Bump stock. AutoGlove. What’s the difference? Both accessories, as we’re told by industry folk, “simulate full auto fire.” The ATF classified the former as a “firearm part” and the latter as a “machine gun.”
What gives? Is the ATF playing favorites? Is the agency failing to do its job by not classifying the bump stock a machine gun, as NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre intimated in a recent interview on CBS News?
Not that I’m in the business of defending the ATF, but when it comes to the determination of the legality of the bump stock versus the AutoGlove it’s a no-brainer. ATF made the proper call.
Let me back up and say by “proper call” I don’t mean the right call. The right call is to acknowledge that the National Firearms Act is a sham. That it should be fully repealed. That it’s an infringement on our Second Amendment.
But that’s a convo for a different day. What I’m talking about today is the decision the ATF made based upon an honest reading of existing regs and established a precedent with respect to similar devices.
I’m not an attorney. And I don’t work for the ATF. You can take my opinion with a grain of salt. But I can read. And I have read both determination letters (here and here) and, in my humble opinion, the ATF reasoning on both products is sound. As always, feel free to tell me I’m wrong in the comment section.
What is a Machine Gun?
Before we get at it, let’s start with an obvious question. What is a machine gun? Under the National Firearms Act, per 26 U.S. Code § 5845, a machine gun is defined thusly:
- 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 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, or
- 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.
Bump Stock is Legal
Good old Mr. bump stock. NRA believes he should be subject to “additional regulations” because, as LaPierre said in that CBS interview, “It’s illegal to convert a semiautomatic to a fully automatic.”
ATF wrote in 2010, in response to Slide Fire’s submission, “The stock has no automatically functioning mechanical parts or springs and performs no automatic mechanical function when installed.”
“In order to use the installed device, the shooter must apply constant forward pressure with the non-shooting hand and constant rearward pressure with the shooting hand,” it continues. “Accordingly we find that the ‘bump-stock’ is a firearm part and is not regulated as a firearm under the Gun Control Act or the National Firearms Act.”
The main takeaway is that there is no automated firing. The shooter’s index finger is still technically doing the work, though it’s aided by the inertia (or recoil) of the gun thanks to the sliding of the bump stock. Consequently, it’s a part — not a machine gun.
AutoGlove’s TAD is a Problem
AutoGlove fails the smell test from the outset. It’s called the AutoGlove for Christmas’ sake. Okay, it shouldn’t be judged by its name alone. How does this device work?
The AutoGlove functions with the help of an electronically powered Trigger Assist Device (TAD). Users rest this TAD against the trigger, push in a plunger to active the TAD, and the paddle part of the TAD contacts the trigger and rapid-fire commences.
Because the AutoGlove uses electricity it immediately raises a red flag. ATF has ruled on three separate occasions that electrically-driven trigger devices are machine guns. Once in 1982 and twice in 1988.
ATF makes another very important point regarding triggers. After a long legal paragraph defining the term “trigger,” it states, “In both practical and legal terms, the ‘trigger’ of a firearm is whatever is used to initiate the firing sequence.”
When the AutoGlove is used on a firearm the TAD — not the trigger — initiates the firing sequence. It’s now the mechanical element that gets the ball rolling. The conventional trigger of the gun becomes a subordinate part of the firing sequence.
By comparison, the bump stock does not replace the trigger. Not at all. Like any other semiautomatic firearm, one’s finger engages the trigger and the trigger initiates the firing sequence.
Does that make sense? Clear as mud?
The AutoGlove is a Machine Gun
In this one sweeping paragraph, the ATF seals the fate of the beloved AutoGlove. Once you read it, it’s hard to argue that the agency missed the mark.
Electronically-driven trigger devices are considered “machine-guns” because they are a “combination of parts designed and intended, for use in converting a weapon into a machine gun. Because these electronic devices use a switch/button to activate the drive motor to initiate the firing sequence, that switch/button is the firearm’s trigger. Since the weapon firearms more than one round for each single function of its trigger (a single press on the AutoGloves’ Activator Plunger), it would be a “machine-gun” as defined.
Let me unpack that. The quote ATF refers to in the first sentence is part of the definition of a “machine gun,” as highlighted above. The second sentence relates to the trigger issue I explained. And the last sentence again refers to the definition of a “machine gun.”
So, it’s a machine gun because it is a part that is designed to convert a semi-auto into a full auto, because it has an automated trigger system that when activated fires more than one round for a single function of the trigger. Remember, the TAD initiates the firing sequence (not the conventional trigger) and when it’s activated, when the plunger is pushed down, it has the capacity to continuously fire rounds.
Sounds like a machine gun to me. Per the law.
Hold the Phone!
Wait a minute! Doesn’t the bump stock check the first box? Isn’t it a “part designed and intended solely and exclusively… for use in converting a weapon into a machine gun”?
You may have been thinking this all along. But thanks, in part, to a smart play by Slide Fire, the inventors of the original bump stock, it doesn’t apply. See, Slide Fire told the ATF that the part was “intended to assist persons whose hands have limited mobility to ‘bump-fire’ an AR-15 type rifle.”
Bump firing is not illegal. Bump fire is simply harnessing the recoil of a semiautomatic rifle to fire shots in rapid succession. But it’s still one trigger pull for every shot fired.
The bump stock, which aids in this lawful way of operating a semiauto firearm, is not a machine gun.
The Last Salvo for AutoGlove
The makers of the AutoGlove tried to get around the pesky NFA with two additional arguments. The first was that the AutoGlove isn’t permanently affixed to the firearm. It’s a glove!
The second was that the TAD needs to be ever so slightly pulled towards the trigger to activate the firing sequence. This “micro-trigger” pull, as they called it, means that without additional human interaction the gun does not discharge.
ATF shot down both arguments. The agency said that “not being permanently affixed to the firearm” doesn’t matter. It’s “immaterial.” Nowhere in the definition of machine gun is it spelled out that the device has to be “permanently attached.”
For the second point about the micro-trigger pull, the ATF tested the AutoGlove and found that, well, it worked without additional human interaction. That little micro pull wasn’t necessary to get the gun to fire once the TAD was placed within the trigger guard.
ATF said that, during testing, they even put forward pressure on the TAD to try to keep it away from the traditional trigger but there was still enough contact, and the rifle fired “continuously until the ammunition supply was exhausted.” The test was repeated multiple times with the same results.
You may be sitting back in your chair thinking that this is all just a bunch of hooey. I don’t disagree with that assessment. Both products should be lawful. As mentioned, I believe the NFA is a sham.
You may also be thinking that while the ATF may have interpreted the law fairly in this instance, it’s still an agency that defaults to the political whims of the current administration. I don’t disagree with that either. Under Obama, the ATF sought to “reclassify,” aka ban, green-tip ammo. Under Trump, earlier this year, someone from the ATF leaked a “white paper” that voiced support for suppressor de-regulation and the importation of M1 Garands.
Until the ATF disbands, which probably will never happen, they are the devil we have to dance with. I think it’s best to reserve our criticism for them when they overreach or mess up, not when they do the job they’ve been tasked with.