Recently, a small start-up company, SlideFire, decided to test the 1986 Firearm Owners Protection Act that made it illegal to manufacture an automatic weapon after May 19, 1986 (with an exception for samples manufactured for dealers, military, and police agencies).
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is charged with the responsibility of administering this prohibition, relying upon definitions of “machinegun” found in the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA), the amended Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), and subsequent court cases.
The NFA, 26 U.S.C. § 5845(a) defines “machinegun” to mean:
“…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 possessor under the control of a person.”
The ATF has successfully taken on challenges in the past by private gun makes seeking to find a way around the law.
IF THE GLOVE FITS . . .
The developers at SlideFire thought they had found a way around the law be designing and manufacturing a device that did not attach to the gun itself. It is intended to be worn by the shooter, expanding upon the concept of bump-firing (simulated full auto firing as a result of allowing the recoil of a semi=auto firearm to repeatedly activate the trigger against the shooter’s trigger finger).
The result was the “AutoGlove,” a glove worn by the shooter. But this is no ordinary glove. It is fitted with a device on the shooter’s trigger finger that sits inside the trigger guard and repeatedly activates the trigger when the shooter activates a separate on/off switch located on the middle finger of the glove. The shooter’s trigger finger is simply extended straight alongside the trigger guard, and the glove’s actuator does the rest. A separate battery pack is attached to the shooter’s wrist provides power to activate the actuator at rates beyond 1,000 rounds per minute.
There is no modification required to the firearm nor do you have to attach anything to it, which is why the developers at SlideFire thought they had found a loophole. Their device simply gave the shooter a robotic trigger finger, modifying the shooter and not the gun.
ATF GOES TRIGGER (UN)HAPPY
However, the ATF tested the device and issued a determination letter on September 11, 2017, that shot down SlideFire’s plans to produce and market their AutoGlove.
The ATF declared the device to be a “machinegun” despite the argument put forth by SlideFire that it was not permanently attached to the weapon. The ATF’s position is that nowhere in the definition of a machine gun does it require a device to be permanently attached to the weapon. In fact, in 1988 the ATF issued another determination letter regarding an electronic trigger solenoid in which it concluded that:
“. . . the term “machinegun shall also include . . . any part designed and intended solely and exclusively or combination of parts designed and intended for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun. Therefore, a device such as you describe would meet that definition even if it were not attached to any firearm.”
In reliance upon that 1988 determination, the ATF concluded that since the AutoGlove was designed and intended solely for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun, it meets the statutory definition of “machinegun” and falls within the restrictions of the NFA and GCA.
Therefore, the ATF determined that SlideFire was not properly licensed to manufacture or sell machine guns and the AutoGlove could not be used or possessed by individuals. Faced with that ATF ruling, SlideFire was forced to cease operations and issue refunds for those that had already paid for the device.
JUST WHEN YOU THINK YOU’VE HEARD IT ALL . . .
To add insult to injury, the ATF declared the AutoGlove in its possession to be an unregistered machinegun and therefore contraband. Since possession of the AutoGlove would be unlawful, the ATF refused to return the device to SlideFire and requested a voluntary forfeiture of the “unregistered machinegun.”