic machine gun.

The letter, dated March 22 and widely published Thursday, March 24, states the agency “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).”

A conventional trigger is one that, once fired, requires its user to release it before it can reset and be depressed to fire again. A forced-reset trigger is one that, once fired, automatically resets the trigger to the unfired position, whether it has been released or not. This action allows a user to more quickly fire subsequent rounds, but each shot still requires the trigger to be pulled.

In contrast, a true fully automatic machine gun requires only one trigger pull and will repeatedly fire bullets until the trigger is released or the gun runs out of ammunition.

“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,” the ATF letter states. “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 ATF explained a “Machinegun” is defined in U.S. law 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.”

The ATF has been looking at regulating FRT triggers, such as the Rare Breed Trigger (RBT) FRT-15, for several months now. Last summer, the ATF issued a cease and desist letter to Rare Breed, stating the agency determined the FRT-15 met their definition of a fully automatic machine gun.

RBT president Lawrence DeMonico has already disagreed with the ATF’s past characterizations of his company’s FRT triggers. He maintains that his company’s product requires a user to depress the trigger every time their gun is fired.

“The trigger is being depressed with each round that’s being fired,” DeMonico told WFTV Orlando in August. “It’s not how fast the gun shoots, it’s how the gun shoots fast.”

In September, DeMonico told Free Range American, “When Congress wrote the law defining a machine gun, they drew a box. They said, ‘If you stay in this box, it’s not a machine gun; but if you step out of the box, it is a machine gun. Well, I found a way to attain my goal and stay within the box. Now the ATF wants to change the shape of that box. As an executive agency, they don’t get to do that. The ATF is not allowed to create legislation. That’s Congress’ job.”

On Thursday, the gun-rights group Gun Owners of America announced it intends to challenge the new ATF rule.