Things That Make You Go “Hmm.”

Ideas someone gave me for fun 21st Century determination letters to ATF:

A bionic arm that’s capable of pulling a trigger at automatic speeds based on nerve inputs, but in an entirely controllable and accurate way. Machine gun?

My take: no. The bionic “finger” is still actuating the trigger each time. But what if the arm enhances the biological capability to allow the finger to work very rapidly? What if the user firmware hacked his bionic arm to do very fast finger actuations upon certain nerve impulses? Can a bionic arm ever be a machine gun? The answer might be “probably!”

A firearm is produced for disabled shooters with no trigger. It’s firing mechanism is actuated by thoughts. However, someone figures out it’s capable of firing continuously if the user thinks about it in a certain way (Maybe you have to think in Russian!), but the firearm has no trigger as we understand the term today. Machine gun?

Presumably there could be a mechanism that could be identified as a trigger. But what if it is otherwise an ordinary semi-automatic action that’s electrically actuated and it’s the right kind of thought that actuates the sear either singly or continuously. This is a tough one. ATF has traditionally not wanted to get into rules of “if you use it this way, then no, but if you use it this way, then yes.” I would argue our law does not describe this kind of situation, and absent action from Congress, not a machine gun.

10 thoughts on “Things That Make You Go “Hmm.””

  1. I have a question about machine gun law, but it goes the opposite direction, technologically…

    Imagine a rifle that has a magazine, but the magazine cannot be removed from the rifle. In fact, the magazine does not hold shelled bullets. Instead, you have to put primer, black powder, wadding and bullet in each chamber by hand, with lever to assist in the process.

    In other words, this is loaded in much the same way that the first black powder revolvers were.

    Now, suppose you can fire bursts, or fire the entire magazine, by pulling the trigger. Is this a machine gun? Or is it merely a black powder muzzle-loading rifle, exempt from Federal firearms law, much like any black powder rifle, pistol or revolver, or even Gatling gun?

    (It won’t be exempt from firearms law for the same reason that some lever-action rifles are — namely, that it has a serial number that dates before 1896 — which, incidentally, shows how arbitrary background check legislation is. I can literally buy a lever-action rifle without a background check if it has one serial number, but must go through a background check if the exact same kind of rifle has another…yet we don’t see a rash of crimes committed with pre-background-check rifles…)

    1. Is machinegun. There’s exception for cap and ball (antique and not using fixed ammunition) for every category except machine guns. If it fires more than one shot per function of the trigger, it’s a machine gun.

      1. Yet the more interesting question will be when the full auto air guns get as powerful as powder based firearms, what will the ATF do when the AR-32 fires 800 rpm at 2500fps using 55 grain lead pellets?

        1. Lobby congress?

          Firearms has a specific definition in the federal law, which excludes airguns.

          At any rate, there are airguns as powerful as powder-charged guns, though not as compact, and I don’t think anyone has made any that are more than “semi-automatic”

      2. And that is why I would have consulted a lawyer before trying to construct such a device. (While it’s something that I wondered about for some time, it’s not something I wanted to learn via judge and jury…)

  2. For fast moving trigger fingers — consider the finger of a trained musician. A “trill” in many instruments involve flexing your finger rapidly. If you’ve heard a trill executed by a professional performer, imagine a gun fired at that repetition rate. It’s all purely semi-auto action, but it will sound a lot like at least a bump stock, or a Gatling gun.

  3. I think the converted and/or restored language in the statutory definition of “machinegun” would probably cover the mind control gun – and maybe the bionic finger too (make into a machine gun conversion device by crossing some wires?):

    (b) Machinegun

    The term “machinegun” means 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.

    But since we’re talking science fiction, this probably also covers it:

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