Thursday, June 5, 2008

What is a Machine Gun?

You’d think that would be an easy question to answer. According to, a machine gun is “a small arm operated by a mechanism, able to deliver a rapid and continuous fire of bullets as long as the trigger is pressed.” In this fairly decent definition of the term, the key component is a mechanism that is able to deliver “rapid and continuous fire”. This definition rightly implies that the firearm in question is specifically designed to continually fire individual rounds of ammunition as long as the trigger is depressed. Unfortunately in the US, the legal definition is far murkier.

In the United States, it is the role of the BATFE to classify firearms as to their mechanism of operation – be that single shot, semi-automatic, or fully automatic. In order to accurately classify firearms, there should be a logical standard that is universally and fairly applied. However, as many groups have pointed out, this is not the case!

The problem that exists is that the BATFE’s criteria are not only arbitrary, but frequently inaccurate and applied prejudicially. A couple of examples from the article above:

“[A] SGMB semi-auto rifle [was submitted] to FTB for classification. They observed that if they removed the safety selector, the sear did not disconnect with every pull of the trigger. (A safety selector, usually called a "safety," is used to render the firearm in a condition to fire if the trigger is pulled, or conversely to prevent it from firing. The sear is the component that releases the hammer.) Upon cursory examination, this configuration appeared to enable the firearm to fire multiple times on one trigger pull, and therefore the ATF declared it a “machine gun” -- without ever test firing it.

“They failed, however, to observe that the firearm had a second disconnector that operated independently of the trigger pull. (A disconnector is a component that prevents full-auto function; it is a part that distinguishes a semi-auto from a machine gun.) Operating off of the bolt carrier movement, this second disconnector prevented full-auto fire. Due solely to the ATF's own lack of firearms knowledge and incomplete testing methods, they wrongly classified this SGMB as a machine gun - even though in real-world practice it was incapable of and not designed for full-auto fire.”

Another area of interest is in the ability to convert a semi-automatic firearm into a fully automatic firearm.

“The FTB often attempts to demonstrate that a semi-automatic version of a firearm could be “readily restorable” into a machine gun.(1) If the gun is “readily restorable” it may be illegal to possess or manufacture without special licensing.

“To prove how “readily restorable” a firearm is, one of the agency's “experts” may do something as quick and simple as perform a test fit of full-auto components into the semi-automatic firearms – about 15 minutes work. An “expert” in another case may give a similar firearm to a machinist and allow him eight hours in a modern machine shop and try to make the firearm into a machine gun. Yet each expert may testify in court that he performed reliable tests to determine that a semi-automatic weapon was “readily restorable” -- that is, quickly and easily convertible into a possibly illegal weapon.”

Quite frankly these sorts of tests are patently dishonest – yet they are accepted as expert testimony in the Courts as well as the rulings are used to decide what weapons are legal or not legal to own and sell as semi-automatic firearms. Unfortunately beyond filing a civil suit, the People have no means to redress these imbalances as the BATFE has no oversight at this point.

The abuses of the BATFE are finally becoming a hot issue in Congress. H.R. 4900 has been introduced which would reign in some of the insanity. Introduced by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio), the bill clarifies the standard for “willful” violations (on which many firearms related cases hinge), codifies limits on firearm trace data, requires the ATF to establish investigative standards, and restores a policy which allowed the importation of barrels, frames and receivers from non-importable firearms (among a host of other needed reforms). This bill represents a great first step – and I urge you to write your representative in support of the legislation!

Until next time!!!

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