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Old March 7, 2007, 09:21 AM   #1
Double J
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Drop in auto safety sears

Why is it that auto safety sears fall into two groups, the legal ones, and banned ones? Just looking at them they appear the same. How can I tell the difference? And why are they illegal considering many guns have a similar system built in anyway? Lots of questions.
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Old March 7, 2007, 10:10 AM   #2
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If it has a form 4 (and the accompanying $200 tax and background check) then it's probably legal.

The thing is the 1986 closure of the registry. Anything made and registered before that is cool, anything after can't be registered and hence can't be produced legally for the civilian market.
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Old March 7, 2007, 10:24 AM   #3
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where did you get the word "safety" in Drop in Auto sear? or auto connector, or "lightning link" as some were called.
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Old March 7, 2007, 01:38 PM   #4
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Actually, in regards to auto-sears, it's Nov. '81, not May '86, that is the determining date. See here for the low-down:
http://www.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs.cmu.edu...o_sear_faq.txt
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Old March 7, 2007, 02:47 PM   #5
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9mmHP: No, May '86 is quite important for autosears, just like any other registered machine gun. Nov '81 is just when the BATF started requiring that they be registered.

p99guy: They're not typically referred to as safety sears, but that's what they are. They're a secondary sear that prevents the hammer from falling until the bolt is safely locked. It's possible for an AR15 lower with M16 fire control parts to fire in full auto, it's just that it may not work sometimes and when it does it'll be dangerous due to the bolt not being locked and the cartridge fully chambered before firing.
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Old March 7, 2007, 03:08 PM   #6
9mmHP
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Nov. '81 is the important date for unregistered auto sears, which sounds like what the original question was about, except in the 7th Cir. If they're registered, then they were obviously registered prior to May '86. If they're unregistered and being legally sold, then only pre-Nov. '81 have any color of legality.
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Old March 7, 2007, 04:52 PM   #7
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Prior to 1981, those sears could be sold as parts, with no problem and no paperwork. However, to install one in a rifle, or to possess both the sear and a rifle in which it could fit, was and is considered manufacturing or attempting to manufacture a machinegun.

In 1981, BATF ruled that the sears themselves were machineguns ("part or combination of parts" in the wording of the law). After that, any made had to be serial numbered and transferred on a Form 4 with a transfer tax, just like any other machinegun. One effect of the change is that a person possessing a legally registered auto sear may install it in any suitable rifle without manufacturing a machinegun, since the sear IS a machinegun.

Some makers of auto sears have stock that was made prior to 1981 (they say). They sell these as "legal to own." That is true, but the status is exactly as I described in the first paragraph. They are legal to own, but you can't do ANYTHING with them except look at them. If you install one in a rifle, or even have a rifle in which it can be installed, you are violating the law.

Now, after 1986, no machineguns can be registered for sale to private individuals, so there will be no more registered auto sears.

CleverNickname's explanation about "safety" is, well, clever. But it is also absurd. Those sears, whether the drop-in or the original pinned-in, have one purpose, allowing the rifle to fire full automatic.

Jim
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Old March 8, 2007, 01:36 PM   #8
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Quote:
CleverNickname's explanation about "safety" is, well, clever. But it is also absurd. Those sears, whether the drop-in or the original pinned-in, have one purpose, allowing the rifle to fire full automatic.
I didn't say the auto sears have any purpose other than to allow full auto fire. I just said that at least on the M16, they're not required to get full auto, at least in certain situations.

What makes the M16 fire full-auto is when the selector pushes on the tail of the disconnector, changing its angle so the hook on the disconnector doesn't catch on the hook on the underside of the hammer. All the auto sear does is retard the hammer so it doesn't fall until the bolt is safely locked, hence "safety sear." If the auto sear is missing (in an AR15 with M16 fire control parts, for example) and ammo has soft primers, the free-floating firing pin can travel forward and have enough energy to set off the round. The bolt won't be fully locked though, so it'll be dangerous. But it'll work, sometimes. Often enough to where the BATFE prosecutes people for it.

If you don't think people refer to them as "safety sears" just Google that term with quotes and you'll get plenty of references as such. "Auto sear" is a bit more common though.
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Old March 8, 2007, 02:52 PM   #9
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Watch it Jim, if this keeps going it will soon be "Its for the children sears",
"Auto sear" is a bit more common though( by 99%).
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Old March 8, 2007, 07:31 PM   #10
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1986 is really the only relevant date for drop in auto sears...1981 is near useless in the wake of US v. Cash.

Prior to the 1986 machinegun ban, in 1981, BATF issued a ruling (revenue ruling 81-4 IIRC) that drop in sears were machineguns in and of themselves and thus needed to be registered to be legal. For years after that ruling, BATFE viewed those drop in sears made (but not registered) before the 1981 ruling to be legal to possess, but NOT TO USE or INSTALL in any firearm. You occasionally see this type advertised in SGN. The major problem with these under BATFE's more lenient interpretation of 81-4 is that if caught with one, the burden of proof is upon the accused to prove the sear was made prior to 1981. If you can't do that your mere possession of the sear can be deemed to be possession of an unregistered MG. Also, as Jim Keenen said, even if you were caught with a sear which you could definitively prove was made prior to the 1981 ruling and you also owned an AR15, you were also in violation of the law, the date of manufacture of the sear notwithstanding.

In US v. Cash, Judge Easterbrook correctly noted that there is nothing in the federal statutes that allows BATFE to administratively exempt a machinegun from the purview of the National Firearms Act. Once BATFE ruled that a drop in sear was a machinegun, they could not pick and choose which drop in auto sear machineguns were controlled by the NFA and which were exempt from the NFA based upon the date of their ruling or the date of manufacture. IOW if a device meets the statutory definition of a machinegun, all such items are also machineguns and thus controlled by the NFA. A machinegun can not cease to fit the statutory definition of a machinegun just because it wasn't made by a certain date. While they couldn't exempt certain machineguns from the NFA, the most BATFE could have done was to issue a tax-exempt registration of the unregistered pre-81 autosears, which would have necessarily ended on the enactment of 922(o) on May 19, 1986. In essence, the 1981 date was really only applicable for an amnesty on the tax for registering a pre-81 sear up until 1986.

Now, as noted above Cash is currently only binding in the jurisdiction of the Seventh US Circuit Court, but Easterbrook's logic is sound. BATFE clearly overstepped their authority by attempting to administratively exempt machineguns from the NFA, thus arbitrarily applying the law. My guess is that the only reason it hasn't been adopted in any other jurisdiction is simply that no other Circuit Court of Appeal has taken up the issue. When/if another has occasion to do so, there is little doubt that the AUSA will research Cash, point out the improper interpretation of 81-4, and the court will ultimately come to the same conclusion as Easterbrook.
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Old March 8, 2007, 08:35 PM   #11
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That is an interesting ruling. If it applies to other NFA firearms, there will be quite a few problems, as BATFE has exempted a number of shoulder stock pistols and other guns (including the smooth bore "Liberator" pistol) from the purview of the NFA. So what is the status of those pre-81 auto sears which, AFAIK, are still being sold? There can't be any effort to register them, so I assume they are simply contraband and anyone possessing one will be arrested, at least in that district.

Easterbrook's logic may be sound, but he surely has done us no favors.

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