News|Intelligence Brief

Last week, the ATF issued an open letter to all federal firearm licensees (FFL) in regards to Force Reset Triggers (FRTs). In that open letter the ATF notified the FFLs that “some” of these FRTs in circulation are now classified as a “firearms” and “machineguns” under the National Firearms Act (NFA) and Gun Control Act (GCA). This open letter and machinegun classification by the ATF is an evolving saga between the ATF and Rare Breed Firearms. To understand the dynamics and minutiae of this case we must investigate it’s history.

How did Force Reset Triggers Get On The ATF’s Radar?

Washington D.C. Field Office

Force Reset Triggers hit the ATF’s radar when an agent working in the Washington, D.C. field office, found a YouTube installation video of the Rare Breed’s FRT-15 and it being fired. That agent contacted ATF’s Firearm and Ammunition Technology Division (FATD) to see if Rare Breed had obtain an opinion letter from the ATF in regards to the FRT-15.

The FATD informed the inquiring agent that they had not examined the FRT, but it most likely would be considered a machinegun under the NFA or GCA. Months went by after the initial inquiry by the agent. Not to be deterred the agent would reach out of the local Florida ATF field office and ask for them to investigate Rare Breed’s FRT-15.

The investigation into the FRT-15 was delayed by popular demand for Rare Breed’s new trigger. The ATF couldn’t get their hands on one to test. The Agency was forced to purchase two off triggers of website Gun Broker. The two triggers were then evaluated and tested by the ATF. Sources allegedly reported the trigger was tested using a zip tie to secure the trigger to the rear. When using this method the ATF observed weapon continued to fire. This observation potentially lead to the classification of the FRT-15 as a machinegun.

ATF Serves Rare Breed Firearms With Cease and Desist Letter

In July of 2021, Rare Breed Firearms (RBF) was served with an cease and desist letter from the ATF, ordering the company to stop the manufacture and sell of their FRT-15 (Forced Reset Trigger-15). Rare Breed refused to comply with the ATF’s order to cease and desist manufacture and sell of the FRT-15 and filed a lawsuit against the ATF and Department of Justice in federal court. Rare Breed lawsuit argued that the company wasn’t informed of the ATF’s investigation into their product and wasn’t granted due process by the ATF to submit evidence to refute that claim by the agency.

ATF Vs Rare Breed Firearms

Federal Court Room

In the preliminary court proceedings a few months later the ATF attempted to block Rare Breed’s evidence from being considered in court. The ATF argued that the administrative record was closed due to the lawsuit from Rare Breed. Since the record has been closed that court should make the decision on the future of FRTs with the information on record. Lawyers of Rare Breed argued that their client never had access to the record at anytime. In those proceedings the Judge believed that Rare Breed was attempting to add more evidence and testimony to the administrative record which would not be allowed.

What was discovered in court was the ATF did not initial give access to Rare Breed to the administrative record at all. The ATF didn’t notify or inform Rare Breed of the investigation into their FRT-15 until after they served RBF’s with a cease and desist letter in July of 2021. This is according to Lawerence DeMonico, owner of Rare Breed Firearms. The administrative record and determination was done without the knowledge of the company in which a decision was being adjudicated about Rare Breed’s FRT-15.

After, this development the court order the ATF to give Rare Breed access to the administrative record so they could include their own evidence into record to make a legal argument on how their product does not violate the NFA or the GCA. The company was given very limited access to the record and wasn’t able to update the record as the judge order. Additionally, information include by the company was incomplete or missing according to Rare Breed attorneys.

Rare Breed Files An Preliminary Injunction Against The ATF

After, this preliminary court hearing Rare Breed filed a preliminary injunction against the ATF and DOJ. In those court proceedings Rare Breeds was only able to argue two points in court. First, what was the likehood of success on the merits of the case. Second, was irreparable harm done by the ATF against Rare Breed Firearms. During this injunction hearing Rare Breed would not be able to argue the merits of the case only if they case would be successful if gone to trial.

In that hearing Rare Breed presented the evidence and the witnesses to prove the likelihood of success of their case against the ATF but, not specific details of the case. While making their presentation Rare Breed’s attorney discussed the likelihood of success with the witnesses but, also had them discuss specific details of the case. This was in violation of the preliminary injunctions scope to only discuss the likelihood of success of the case against the ATF. The judge at this time granted a small amount of latitude for the Rare Breed to continue.

It is when Rare Breed’s expert witness Brian Lukey made the assertion against the accuracy of the ATF report by David Smith that everything changed. Mr. Lukey believed that if David Smith had to testify to the accuracy of the report he would be committing perjury. David Smith is the ATF examiner who conducted the test of the FRT-15s. At this point the Judge stops the examination and scolded Rare Breed’s attorneys for arguing the specific details of the case which was not allowed.

At this time the attorney informs the court that the ATF still had not allowed Rare Breed to add evidence or testimony to the administrative record as was granted previously. In being unable to do so the attorneys took this risk during the injunction hearing to have those specific details heard by the court.

The judge then asked the US Attorney from the ATF was the claim that Rare Breed is making is true. The attorney acknowledged it was true and they were not allowed to add anything to the administrative record. With this new information being discovered the Judge asked would Rare Breed accept this being remanded back to the ATF and have the case started anew. Rare Breed’s attorneys responded with a “Yes.”

Next, the judge proceeded to ask the US Attorney if he was willing to do the same. The US Attorney was unsure and requested a short recess to find out. After the recess the US Attorney representing the ATF informed the court the ATF was unwilling to voluntarily take back the case.

After this refusal the Judge advised Rare Breed to file a motion to have the case reprimanded back to the ATF and to have the investigation restarted.

Fast forward to October of 2021, the lawsuit by Rare Breed Vs ATF was dismissed due to missing a filing deadline by the court. The Judge presiding over the lawsuit also denied Rare Breed’s preliminary injunction against the ATF and the DOJ. During this time when the case was being dismissed Rare Breed was filing a motion to have the case reprimanded back to the ATF. Since that dismissal Rare Breed is working towards another motion to have the case restarted by the ATF in regards to the FRT-15.

ATF Sends Open Letter To FFLs Classifying Some FRTs As Machineguns

Now, this brings us full circle to March of 2022, when the ATF sent out an open letter to all FFLs in regards to FRTs. In that letter the Agency made the classification that some FRTs are “firearms” and “machineguns” under the NFA and GCA respectively. The ATF doesn’t inform licensees which FRTs are in violation of the NFA or GCA policies. Yet, it does attempt to clarify why the ATF made the determination that some FRTs are consider machineguns under the NFA or GCA.

ATF’s Open Letter To FFLs

In the open letter the ATF makes the argument that FRTs are machineguns due to one pull of the trigger facilitating the firing of more than one round. The ATF states, “Unlike traditional triggers and binary triggers (sometimes generally referred to as “FRTs”), the subject FRTs do not require the shooter to pull and then subsequently release the trigger to fire a second shot. Instead, these FRTs utilize the firing cycle to eliminate the need for the shooter to release the trigger before the second shot is fired. By contrast, some after-market triggers have similar components but also incorporate a disconnector or similar feature to ensure that the trigger must be released before a second shot may be fired and may not be machineguns.”

The Agency continues with the definition of a machinegun form the NFA and GCA.

Both the NFA and GCA regulate machineguns. “Machinegun” is defined under 26 U.S.C. § 5845(b) and 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(23) as—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 possession or under the control of a person.

The ATF’s examination by the FATD concluded that some FRT devices allow a firearm to automatically expel more than one shot with a single, continuous pull of the trigger. 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 NFA and GCA.

How Does A Standard AR-15 Trigger Work?

To understand how an FRT works we have to examine the operation of a standard AR-15 trigger pack. To fire the rifle the user must pull the trigger, which release the hammer from the disconnecter. The hammer hits the firing pin striking the round. The bolt cycles. During the cycling of the bolt the hammer is reset upon the disconnector. Thus, allowing the shooter to pull the trigger and fire a new round once it’s chambered. If the trigger is held to the rear the trigger will not reset until the trigger is released and allowed to reset. That is how a standard AR-15 trigger works. One pull of the trigger generates one round fired.

How Do Force Reset Triggers Work?

Forced Reset Triggers work the same way as a standard AR-15 trigger. One pull of the trigger generates one round fired. When, the FRT is pulled the hammer releases hitting the firing pin. The bolt cycles pushing the hammer back into cocked position as normal. The innovation of the FRT is that as the bolt cocks the hammer it mechanically forces a reset of the trigger. Which in turn forces the shooters finger forward. Simultaneously, as the force reset occurs a locking bar is activated mechanical to prevent another round from being fired until a new round is chambered in the rifle. So, even though the trigger is reset a round cannot be fired until the cycle of operations is complete with a chambered round. The innovation of the force reset allows a user to shoot faster than your standard AR trigger by forcing the reset before it is manual done by the shooter. The innovative design of the FRT allows for it to maintain the function of a standard AR-15 trigger while allowing users to shoot at a faster rate.

The Current Situation Of FRTs Vs ATF

As, of today the ATF has classified some FRTs as “firearms” and “machineguns” under the NFA and GCA. Without giving exact models that violate the letter of the law it puts FFLs and owners of FRTs into a precarious situation. The open letter is meant to imply that Rare Breed’s FRT-15 is one of the FRTs that is classified as a machinegun but never directly stated. The ATF has warned anyone using a restricted FRT could face 10 years in prison and $250,000 fine. While licensees can be charged with $10,000 per offense, $500,000 dollar fine, and up to 10 years in prison.

Recently, a dealer of Rare Breed’s who sells the FRT-15 was sent a cease and desist letter to stop selling FRT-15s. The dealer sought legal advice from their attorney. In response the dealer’s attorney sent the ATF a rebuttal letter stating that no violation of the law had occurred, that FRT-15 as they stand now are legal and not under control of the NFA, and the attorney also provided evidence why the FRT-15 was not a machine gun. The ATF never responded to that rebuttal letter. Then, last week the dealer in question was raided and their limited supply of FRT-15 were confiscated during that ATF raid.

The future legality of the FRT-15 is question as we speak. Rare Breed firearms continues to file for a motion of reprimand to have the case sent back to the ATF and for the investigation to start fresh. The company is also suing Big Daddy Unlimited and 3D printers for copyright infringement of the FRT-15 trigger design. Only time will tell the fate of FRTs and Rare Breed Firearms.

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