February 19, 2010

Gun question

The question relates to United States v. O'Brien & Burgess.

Is there an accepted, legal definition for the term, "machine gun"?

The most common definitions I can find are variations of "a gun that fires rapidly and repeatedly," or "an automatic weapon." But do those not beg for definitions of "rapid" and "automatic"?

One definition for "automatic weapon" describes a "gun that reloads itself and keeps firing until the trigger is released," but no such definition can be found for "machine gun".

There seems to have no single, universal, legal definition.

Aren't all guns "machines"?

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9 Comments:

Comrade E.B. Misfit said...

In a manner of speaking, yes. Every firearm is a piston engine.

Lockwood said...

I think "rapid" is a relative term, ranging from hundreds to thousands of rounds per minute- either way, rapid compared to non-automatic guns. And I've always assumed that "machine gun" was synonymous with "fully automatic," as opposed to "semi automatic," in which each shell fired requires a separate pull of the trigger.

But I'm not really a gun person, so take this with a moon-sized grain of salt.

Mule Breath said...

Therein lies my confusion, Lockwood. Everyone, even the courts, seem to accept the term as meaning something understood, but that may never have been legally defined. In your state it is illegal to buy, sell, or possess a machine gun, but there is no definition in the law. In my state, one may possess but must register, but still no definition.

The D.C. post-Heller ordinance prohibits machine guns and defines them as any firearm which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily converted or restored to shoot: a) Automatically, more than one shot by a single function of the trigger; b) Semiautomatically, more than 12 shots without manual reloading. That would include even run-of-the-mill semi-auto pistols and could be stretched to cover wheel guns, since double actions might qualify as not requiring manual loading. Quite a stretch there.

An email received in response to my question defined a machine gun as any gun that can fire more than one round with the single pull of the trigger. Makes sense, but I can't find that or anything similar in the legal references.

Mule Breath said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lockwood said...

OK, I see the issue now. That is of course one of the problems when the general public discusses legal issues. The system creates its own internal sets of definitions that may have colloquial meaning- just as do most disciplines. When I start trying to apply the colloquial meaning to something that may have a different definition (as I did above) in legal context, confusion results. What you're saying is that you are finding no legal definition, leaving enforcement agencies to fall back on common meanings for legal terms which have no legal meaning.

Interesting. I'll bet this happens more frequently than we realize.

Mule Breath said...

Yes, pretty much my point. In the past the courts have used the lack of definition to strike down unpopular laws, while ignoring it for those more popular.

In the cited case, the mandatory minimum sentencing would be enhanced from 5 years to 35 years because the offender was in possession of a machine gun rather than a non-machine gun.

Just made me wonder, and I'm still in search of that elusive definition.

Old NFO said...

I've always seen (at least in the military) any gun that can fire more than one round with the single pull of the trigger. FWIW...

TOTWTYTR said...

From the BATFE rules under the National Firearms Act (1934)

"A machine gun is any gun that can fire more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger, or a receiver of a machine gun, or a combination of parts for assembling a machine gun, or a part or set of parts for converting a gun into a machine gun."

I think the part that you are looking for is in the first couple of lines. Be aware however, that if you should file down the sear on your rifle to make it fire a bit faster and you file enough off that it now fires in full auto mode, you have made a machine gun. Which is of course, illegal and could get you some serious attention from the ATF.

Mule Breath said...

So it is in BATF rules. I was unable to locate it.

Well, so much for what I thought was a good argument.