Our friends and colleagues in the mainstream media frequently get firearm technology and the laws that regulate them wrong. “Fully semi-automatic,” anyone? Surprisingly, we found an instance where they are actually (for the most part) right on the money regarding a story from the University of Central Florida.
Max Chambers, a 19-year-old UCF engineering undergrad, reportedly decided to do a little gusmithing and converted a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle full-auto in his spare time using a drop-in auto sear. When I was an undergrad, some of my activities were illegal, too – but not this illegal. And I didn’t get caught.
The Orlando Sentinel does a pretty decent job of covering the story for the most part. The short version is, student obtains/makes auto sears and builds a machine gun. Someone phones in a tip to the campus PD and the PD pays the defendant a visit, finding the contraband. Application of handcuffs and a trip to the county jail follow shortly thereafter.
Campus police report that they believe there was no ill intent here other than a gun enthusiast who didn’t seem to want to follow the law.
The local FOX affiliate spiced up their report, using legally undefined and irrelevant terms such as “assault rifle” and “hail of gunfire.” My personal favorite was calling a drop-in auto sear an “internal bump stock.” They clearly have no clue on what they’re reporting and it shows.
From the Sentinel:
UCF police began investigating Max Bennett Chambers, 19, after receiving a tip that he possessed drop-in auto sears, which can be used to convert a semiautomatic rifle into an automatic weapon.
According to an affidavit, Chambers allowed police to search his vehicle at the Towers at Knights Plaza, a complex of apartment-style dorm towers on the main campus. The AR-15 was found inside the vehicle and Chambers admitted to owning it, police said.
Thankfully we do know this subject matter and were able to review the arrest affidavit (search for Max Chambers here). And we found some interesting things of note.
Again from the Sentinel:
An FDLE firearm instructor test-fired the weapon and confirmed it was fully automatic, the affidavit said. The gun was found with a brand-new magazine with six rounds, but was able to fire at least 19 rounds consecutively with a single trigger pull, police said.
Here’s the strange part: Chambers has been charged with possession of an illegal machine gun and a bump-fire stock (which is now illegal in the state of Florida). Nowhere in the arrest report does it reveal that an actual bump-fire stock was present. But from reading the arrest affidavit it’s clear that the state’s bump-fire stock ban is so broad that police believe that Chambers’ possession of a drop-in auto sear constitutes a violation of the bump stock ban.
The affidavit quotes directly from Florida’s ban stating that a bump stock is …
…a conversion kit, a tool, an accessory, or a device used to alter the rate of fire of a firearm to mimic automatic weapon fire or which is used to increase the rate of fire to a faster rate than is possible for a person to fire such semiautomatic firearm unassisted by a kit, a tool, an accessory, or a device.
Hence the bump stock charge against Chambers.
We attempted to contact the defendant via their attorneys, but they declined to comment for this story.
We attempted to contact the UCF PD with a few questions as to what other firearm accouterments they recovered as part of their investigation and a few question as to who decided to do the charging in this case – they would not comment for this story.
We attempted to contact the state and federal prosecutors office and we did not have our calls returned.
A judge set Chambers’ bond at $5,000 for the first count, a violation of FS 790.221 which is a 2nd degree felony for possession of SBR/SBS/MG. He set bail at $150 for the second count, violation of FS 790.222 the importation/sale/distribution/possession of a bump stock.
The state bump stock ban that took effect in October was covered very broadly by the media and signed by Governor Rick Scott was part of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.
My first question would be: If the crime of possessing a bump stock is so serious, why is the bond set at the equivalent of a good bottle of wine?
For those who aren’t fully versed in the language of the gun culture – here’s the ATF’s Federal definition of a machine gun:
For the purposes of the National Firearms Act the term Machinegun means:
- Any 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
- The frame or receiver of any such weapon
- Any part designed and intended solely and exclusively or combination of parts designed and intended for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun, or
- Any combination of parts from which a machinegun can be assembled if such parts are in the possession or under the control of a person.
Here’s the ATF’s ruling on bump stocks:
The rule will go into effect March 26, 2019; 90 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register.
The final rule clarifies that the definition of “machinegun” in the Gun Control Act (GCA) and National Firearms Act (NFA) includes bump-stock-type devices, i.e., devices that allow a semiautomatic firearm to shoot more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger by harnessing the recoil energy of the semiautomatic firearm to which it is affixed so that the trigger resets and continues firing without additional physical manipulation of the trigger by the shooter.
I don’t like it any more than anyone else does – but they’ve defined it pretty clearly. On a federal level, an un-registered drop-in auto sear is a machine gun. A bump stock is treated as a machine gun even though it utilizes recoil energy of the firearm to reset the trigger.
On a state level, the relevant machine gun statute at hand is as follows:
790.221 Possession of short-barreled rifle, short-barreled shotgun, or machine gun; penalty.—
(1) It is unlawful for any person to own or to have in his or her care, custody, possession, or control any short-barreled rifle, short-barreled shotgun, or machine gun which is, or may readily be made, operable; but this section shall not apply to antique firearms.
(2) A person who violates this section commits a felony of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
(3) Firearms in violation hereof which are lawfully owned and possessed under provisions of federal law are excepted.
And the relevant state-level bump stock statute reads…
790.222 Bump-fire stocks prohibited.—A person may not import into this state or transfer, distribute, sell, keep for sale, offer for sale, possess, or give to another person a bump-fire stock. A person who violates this section commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084. As used in this section, the term “bump-fire stock” means a conversion kit, a tool, an accessory, or a device used to alter the rate of fire of a firearm to mimic automatic weapon fire or which is used to increase the rate of fire to a faster rate than is possible for a person to fire such semiautomatic firearm unassisted by a kit, a tool, an accessory, or a device.
It has been widely discussed that the ban is an ex post facto prohibition. And based on my interactions with colleagues in the legal community, it seems to be poorly written legislation.
One of the problems with poorly written legislation is that it is, by extension, poorly understood which eventually degrades into being poor and spotty enforcement. This appears to be one of those times.
The UCF PD’s language in their press briefings indicate that they believe that a drop-in auto sear that makes something truly fully automatic – is a product that mimics the operation of a machine gun. So they’ve apparently stumbled upon Shroedinger’s AR-15. The government is claiming that the defendant has both a machine gun AND a bump stock. A fully automatic firearm and one that mimics fully automatic fire.
One more thing: UCF’s general counsel has petitioned the court for a Risk Protection Order to have Chambers’ guns confiscated.
According to the language of the statute, a petition must:
1. Allege that the respondent poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to himself or herself or others by having a firearm or any ammunition in his or her custody or control or by purchasing, possessing, or receiving a firearm or any ammunition, and must be accompanied by an affidavit made under oath stating the specific statements, actions, or facts that give rise to a reasonable fear of significant dangerous acts by the respondent;
2. Identify the quantities, types, and locations of all firearms and ammunition the petitioner believes to be in the respondent’s current ownership, possession, custody, or control; and
(f) The petitioner must make a good faith effort to provide notice to a family or household member of the respondent and to any known third party who may be at risk of violence. The notice must state that the petitioner intends to petition the court for a risk protection order or has already done so and must include referrals to appropriate resources, including mental health… yadda, yadda, yadda.
Normally this wouldn’t be of interest to something as simple as an unlawful possession case. Until we consider a quote from the press conference from the video here (jump to the 1:15 mark).
UCF’s Chief Metzger said, “We believe he’s an enthusiast who put his interest in firearms above complying with the law.” This seems straightforward – Chambers is just a gun nut that’s not a threat to anyone.
If that’s the case, why the petition for the RPO? The police are saying he’s not a threat, but the general counsel’s office is? They’re claiming a gun is both fully automatic and mimics fully automatic at the same time? We’re living in interesting times.
At the time of this writing – UCF’s General Counsel’s office has not returned our calls either.
TTAG will update this story as more information becomes available.