A company that sold triggers that make semi-automatic, AR-15-style rifles fire like automatic weapons likely misled consumers that the devices were legal, and it continued selling them even after being warned by the U.S. government, a federal judge in New York ruled Tuesday.
The judge barred Rare Breed Triggers from selling any more of its forced-reset triggers until further notice — a blow to the company's defense against the government's civil fraud lawsuit, which remains pending.
"The Court concludes that the Government is likely to succeed on the merits of its claims," U.S. District Judge Nina Morrison wrote, adding the company "placed tens of thousands of their customers at risk of criminal prosecution and the loss of their right to own firearms."
Rare Breed Triggers and its lawyers are disappointed by the ruling and are considering how to respond, said David Warrington, one of the company's lawyers. He also noted the ruling is not a final decision in the lawsuit.
"It is just a preliminary ruling made on a partial, truncated record," Warrington said in an email to The Associated Press. "This is just the beginning of a long fight and Rare Breed is assessing its next steps."
Federal authorities sued the company in January, alleging its FRT-15 triggers qualify as illegal machine guns under federal law and regulations. The government's lawsuit seeks a permanent ban on selling the triggers.
Rare Breed argues the triggers are legal.
The classification of Rare Breed's FRT-15 triggers as machine guns by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also is being challenged in a lawsuit filed in Texas by the National Association for Gun Rights.
Forced-reset triggers are among a number of accessories, including bump stocks and auto sears, that increase the firing speed of semiautomatic firearms and have drawn concern from federal and local law enforcement officials worried about mass shootings and other gun violence.
In court filings, the ATF said testing on Rare Breed's FRT-15s showed their rate of fire can meet or exceed that of the military's M-16 machine gun, which can fire 700 to 970 rounds a minute. The ATF says the triggers are machine guns because they fire more than one round with one pull of the trigger.
Rare Breed Triggers, founded in Florida and now based in Fargo, North Dakota, has sold about 100,000 FRT-15s since December 2020, taking in $39 million in revenue, according to court filings. The devices have generally been sold at just under $400 apiece and take only minutes to install.
Other representatives of Rare Breed Triggers, including its owner, Kevin Maxwell, and its president, Lawrence DeMonico, did not immediately return messages seeking comment Tuesday.
U.S. Attorney Breon Peace's office declined to comment.
In court documents, the company argues the ATF's classification of FRT-15s as automatic weapons is wrong.
Federal officials say Rare Breed knew a predecessor of the FRT-15 had been classified as a machine gun but went ahead and sold the triggers anyway without asking the ATF to evaluate the devices. The company said it consulted with former ATF officials who said they believed the triggers were legal.
The ATF ordered the company to stop selling the triggers shortly after they hit the market.
The ATF has been asking FRT-15 owners to voluntarily turn them over to the agency. In the New York lawsuit, the U.S. attorney asked for an order requiring the company to create a refund program for customers to return the triggers for cash, but the judge denied that request.
At issue in the case is how to apply the National Firearms Act of 1934, as modified in 1968 and 1986.
The law currently bars the public from owning machine guns made in recent decades. It defines machine guns as firearms capable of firing more than one shot with a "single function" of a trigger. Rare Breed Triggers has argued that because its device forces the trigger to return to the start position after each shot, it satisfies the requirement of one "function" per round.