A federal judge in Brooklyn has ordered a firearm company to stop selling a device that prosecutors say can transform rifles into illegal machine guns, making it easier to fire multiple bullets quickly.
Rare Breed Triggers has sold more than 80,000 “forced reset triggers” nationwide, including to residents of New York City and Long Island, according to court documents. The devices are similar to bump stocks, which gained notoriety when a man used them to fire more than 1,000 rounds into a crowd at a Las Vegas music festival in 2017, killing 58 people and leaving more than 800 injured.
The decision in this case comes in response to a lawsuit that the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York filed last month. The lawsuit seeks to stop the manufacturing and sale of the device, which allows a person to fire multiple bullets with a single trigger pull.
As mass shootings continue to plague communities across the country, lawmakers and federal officials have sought to limit access to devices like the forced reset trigger, which make it easier to rapidly shoot large numbers of people.
Experts on both sides of the gun debate said the lawsuit is just one example of the steps lawmakers and officials at both the state and federal level are taking to prevent gun violence while more comprehensive legislation stalls in Congress. Several of those strategies are already facing legal challenges, including New York’s comprehensive new concealed carry law.
“It’s important to signal to the industry that there are laws, there are rules, and it’s important that the industry follow the rules,” said Adams Skaggs with Giffords Law Center, which advocates for firearm safety legislation. “This is not an industry that can operate above the law, even though a lot of actors within the industry tend to act as though they are above the law.”
Prosecutors argue that forced reset triggers violate federal law, which prohibits machine guns. The National Firearms Act of 1934 and Gun Control Act of 1968 define machine guns as weapons that allow someone to “shoot automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.” The U.S. Department of Justice sent an open letter to all federally licensed firearms dealers last March informing them that it would include forced reset triggers in its list of devices that are considered machine guns, making them illegal nationwide.
But the owners of Rare Breed Triggers disagreed with the federal government. According to the U.S. attorney’s lawsuit, the company kept selling illegal devices even after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ordered them to stop.
The lawsuit, which accuses Rare Breed Triggers of committing wire and mail fraud, claims that the company has tried to hide information from the government by creating a “byzantine corporate structure.” It says the company avoided paying tens of millions of dollars in taxes. It also accuses the company of misleading customers and mislabeling packages so that the U.S. Postal Service wouldn’t know they were shipping illegal guns and failing to properly register its technology with the federal government, as required by law.
Rare Breed Triggers maintains that it’s not breaking the law. The owners’ attorney declined to comment on the pending case.
But on its website, the company sells T-shirts and stickers that read, “FRT ≠ MACHINE GUN.” In an 11-minute video on the site featuring scenes from a shooting range scored by dramatic music, owner Lawrence DeMonico reads excerpts of federal law and provides a detailed description of how the technology works, claiming that it does not break the rules.
He said the FRT “can be practical in many applications and can be a lot of fun at the range.”
Experts on opposite ends of the second amendment debate weigh in
Richard Vasquez, a former ATF official who now consults for the firearm industry on gun laws, said he disagreed with the decision, saying he doesn’t think that Rare Breed Triggers’ device meets the definition of a machine gun. While a shooter doesn’t need to press the trigger multiple times to fire additional bullets, the technology does make the trigger move back and forth as if someone’s fingers were squeezing and releasing it. So, he doesn’t think it qualifies as a single trigger function.
Vasquez said there are other devices on the market — which he declined to name — that more closely fit the definition of a machine gun.
Vasquez said the federal government is leaning too heavily on regulations handed down from agencies like the ATF and the DOJ instead of passing laws. He noted that the federal government has also issued similar directives on ghost guns, bump stocks and braces that can be used to turn pistols into rifles. Some of the rules have already been challenged in court, including bump stock ban, which a federal court recently struck down.
“The regulations clarify the statute, but the regulations can’t be stronger than the law or have more authority than the law,” Vasquez said. “And that’s what they’re doing with these regulations.”
Vasquez also said most gun crimes are committed with illegal firearms — not legal ones.
Skaggs with the Giffords Law Center said forced reset triggers are worth regulating, even if banning them won’t completely prevent gun crimes.
“The fact that people speed and break speed limits doesn’t mean that we should just get rid of speed limits,” he said. “The fact that people continue to commit crimes, including murder and other crimes, and that the laws are not 100% effective at preventing that does not mean that we should get rid of those laws.”
Skaggs said passing laws through Congress or at the state level wouldn’t completely solve the problem, either, because the gun industry often finds ways to circumvent laws already on the books.
“There are actors in the industry whose very existence is predicated on the idea of trying to figure out ways to evade laws,” he said.
Rare Breed Triggers has generated approximately $29 million in revenue, the lawsuit estimates. For now, the company is prohibited from selling its forced reset triggers. The company’s online order pages now feature a message: “Due to the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) issued by a federal court in the Eastern District of New York on January 25, 2023, these items are unavailable until further notice.”
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