Judge Blocks Sale of Trigger Kits The Justice Department Argues Are Machine Gun Parts

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
January 27, 2023US News
Judge Blocks Sale of Trigger Kits The Justice Department Argues Are Machine Gun Parts
AR-15 rifles are displayed on the exhibit floor during the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, on May 20, 2016. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg)

On Thursday, a federal judge issued a restraining order, preventing two firearms parts companies from selling trigger kits that the U.S. Department of Justice claims turn semi-automatic rifles into fully automatic-firing machine guns.

Judge Nina Morrison, of New York’s federal Eastern District Court, granted a temporary restraining order preventing Rare Breed Triggers, LLC and Rare Breed Firearms, LLC from selling firearm trigger kits known as forced reset triggers (FRTs). Morrison granted the restraining order after the Department of Justice filed a federal lawsuit last week, arguing that the trigger kits allow users to fire in excess of 700 rounds of ammunition per minute, effectively making semi-automatic firearms into machine guns.

U.S. law defines a machine gun as “any weapon that 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 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) issued a letter in March 2022, stating some forced reset triggers could be classified as machine guns as they allow the weapons to fire multiple bullets while holding the trigger.

“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,” the ATF letter reads. “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 [National Firearms Act] and [Gun Control Act].”

The DOJ lawsuit specifically argues that a forced reset trigger design known as the FRT-15, and a virtual copy of the design known as the wide-open trigger or WOT, are after-market parts that users can swap into rifles like the AR-15 design, that allow their users to fire multiple rounds of ammunition with a single function of the trigger. The DOJ lawsuit argues that Rare Breed Triggers and Rare Breed Firearms have continued to sell their FRTs, despite the ATF warning them that their trigger kits are considered machine gun parts, in violation of U.S. laws.

Current U.S. gun laws, prohibit machine gun sales to the general public and require machine gun owners to register their weapons and pay a tax stamp for the weapons. The DOJ alleges the defendants sold thousands of FRTs to the general public.

In her decision to grant the temporary restraining order, Morrison wrote that there is probable cause to believe the defendant companies and their owners have impeded ATF investigations and FRT seizures, sold illegal machine guns, and committed wire and mail fraud.

Machine Guns Aren’t Defined By How Fast They Fire, Manufacturers Say

Rare Breed Triggers has argued that the forced-reset trigger does not actually allow users to fire multiple rounds of ammunition with a single function of the trigger. The company has said a typical trigger on a semi-automatic firearm will fire a single time as the user pulls the trigger from the unfired to fired position and they can’t fire again until they release that trigger and allows it to mechanically reset to the unfired position. The company has argued that FRTs are designed to automatically reset the trigger from the fired to unfired position, but the user still has to pull the trigger each time it is reset in order to fire again.

The company has argued that the forced resetting of the trigger essentially simplifies a user’s actions, eliminating the need to release the trigger to allow it to reset before it can be fired again. A light trigger-pull weight and a forced resetting of the trigger can allow a user to manipulate the trigger rapidly, though the FRT manufacturers argue the user is still only firing once for each pull of the trigger.

“A ‘machinegun’ is not defined under federal law by how fast it can fire—but rather by the method in which it can fire fast,” Rare Breed Triggers argued in their own lawsuit (pdf) in a Florida federal court in August 2021, challenging the ATF’s authority to classify their trigger kits as machine gun parts.

Rare Breed Triggers was originally organized in Florida and now operates in South Dakota. Rare Breed Firearms was incorporated in Texas.

Attorneys for Rare Breed Triggers and Rare Breed Firearms have not yet appeared before in New York court to begin arguing their case.

Morrison, a Biden appointee, wrote that there could be “irreparable harm” and the defendants’ “violations will continue” unless she imposed the restraining order barring sales of the trigger kits.

ATF Seeking to Seize Trigger Kits

In their March 2022 letter, the ATF called on owners of FRT trigger kits to contact the ATF and give up their trigger kits.

“Notwithstanding the ATF efforts, there are tens of thousands of FRT-15s and WOTs in the public domain, presenting a continuing threat to public safety,” the Justice Department wrote in their complaint.

The restraining order against Rare Breed Triggers and Rare Breed Firearms requires that they preserve “all documents related to the manufacture, possession, receipt, transfer, customer base, and/or historical or current sale of the FRT-15s, Wide Open Triggers, forced reset triggers, and/or machinegun conversion devices.”

NTD News reached out to Rare Breed Firearms for comment, but did not receive a response by press time.

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