A reader emailed the following question:
I can buy a Ar 15 but the auto sear has been removed which is what I want anyway as I do not want a machine gun just a regular semi auto Ar 15. What part or parts do I have to get to fill the space left where the auto sear used to be?? Or should I not buy it but it’s cheap?
Something here wasn’t making sense . . .
For those still not up on the issue, an AR-15 rifle is a semi-automatic firearm. That means that for every pull of the trigger, only one round of ammunition is ever fired. These rifles are legal for United States citizens to purchase and usually (in most states with “common sense” laws) don’t have any extra strings attached to the sale.
On the other hand, a “machine gun” is a firearm that will continue to fire once the trigger is pulled until it either runs out of ammo or the shooter releases the trigger. These firearms are heavily regulated by the ATF, including a registration of all machine guns and requirements to fill out all kinds of paperwork before you can sell one. They also cost upwards of $10,000. Each.
An “auto sear” is a part that, when installed, allows an AR-15 or M-16 rifle to fire in a fully automatic mode. It doesn’t exist on a semi-automatic rifle. Therefore, when he said “auto sear,” I immediately had a bad feeling about where this was going. Here’s my response, verbatim:
What exactly do you mean that the sear has been removed?
If the gun you are buying has ever been a “fully automatic” machine gun, then it will always be a machine gun in the eyes of the ATF. So you would need the proper tax stamp and ATF approval and registration to own it. It would also need to comply with all NFA related laws. Which, if the gun was manufactured after 1986, is impossible without being a properly taxed and licensed firearms dealer.
Just to clarify once again: even if the auto sear has been removed, it is still legally a machine gun. If the gun has ever been “fully automatic” then it will always be a machine gun. There is no way to legally convert it to a semi-automatic rifle. And ANY transfer of a machine gun in the United States needs to be registered and taxed by the ATF.
Just to cover my ass here, I am not a lawyer and this does not constitute legal advice. But if I were in your position, I would RUN (not walk) away from this deal. And possibly alert your local ATF office.
That wasn’t the end of the conversation, though. He came back with some information about the provenance of the firearm, and in there was this nugget:
Somebody in the early 80’s did the mods to make it auto. There is no paperwork on it.
Great. So what we have here is a rifle that was modified pre-1986 to be a machine gun, but was never registered and missed the amnesty period. So it’s now an unregistered machine gun, and I’m pretty sure that the ATF and the FBI would be very interested in the owner of such a firearm.
I may not agree with the National Firearms Act, but there is no way to ever make a rifle cheap enough where I would commit a felony instead of buying the legal version. And the same goes for advice I give to people who ask. And in this case, my advice was to walk away from the deal and buy a new AR-15. Heck, they’re cheap as all get-out at the moment. And it’s not worth a felony over a couple hundred dollars.