FARGO — A gun trigger company based in Fargo has sued a federal agency that claims a trigger sold by the company can turn a rifle into a machine gun, raising questions about the legality of the firearm part.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ordered Rare Breed Triggers to stop selling its forced-reset trigger, according to a Jan. 13 cease-and-desist letter to the company. The ATF also has launched a criminal investigation into Rare Breed's triggers.
Rare Breed filed a lawsuit on Monday, May 16, against the ATF and U.S. Department of Justice, asking a federal judge to void the cease-and-desist order, force the agencies to withdraw their classification of the trigger as a machine gun and award any relief the court sees fit.
Rare Breed started selling its forced-reset trigger, known as the FRT-15, nationwide in December 2020. The company’s attorney and owner, Kevin Maxwell, called the FRT-15 a legal semiautomatic trigger for AR-15 rifles.
“It is not a machine gun under the National Firearms Act or the Gun Control Act,” Maxwell said in a video posted to Rare Breed’s website.
Rare Breed, the Justice Department and ATF all did not respond to The Forum's requests for an interview on this story.
The ATF informed Rare Breed in July that the forced-reset trigger met the qualifications to be deemed a machine gun under federal law, making the FRT-15 illegal to sell or own. A machine gun can fire multiple rounds while pulling and holding the trigger.
“ATF has concluded that the Rare Breed FRT-15 is a combination of parts designed and intended for use in converting a weapon into a machine gun,” federal officials said in the Jan. 13 letter. “ATF’s examination found the Rare Breed FRT-15 allows a firearm to expel more than one shot, without manual reloading, with a single, continuous pull of the trigger.”
Along with an order to stop sales of the FRT-15, the federal agency ordered Rare Breed to surrender any forced-reset triggers in its possession.
Violating the law that bans machine guns could result in a $10,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison.
Rare Breed's FRT-15, with a price tag of $380, was "out of stock" as of Friday, according to the company's website .
Rare Breed said in its civil complaint that its forced-reset trigger has been misclassified as a machine gun. The FRT-15 does not fire more than one round with the single pull of a trigger but allows for quicker follow-up shots, the company said.
It also claimed the ATF did not alert the company to an investigation into the Rare Breed FRT-15 before deeming the trigger a machine gun, according to the complaint.
The company alleged the cease-and-desist letter was based on altered regulation changes sparked by a 2017 shooting in Las Vegas. A gunman fired multiple rounds from the Mandalay Bay Hotel into a country music festival crowd, killing about 60 people and injuring more than 850 others.
The Trump administration in 2018 banned bump stocks, a gun stock used in the Las Vegas shooting that allows a semiautomatic weapon to fire like a machine gun. It also amended law surrounding what qualifies as a machine gun.
Rare Breed has called the altered regulations vague, contradictory and unauthorized.
The ATF announced in March it planned to take further action against forced-reset trigger sellers and owners when those FRTs are considered machine guns. Some of the triggers have been marketed as replacement triggers for AR-type firearms, the ATF said.
Rare Breed provided experts to say its FRT-15 was not a machine gun, according to the company's complaint. The ATF still stood by its order.
Rare Breed alleges the ATF refused the company due process, harassed the company and its suppliers, and has caused harm to Rare Breed, according to the complaint.
“Indeed, the ATF’s actions have caused (Rare Breed’s) manufacturing capacity and sales to both drop by approximately 85%,” the complaint said.
Rare Breed previously was stationed in Florida. It registered as a North Dakota business in November, according to secretary of state records.
April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.