Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

Bump Fire, Trigger Toys, and Gun Laws

 

This is going to be a technical post, so bear with me. In order to understand what a “bump fire” device is and how it works, and how laws restricting them would be pointless, it is necessary to understand exactly how firearms work, how fully automatic firearms work, and how semi-automatic firearms work. Key technical vocabulary is highlighted.

Let’s start with the basics.

All modern firearms use cartridge (the “bullet” refers only to the projectile that is discharged upon firing). The cartridge holds together the propellant and projectile in a case (usually brass, sometimes lacquered steel), and has a small hole at the base (the back). Behind the hole sits a primer cup. The primer cup is filled with a very small amount of explosive material. To fire the cartridge, a firing pin hits and compresses this primer, and the explosive material in the cup ignites, sending a jet of flame into the cartridge case proper, igniting the propellant. The burning propellant releases gas (and heat), and the expanding gas pushes the projectile out of the case and down the barrel. Per Newton’s 3rd law, the force of the expanding gas and moving projectile also push backwards against the cartridge base, and if the gun holds together that force is transmitted backwards, through the firearm, to the shooter. This is called recoil. The gasses are also pushing out laterally against the case walls, which are contained by the barrel.

When a cartridge is fully supported on all sides, and from the back (by the bolt or breech block), it is said to be In Battery. Should the cartridge not be fully inserted into its barrel chamber, and / or not also supported at the breech (the opening at the back of the barrel) by the bolt or a breech block, then it is said to be Out Of Battery. An Out Of Battery cartridge discharge is very dangerous because the expanding gasses will travel by any available path, including through the relatively weak case walls, and these gasses can destroy a firearm in milliseconds (to say nothing of the shooter).

All firearms are designed to fire In Battery, whether they are single-shot, semi-automatic, or fully automatic (with some rare exceptions I can discuss in the comments).

The Firing Mechanism

The firing pin needs to hit the primer with some force. For simplicity I’ll use a rotating hammer, but inline coiled springs on strikers work in a similar fashion. The hammer rotates about an axis pin, and has notches on it near the base. These notches are designed to be grabbed by what is called a Sear, which is a pawl that prevents the hammer from rotating. Pulling on the trigger moves the sear out of these notches and allows the hammer to rotate. For safety’s sake, there are mechanisms in place to prevent this Sear from releasing unless the cartridge is In Battery.

There are two notches on the hammer. One is for when the hammer is held in a ready position for firing, one just for the sear to grab it while the action moves.

In a fully-automatic or semi-automatic firearm, some of the recoil energy, or gas energy (as tapped through a small port some ways down the barrel) is used, with a delaying mechanism that waits till the bullet is safely moving down the barrel (or out of the barrel), to move the bolt out of battery, extract the spent case, and rotate the hammer back, where it is grabbed by that Sear. Return springs save some of that energy to stop the bolt then shove it forward again, where it grabs a new cartridge and chambers it back into the barrel. When the bolt is safely back in battery, the mechanism allows the user to release the trigger, which lets the sear pull back slightly so that the hammer moves forward until it is grabbed again by the Sear on the firing notch. At this point the user has to pull the trigger to fire.

What makes a semi-automatic firearm differ from a fully-automatic firearm is this: a second Sear that grabs and holds the hammer back. This Auto-Sear is independent of the trigger, and usually grabs the hammer not at its base, but at its tip where there is another notch for it to catch. This sear entirely lets go of the hammer only when the bolt is back In Battery, so the hammer rotates again to strike the firing pin, etc. For this to work, the trigger Sear has to be disengaged enough so that it does not grab the firing notch on the hammer at all while the trigger is held back.

Safely Converting Semi-Auto to Full Auto (Not Legal since 1986).

To convert a semi-auto to full-auto safely and correctly requires the installation of that 2nd full-auto sear, along with a hammer, selector mechanism, and modified primary sear – in other words you have to swap out the guts of the gun as all legally-sold semi-auto firearms are made without the various notches and tabs that you would need to work together. For either an AR-15 or AK of any sort, this means you have to drill through the receiver to have a place to mount that pin, plus you have to obtain the requisite parts. Accurate drilling is a must if you want it all to work (truth be told, it’s not that hard as templates abound), and the parts are not difficult to find either.

But don’t try it!

A modified gun is easy to spot by anyone in the know as those extra holes and pins are quite visible.

Also, the BATFE operates on a doctrine of “Constructive Possession” — so while you can legally obtain and own all of the parts, if you own those parts and a gun that could be modified, they’ll prosecute you just the same as if you had actually modified the gun, nevermind that the law only covers guns actually converted. This doctrine is often critiqued as the “Pre-Crimes” prosecution, from the film Minority Report, and has seen a number of law-abiding gun owners (usually collectors) jailed for many years.

Unsafe Conversions

Lots of idiots (I do not use this term loosely) think they can make their gun full-auto by grinding away the normal safety sears in semi-auto firearms. The problems with this are threefold:

  1. By doing this you make the gun full-auto all the time.
  2. You run a great risk of Out-Of-Battery discharges that could destroy your gun and kill you.
  3. You may well have an out-of-control discharge because there is nothing to stop that hammer from incessant movement. Drop the gun? It could go off in and keep chain firing as it spins around on the ground, likely inducing fatal consequences to your legs. Pull the trigger? It may well keep firing until the magazine is empty.

Like I said, only idiots attempt this.

Trigger Toys

Federal Law prohibits the modification, through mechanical means, of any firearm in such a way that would allow it to fire more than one round without the operator having to remove his finger from the trigger. Mechanical devices include springs or spring-like objects (rubber bands, for instance). An early attempt at a run-around of laws against automatics was the use of “trigger toys,” which are springs inserted into the trigger guards of firearms to shove the trigger forward.

These devices use the unpreventable recoil of firearms to jostle the operator’s hand or arms, so that really the human body itself (your arms, hands, shoulders) is involved, along with the springs, as that Auto Sear.

An operator only lightly pressing the trigger would thereby allow a firearm to bounce or bump around and keep firing without removing his finger from the trigger, so the BATFE cracked down on these. They take practice to use well, but because they also require you to have a looser than normal grip and stance while firing, they take a lot of training to operate accurately, and can’t easily be fired from the shoulder.

And the uselessness of this crackdown has been amply demonstrated by guys strapping rubber bands (available at any office supply store) to their triggers, instead of installing springs. Still, if you try it, and a cop sees you trying it, you will go to jail.

Bump Stocks

So any mechanical device modification is forbidden, but what about something that isn’t really mechanical? A bump-stock is something different. These stocks come in two pieces — one fixed shaft, attached to the gun, and an outer shaft that can freely slide on the first shaft. The trigger is not modified in any way, external or internal. The operator simply grips the gun as normal, shoulders it as normal, but does not brace it too tightly against the shoulder. Instead, the operator uses his support arm (left arm) to shove the gun forward while his right arm pulls the gun backwards. When he fires, the recoil shoves the gun backwards as normal, but that left arm’s forward pressure returns the gun (and trigger) to the firing position where the trigger hits the shooter’s trigger finger. Thus the shooter’s finger is actually leaving the trigger between shots, while the left arm acts like a second spring.

Because this is not attaching a mechanical device to the gun, not a spring or catch or other machine, but the human body itself, the BATFE could not find any legal reason why it could ban this concept under the existing letter of the law.

The most famous of this is the Slide Fire system. I have used these, and they are easy to replicate. They are also entirely legal.


Nota bene: thanks to @johnwalker for catching some errors and goofs.

Published in General
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s growing community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

There are 18 comments.

  1. Member

    Good information Skip. I was trying to explain this to MrsCheese this morning. You did a much better job than I.

    • #1
    • October 5, 2017 at 3:24 pm
    • 4 likes
  2. Member

    and how laws restricting them would be pointless,

    So how are laws restricting them pointless? Because other modifications could be made?

    • #2
    • October 5, 2017 at 3:57 pm
    • 1 like
  3. Contributor

    Herbert defender of the Realm,… (View Comment):
    So how are laws restricting them pointless? Because other modifications could be made?

    You don’t need any modifications. The bump fire stock makes it easier to do (although it still takes practice, and it’s implausible anybody could do it reliably the first time without previously trying it), but it’s a technique you can do with nothing more than your arms and fingers.

    I can see it coming: “Ban arms and fingers! How many people can you kill shooting with your big toe?”

    • #3
    • October 5, 2017 at 4:18 pm
    • 9 likes
  4. Member

    Thanks for doing this, Skip. The “Unsafe Conversion” in your post is what I referred to in another thread as, more or less, “full auto by incompetent machinist” because it can also result from someone trying to ‘improve’ their trigger/sear combination without knowing what they are doing. I had this happen on a firing line to a woman whose AR had been ‘improved’ by her boyfriend. Very dangerous and disconcerting to both the shooter and range safety officer.

    • #4
    • October 5, 2017 at 4:18 pm
    • 2 likes
  5. Thatcher

    Excellent post. I wonder how many of the anti-gun nuts know any of this?

    One modification you forgot to mention is the trigger crank (a.k.a. automatic trigger-puller). These are technically automatic simulators since the trigger is still only pulled once per round. The effect is the same as the bump stock, but with a great deal more accuracy.

    Credit: twozprecision.com

    This little device is simply screwed onto the trigger of your AR-15. One rotation of the handle produces a three-round burst. This item costs $40.

    Credit: armslist.com

    The Ruger 10/22 is one of most common weapons to convert to simulated automatic fire. They have been around a long time (I had one when I was a teenager), are cheap and reliable, the ammunition is both inexpensive and readily available, and the conversions are relatively simple. While this device looks complicated, I would guess that anyone with basic mechanical skills could put it together from a kit in an hour. I didn’t check on prices, but I would bet the entire thing costs about $1000, rifles included.

    • #5
    • October 5, 2017 at 5:16 pm
    • Like
  6. Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    Herbert defender of the Realm,… (View Comment):
    and how laws restricting them would be pointless,

    So how are laws restricting them pointless? Because other modifications could be made?

    Because the modifications are either easily made and easily reversible (rubber bands), or there are no modifications made at all, as @johnwalker has pointed out above.

    I’ve bump-fired a number of semi-auto rifles for fun without making any changes at all. It’s all in the firing technique.

    • #6
    • October 5, 2017 at 9:11 pm
    • 3 likes
  7. Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    JosePluma (View Comment):
    One modification you forgot to mention is the trigger crank (a.k.a. automatic trigger-puller). These are technically automatic simulators since the trigger is still only pulled once per round. The effect is the same as the bump stock, but with a great deal more accuracy.

    These are legal because they require a hand motion (moving the crank) for each shot fired.

    • #7
    • October 5, 2017 at 9:13 pm
    • 2 likes
  8. Contributor

    skipsul (View Comment):

    Herbert defender of the Realm,… (View Comment):
    and how laws restricting them would be pointless,

    So how are laws restricting them pointless? Because other modifications could be made?

    Because the modifications are either easily made and easily reversible (rubber bands), or there are no modifications made at all, as @johnwalker has pointed out above.

    I’ve bump-fired a number of semi-auto rifles for fun without making any changes at all. It’s all in the firing technique.

    You can find tons of examples of this online. Here’s one.

    • #8
    • October 5, 2017 at 9:30 pm
    • 4 likes
  9. Member

    … the suggestion will be that semi-autos should be banned. Revolvers and bolt-action rifles only. Besides, you don’t need anything but a 12ga for home defense.

    • #9
    • October 5, 2017 at 10:06 pm
    • 2 likes
  10. Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    Hammer, The (View Comment):
    … the suggestion will be that semi-autos should be banned. Revolvers and bolt-action rifles only. Besides, you don’t need anything but a 12ga for home defense.

    Ah, the Biden rule!

    • #10
    • October 5, 2017 at 10:25 pm
    • 4 likes
  11. Member

    Great analysis.

    Only an idiot would play with full-auto in an inappropriate fashion. The ATF has no wiggle room for such losers.

    • #11
    • October 5, 2017 at 11:48 pm
    • 3 likes
  12. Thatcher

    Thanks. Makes sense.

    • #12
    • October 6, 2017 at 3:00 am
    • 1 like
  13. Member

    Frank Soto (View Comment):
    You can find tons of examples of this online. Here’s one.

    That looks really hard to do with any accuracy. Perhaps making making this (bump stock) particular tech a little more difficult to find wouldn’t be out of place. Besides, it seems to me that if you are going to outlaw fully auto guns, you might as well get the bump stocks as well. You could make full auto just legal, but I am not to sure about that either. It seems to me that fully auto guns don’t significantly influence the ability to resist tyranny since semi auto is generally the better way to fight right? Of course, military hardware such as .50 cal machine guns are a different matter, but that isn’t in today’s topic.

    Of course, it’s all (such gun restrictions) unconstitutional IMO, but I am not sure what to do about that.

    • #13
    • October 6, 2017 at 3:12 am
    • Like
  14. Member

    My unit had the older M-16s so the full auto mode was that, not the burst mode newer ones have. I shot full auto once, but always preferred semi auto. When ammo (in this case blanks) was issued, it was rationed. I didn’t like the idea of burning through all my ammo in the first attack. As expensive as ammo is, I have no desire to burn through $50 of ammo in a few minutes. I prefer to savor my range time like a great glass of wine, savoring each shot.

    Few knew of bump stocks before the media and politicians started their endless discussion of them. Now every terrorist wannabe will want them. Banning them will create a great black market. There is little about them to be detected and identified on X-ray. They exist because of the full auto restrictions. People had a $500 option rather than the $20,000 one to legally have rapid fire. Foreign supported (hostile government proxy) terrorists won’t need the mock full auto devices because they will have the real thing.

    Why was the shooter not as active at the end? Probably had damaged his rifles and turned his shoulder into jelly. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he might have injured himself. The report will be interesting.

    Re banning bump stocks….probably the only achievement will be to give self-congratulation feel-good points to those who need them. Won’t change much else.

    • #14
    • October 6, 2017 at 6:31 am
    • 3 likes
  15. Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    EHerring (View Comment):

    Re banning bump stocks….probably the only achievement will be to give self-congratulation feel-good points to those who need them. Won’t change much else.

    Exactly. It will be exceedingly difficult to craft language that would cover them with enough precision while not also greatly impinging on otherwise legal firearm configurations.

    What has me concerned is that eventually the anti-gunners will instead go for a complete ban on semi-auto firearms, as well as California-style magazine restrictions. California had to keep tweaking its language on what constituted “removable magazines” because someone clever could always find a way around the letter of the law (the bullet button being the most famous such workaround).

    And that really is the only conceivable law change that would “work” – a total ban and forcible confiscation of all semi-auto firearms, coupled with severe restrictions on the purchase and use of ammo to also starve the supply. Period. Nothing else is at all practicable because it can be worked around. Are the Democrats prepared to do that? Perhaps. Are gun owners going to go along with that? Not a chance.

    • #15
    • October 6, 2017 at 6:56 am
    • 3 likes
  16. Coolidge

    John Walker (View Comment):

    Herbert defender of the Realm,… (View Comment):
    So how are laws restricting them pointless? Because other modifications could be made?

    You don’t need any modifications. The bump fire stock makes it easier to do (although it still takes practice, and it’s implausible anybody could do it reliably the first time without previously trying it), but it’s a technique you can do with nothing more than your arms and fingers.

    This is true – even using something like the SlideFire requires a non-natural grip and application of forces (push-pull) that a number of folks just don’t get it.

    And as you pointed out, you don’t even need that type of stock – getting the right hold and forces naturally causes repeated fire.

    Someone recently referred to bump stocks as the “whoopee cushion” of the gun world – fun but not really suitable for any aimed task.

    Not trying to be flippant – but bump stocks were not the primary reason for the carnage earlier this week – an evil person with an evil plan executing it against essentially trapped people is the real reason.

    • #16
    • October 6, 2017 at 8:00 am
    • 4 likes
  17. Contributor

    ModEcon (View Comment):
    That looks really hard to do with any accuracy.

    It’s hard to shoot an AK with accuracy with a bump stock or full-auto. They jump on you like crazy.

    • #17
    • October 6, 2017 at 8:13 am
    • 1 like
  18. Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    Frank Soto (View Comment):

    ModEcon (View Comment):
    That looks really hard to do with any accuracy.

    It’s hard to shoot an AK with accuracy with a bump stock or full-auto. They jump on you like crazy.

    That’s way they come with the so-called slant-brake – a bit of metal at the end of the barrel to use the discharged gasses to shove the gun down and to the left, to counter the natural inclination of the thing to twist in your hands and pull up and to the right.

    Heck, even the semi-auto ones take practice to control.

    • #18
    • October 6, 2017 at 8:26 am
    • 1 like