The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is looking to ban yet another firearm accessory. This time the agency has its sights set on Orlando-based Rare Breed Triggers (RBT), the manufacturer of a drop-in AR-15 trigger.
The unique FRT-15 (forced reset trigger) increases the speed with which a shooter can fire a semi-automatic firearm. The ATF says this feature makes it a “machine gun” by legal definition and that the trigger should therefore be heavily restricted.
Agents from the ATF’s Tampa Field Division paid a visit to RBT headquarters on July 26 to notify the company of alleged violations and deliver a cease and desist letter. The company told the ATF to pound sand.
In the two-page cease and desist request presented to RBT, the agency claims the FRT-15 trigger is a machine gun as defined by the National Firearms Act. The company was instructed to immediately halt all production of the trigger and send a plan to the ATF within five days for addressing triggers that have already been sold.
RBT’s legal counsel disagreed and fired back immediately, disputing the ATF’s claims. The attorneys then filed a federal lawsuit against the agency and the attorney general, Rare Breed Triggers, LLC v. Garland, in the 11th Circuit court.
“When Congress wrote the law defining a machine gun, they drew a box. They said, ‘If you stay in this box, it’s not a machine gun; but if you step out of the box, it is a machine gun,’” said RBT president Lawrence DeMonico. “Well, I found a way to attain my goal and stay within the box. Now the ATF wants to change the shape of that box. As an executive agency, they don’t get to do that. The ATF is not allowed to create legislation. That’s Congress’ job.”
It should be noted that RBT did not seek ATF approval for the FRT-15 before bringing the product to market. While this step is not a legal requirement, many companies voluntarily choose to make it a part of the R&D process.
Much like the stabilizing brace issue that came to light late last year targetting Q, LLC’s Honey Badger AR pistol, RBT’s lawsuit has the potential to become another high-profile showdown with an anti-gun presidential administration on one side and Second Amendment advocates and gun owners on the other.
What’s Unique About the FRT-15
After pulling a conventional semi-automatic trigger, the shooter must manually release it and allow it to travel to its reset point under light spring pressure before the trigger can be pulled again.
As its name implies, the FRT-15’s trigger is forced to reset very quickly after a shot is fired when the bolt carrier group returns forward, whether the trigger is released or not. This allows for extremely fast follow-up shots, but the trigger must still be pulled each time a round is fired.
In contrast, when a full-auto or machine gun trigger is pulled and remains depressed, the firearm will continue to fire repeatedly until it’s out of ammunition or the trigger is released.
Without prior knowledge of how the FRT-15 works, a live demonstration of a firearm with the trigger installed would surely convince most people – gun novices and experts alike – they’d just seen a machine gun in action. A standard 30-round magazine can be emptied in a few seconds, and the rapid reports would sound a lot like full-auto gunfire.
However, the legal definition of a machine gun has nothing to do with how fast a gun can be shot or the sound it makes but rather the number of rounds that are fired with a single function or “pull” of the trigger.
According to 26 USC 5845(b):
A machine gun is 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 machine gun, and any combination of parts from which a machine gun can be assembled if such parts are in the possession or under the control of a person.
The ATF’s cease and desist letter claimed the agency had examined the FRT-15 trigger and determined it met the definition of a fully automatic machine gun, as described above. However, the letter offered no details about the examination or additional documentation.
“The directives laid out in the cease and desist [letter] were based on an alleged examination performed by the ATF,” DeMonico said in the video above posted Aug. 21 on Vimeo. “I say ‘alleged examination’ because no copy of the examination was provided with the cease and desist. And during the conversation that followed, not only did [the ATF agent] admit he had not actually seen a copy of the examination, but in addition, he stated he hadn’t even seen an actual sample of the FRT trigger.”
Putting Up a Fight
So what makes RBT confident it can successfully challenge the bureaucratic might that is the ATF?
Simply put, the company feels it can prove that the FRT-15 does not meet the legal definition of a machine gun in a court of law. While the trigger certainly enables a firearm to be fired quickly, RBT says it does so within the design parameters of a perfectly legal, semi-automatic trigger.
“It’s not how fast the gun shoots,” DeMonico told ABC affiliate WFTV in Orlando. “It’s how the gun shoots fast.”
DeMonico is quick to point out that this is not only his opinion but also the opinion of his attorneys.
“I didn’t prepare for a fight just to have a fight,” DeMonico told Free Range American. “However, I knew I had to dot my i’s and cross my t’s. Everything I do in life is based upon the notion that I don’t move until I’m sure it’s safe to move. I mean, I’m damn sure not looking to go to jail. Right? Rare Breed Triggers might be new to the scene, but it is not a new endeavor for me. I have been working on the FRT for about four years. When we got a prototype that seemed to work, it was like, ‘Holy shit. We might be onto something here!’”
“We knew we needed some expert legal opinions if we were going to bring this thing to market. And I didn’t just jump on YouTube and gather a bunch of half-baked opinions of some third-string ‘gun-tubers,’” he added. “All four of my legal experts have testified on behalf of the [Department of Justice] and ATF in countless cases. I didn’t set out to do something illegal. Did I know some people wouldn’t like what I was doing? Sure. But there are haters everywhere. It doesn’t matter what you do. Someone out there is not going to like it.”
The collection of rebuttal statements written by the company’s legal team shows RBT was indeed fully prepared for this legal battle long before it happened.
The company is taking heat from some in the firearms community for failing to seek ATF approval for the trigger before releasing it, despite being under no legal obligation to do so. DeMonico said he firmly believes his team’s due diligence was so exhaustive that prior approval by the ATF was unnecessary.
There has been no public response from the ATF. The agency typically does not comment on pending litigation, but this case is bound to produce some fireworks. We’ll keep a close eye on it.