Gun Herpes

By: Jason L. Van Dyke, Esq.

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I love gun shows and I love the fact that I can go to a gun show in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area almost every weekend if I really want to. I am the type of gun owner that is a linear shopper at a gun show. Most of my guns are custom made. When I go to a gun show, I am there in search of a particular item (powder, primers, extra magazines, a holster, or whatever). I want to find the booth with the best price on that item, buy it, and leave. However, I have reached a point where I don’t want to go to gun shows anymore because of the amount of ridiculous things I am seeing there. I call them “gun herpes,” for no reason other than the fact that it sounds about as bad as it is.

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At my last gun show, I saw a horrible sight. I am not going to mention the name of the company that created this monstrosity, but there it was right as I walked in. It was a semi-automatic magazine fed Saiga-12 shotgun that had been Cerakoted in zombie green. The standard stock had been replaced with a folding one, and there were no fewer than five, big long metal spikes on the bayonet-type contraption on the end of the barrel. It sat there among pump action Remington 870s and even a Benelli M2 that had been similarly abused by the Josef Mengele of gunsmiths. I felt like I was in the animal shelter of shotguns. What kind of monster would take a perfectly good shotgun, defile it in such a grotesque manner, and then sell it at a gun show to someone who clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing? I’ll mention this to someone and they’ll say, “Oh, Jason, how do you know that guy doesn’t know what he’s doing?” I will respond by saying, “Because if he did, he wouldn’t be buying that shotgun.” A tear dripped down my cheek and I had to move on.

Bump fire stocks and binary trigger systems hardly represent the first time that gun manufacturers have released a product without considering the unintended consequences of their actions.  While the AR-15 chambered in 5.56mm is by far the most popular modern sporting rifle, many prefer the (mostly) Russian-made weapons chambered in 5.45x39mm due to the low cost of surplus ammunition – or at least they use to.  The most readily available surplus ammunition in that caliber is now banned from importation and sale as “armor piercing pistol ammunition.”  Why?  Because a contributor to the gun herpes pandemic decided to make a pistol chambered in 5.45x39mm.  It’s not even a very good pistol, and pistols chambered in rifle calibers have never posed a significant threat to law enforcement. Like the ridiculous zombie shotguns, items like the 5.45x49mm pistol posed the same question that was posed in Jurassic Park concerning the creation of dinosaurs: that folks spent too much time considering whether they could do something, and not enough time considering whether they should.

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We are now faced with questions concerning the newest and most prolific form of gun herpes: accessories that purport the ability to simulate fully automatic fire. They typically fall into two categories. The first is a “bump-fire” device – such as the slide-fire stock seen on one of the weapons recovered from the Las Vegas shooter’s hotel room – which simulate fully automatic fire. The second are so-called “binary” trigger systems, that, when switched on, allow the weapon to fire once when the trigger is pulled and once when the trigger is released.

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The truth is that neither of these items are capable of increasing the rate of fire of a semi-automatic rifle, and neither of them are capable of converting a semi-automatic firearm into a machine gun. All news accounts to the contrary are false. Why? First of all, the rate of fire of any firearm is regulated by the physics of how long it takes the weapon to fire a chambered cartridge, eject the spent shell casing, and load a new cartridge from the magazine into the chamber of the weapon. The maximum rate at which a weapon is capable of doing this is called the “cyclic rate” of the weapon. Neither a bump-fire stock nor a binary trigger mechanism is capable of modifying the cyclic rate of the weapon. The only known means through which the cyclic rate of a weapon can be increased or decreased is through modifications to the gas system of the weapon – not the trigger group or the stock. All semi-automatic AR-15 and AK-47 type weapons are theoretically capable of firing at the same rate as their fully automatic counterparts: it’s the physical limitations of the human body, which prevent this from occurring.

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Similarly, these devices are incapable of converting a semi-automatic weapon into a fully automatic weapon (or a “machine gun”). The definition of a machine gun is,“[a]ny weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.” It is theoretically possible to convert a semi-automatic firearm into a machine gun, but to do so would require advanced technical knowledge and a machine shop. Most weapons fire one round, and only one round, every time the trigger is pulled and released. A binary trigger allows one round to be fired when the trigger is pulled and another to be fired when the trigger is released. Its legality is based upon the fact that firing a weapon required two separate functions: first pulling the trigger and then releasing it. A bump-fire stock is much different. It uses the recoil naturally generated by the weapon to assist the shooter in manually pulling the trigger at a very high rate of speed. Since the trigger is being depressed and released one time for every round that is exiting the barrel, the weapon still functions as a semi-automatic. A true fully automatic weapon does not typically rely on the generation of recoil.  It is merely a trigger mechanism that, once the trigger is pulled, allows the weapon to fire at its cyclic rate until the trigger is released or ammunition is expended.

Why do I consider these devices to fall into the category of “gun herpes” along with zombie shotguns?  First of all, these devices are unsafe because they make it far more difficult for the shooter to remain in full control of the weapon. Due to the effect of recoil on a shooter and the weapon itself, these devices further compromise accuracy in favor of laying down a highvolume of fire. Is there a purpose for fully automatic fire? Yes. When faced with multiple threats, it’s useful for forcing them into positions where they cannot safely shoot back at you.  This is commonly called “suppressive fire” and, although police are permitted to have fully automatic weapons, the most common application of suppressive fire is seen in the military.  Even there, most military rifles have replaced the “full auto” function of a battle rifle with a three-shot “burst” function. As most shooters can put 2-3 shots on a single threat very quickly without the use of such a feature, its absence from the most common battle rifles demonstrates the limited utility of fully automatic fire.

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To be clear: I do not believe that these devices should be banned. In fact, I think fully automatic firearms should be easier to obtain than they are now. I would love nothing more than to own a hand-made reproduction of a Thompson submachine gun. The Thompson is up there with the Peacemaker, the 1911, and the M1 Garand as one of the true masterpieces of American gun craftsmanship and pure aesthetic beauty. They are also a hell of a lot of fun to shoot.

  Notwithstanding these facts, machine guns offer very few significant advantages to the shooter in terms of sheer practicality. Now, like rifle-caliber pistols before them, these devices are being used as a convenient excuse by the left to enact more gun control. This change in legislation could lead to a massive slippery slope in which any modification that lightens or shortens the length of pull of the trigger on a firearm is banned – or a world in which every firearm required a minimum amount of force to pull the trigger. The left would be happy to let us keep out modern sporting rifles – so long as they all had 15-pound triggers.

Such slippery slopes are exactly why all new gun control legislation – including these proposed bans on bump stocks – must be vigorously opposed.In 1994, American gun owners learned the hard way what can happen when you try to make a deal with the devil. We can thank God that the tyranny of the Clinton ban on so-called “assault weapons” lasted only ten years. Nevertheless, taking a principled stand against legislation that would regulate or ban such devices doesn’t mean we should go out and by them. They are, at best, ridiculous and tactically unsound novelty items. The money that you would waste on a bumpfire stock, a binary trigger, or a zombie shotgun is far better spent on training from a competent firearms instructor. That way, if the jackboots ever come knocking at your door to confiscate your gun, they will be face with a pissed off patriot that actually knows how to use one. Uhuru!

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Author: Jason L. Van Dyle, Esq.  

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