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'Bump fire' devices turn rifles into machine guns: How is that legal?

One legal device turns regular semiautomatic rifles into rapid-fire weapons. Guns can't be mechanically customized to spray-fire, but a device that simply aids the shooter's own firing action remains legal.

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The heated public debate over gun control can hardly be described as nuanced. Yet one perfectly legal product that turns a regular rifle into a machine gun highlights how it's often the fine print that defines not only what kind of guns Americans can own, but how they're allowed to work, and how they can be used.

A defense of assault-style rifles like the AR-15 used in the Sandy Hook massacre is that they're basically just semiautomatic rifles with cosmetic improvements. In other words, each bullet needs an individual trigger pull in order to explode out of the barrel. Actual spray-trigger machine guns, after all, have been illegal on the civilian market since 1986.

But debate around so-called bump fire devices that "simulate" automatic fire by utilizing a rifle's recoil to shoot the next bullet have caused some to wonder whether the devices could inspire a bureaucratic reclassification of assault weapons into machine guns, which in turn could lead to a de facto ban without Congress getting involved. That question may be politically sharper now, especially since an all-out assault weapons ban, according to University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, is "dead in the water."

"If the ATF [the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] wants to now come and ban [bump-fire devices], they basically have to modify the definition of a machine gun," Jeremy Cottle, an Iraq War veteran and inventor of the Slide Fire stock, told the Guns America blog.

How much do you know about the Second Amendment? A quiz.

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