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It’s No Laughing Matter

Joe Huffman had a worn AR-15 part that was causing his rifle to double. He notes:

It would have been really ugly if the ATF took a dislike to me. A gun malfunctioning like that can result in a prison sentence. It’s not right. The law should be fixed. The ATF should abolished or at least have it’s “claws trimmed”. But that is the way it is.

To some degree the Supreme Court already declawed ATF’s interpretation of this statute in the case of Staples v. United States, but if you ever have this happen to you, it’s very very important that you fix it promptly. Definitely don’t take it to the range and tell your buddies, “Hey, check this out!” From Staples:

We concur in the Fifth Circuit’s conclusion on this point: “It is unthinkable to us that Congress intended to subject such law-abiding, well-intentioned citizens to a possible tenyear term of imprisonment if . . . what they genuinely and reasonably believed was a conventional semi-automatic [weapon] turns out to have worn down into or been secretly modified to be a fully automatic weapon.”

Joe has little to worry about here, since he pretty clearly fits nicely into the Staples language. But to be safe, it’s probably also a good idea to destroy or otherwise get rid of the worn part once you’ve replaced it, because you don’t want to constructively possess a machinegun either. The statute in question hinges upon your knowledge, and whether you have a “guilty mind,” as is required under the Staples decision. If you have an AR go full-auto, or burst, that in itself is not strictly a crime if you take measures to quickly fix it. If you think it’s cool and knowingly keep it that way, and that goes doubly if you tell someone about it, you’re opening yourself up for possible prosecution.

5 Responses to “It’s No Laughing Matter”

  1. DevsAdvocate says:

    A malfunctioning weapon is an unsafe one. At the first sign of trouble, you should repair it or take it to a gunsmith who can do the work.

  2. Alien says:

    This is really a question for the lawyers, but I’d think in a case such as Joe’s retaining the worn part(s) as evidence would be prudent.

    1) Worn hammer and sear produce doubling, or burst; 2) someone other than the owner sees it double or burst; 3)somehow, one of ATF’s minions hears about it; 4)legal hell for owner ensues.

    Without the worn parts as evidence, or at least a completely detailed receipt from the repairing gunsmith, there’s no way to prove compliance with Staples.

    It might be a good idea to tag them, attach the gunsmith receipt and/or replacement parts purchase receipt, a detailed personal note as a memory refresher, and toss them into one’s safe deposit box until the statute of limitations expires.

    • Squall says:

      I think the detailed review would be the wiser choice, lest someone accuse him of planning to assemble a MG if found in possession of the piece. Although, like Sebastian said, this seems to be pretty clearly co ered by case law.

    • Jim Jones says:

      And this is exactly why we have the 4th and 5th amendments. The government cannot willy-nilly barge into your home, and you ALWAYS have the right to remain silent. It is up to the government to prove their accusations against you. If the ATF were to show up at your home asking “we’ve heard from John Doe that you were firing bursts at the local range, can we come in and ask you a few questions?”, your answer should always be “No.” Unless you are under arrest, you are under no obligation to answer anyone’s questions. Even when you are under arrest, you don’t have to answer any questions without your lawyer present. How would they prove their case in a court of law (beyond a reasonable doubt) if you do not provide any statements or worn-off trigger group?

      Normal folks need to understand that the practice of law is a bit of a game. There are certain rules to follow, and the winners are typically those who understand the rules the best, and how to use them to their advantage. The authorities know that most people are kind and trusting, and they will use it against you to incriminate you. ATF agents, cops, and prosecutors are only interested in making solid cases stick. They have productivity quotas they have to meet, and by g-d, they are going to reach their numbers. Don’t ever fall into their traps.

  3. SJ says:

    I wasn’t aware of the Staples case, but I was aware of the Olofson case. Which generated several posts here, when it was current news.

    (IIRC, Olofson was known to have been swapping M-16 trigger parts into his AR. His rifle arguably suffered a slam-fire or double-fire like Joe’s rifle did. However, Olofson’s use of Mil-Spec trigger components intended for use with a full-auto sear, plus the lack of attempts to repair the rifle before it fell into ATF hands, sunk his case.)

    I’ve known a dealer who used to have a permit for selling NFA items. At least once, he discussed the potential for double-fire events due to worn mechanisms on AR-pattern rifles. The advice he gave was more or less what Joe did.

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