The AutoGlove, scheduled to enter production next month, bills itself as a mechanism that allows for “full-auto fire without ATF approval, tax stamp or firearm modifications.” Powered by a battery pack that can be attached to a user’s arm or body, the device looks like a military-inspired Power Glove and is designed to fire a standard semi-automatic firearm at a rate of up to 1,000 rounds per minute.
The appeal of firing a machine gun should be obvious to anyone who’s wasted hours pumping quarters into T2: the Arcade Game in a movie theater lobby. Even a simulated automatic weapon is satisfying, and loud, and makes you feel powerful. But manufacturing a new machine gun for civilian use is illegal in the US, and civilians aren’t allowed to own one that was manufactured after 1986. So how do devices like the AutoGlove get past the authorities?
“There’s been a longstanding cottage industry of companies trying to create attachments that mimic fully automatic fire in semi-automatic weapons,” Josh Sugarmann, Executive Director of the Violence Policy Center told Gizmodo. The AutoGlove “is just the latest example.” The general term for these devices is trigger activators and previous iterations include “bump fire stocks,” “hell-fire trigger systems,” and “BMF trigger activators.” They all use various mechanisms to “simulate automatic fire rates.” The AutoGlove is just a particularly effective and elegant evolution in the field.
The makers of the AutoGlove are keenly aware of the questionable legality of their device. The FAQ section on its website consists of a single question: “How is this legal?” The short answer is: it’s not entirely clear that it is. But the FAQ explains that the device’s manufacturers have worked closely with legal experts to study the laws and policy interpretations by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) and they have confidence that they are within their rights. They’re confident enough that pre-orders are currently available.
One type of trigger activator that has previously received ATF approval is what’s known as bump fire stocks. These devices replace the traditional stock on a gun and use a sliding mechanism to take advantage of the gun’s natural recoil. The shooter keeps their finger in one place while using one hand to pull the gun forward and one hand to pull it backward. It certainly takes some practice to use a bump fire stock but it’s effective at simulating automatic fire. The ATF wrote an opinion letter giving bump fire stock manufacturer Slidefire permission before it released its product.
The AutoGlove uses two mechanisms to rapidly pull a semi-automatic weapon’s trigger. The Trigger Assist Device (TAD) that depresses the trigger is controlled by a separate button. It’s attached to the shooter’s right trigger finger. When the finger is fully extended, there’s a bit of distance between the motorized trigger and the gun’s trigger. The user then uses “micro trigger pulls” to engage the device.
“I think it’ll be up to the ATF [to determine] the kind of semantic question about whether [the AutoGlove] falls within the definition of a single trigger pull,” Ari Freilich, Staff Attorney for the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence told Gizmodo. “If you press a button that automatically pulls a trigger, that button could be the trigger.” For what it’s worth, Josh Sugarmann tells us that “micro trigger pull” is not a technical or legal term.
The National Firearms Act (NFA) was created in 1934 and defines a machine gun as “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.” That definition has been fairly sufficient ever since. Under the NFA’s guidelines, the preconditions to own a machine gun include strict background checks, a tax, a requirement to inform the chief local law enforcement officer, and other restrictions depending on location. In 1986, the Firearm Owners Protection Act (FOPA) banned the manufacture of fully-automatic machine guns for civilian use. That means there’s only a small pool of pre-‘86 firearms that gun owners can get their hands on even if they get through all of the regulatory requirements. The relatively small number of reported crimes using automatic weapons seems to indicate that the regulations work.
Gizmodo contacted the ATF to ask if they approved of the AutoGlove. Our request for comment was acknowledged but at the time of publication, we have not received a reply. Likewise, pro-gun organizations like the NRA and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) have not returned our requests for comment on their official positions regarding trigger activators.
Mark Oliva of the NSSF did tell us that lobbying for the right to own automatic weapons is “not a focus for groups in the industry and it’s not a particular focus for us.” And he said that changing regulations on silencers is a much greater priority for his organization. Indeed, everyone we talked to wanted to talk about silencers.
“I know they’ve been working very hard this year in the legislature to weaken other aspects of the National Firearms Act to make firearm silencers unregulated again for the first time since the 1930s,” Freilich said. In June, when Congressman Steve Scalise was shot at a baseball practice DC, he was scheduled to appear on the Hill to discuss deregulating silencers. That legislation has been delayed while he recovers from his wounds.
With gun ownership at a 40-year low, there are only so many customers to buy all this stuff. The hunt for new revenue streams—like silencers—is now in high-gear. Sugarmann says that the gun industry was as surprised by Trump’s election as everyone else. Before November, there was a basic assumption by retailers and manufacturers that a wave of firearm hoarding would come with a Clinton administration. Obama was the best thing that ever happened to the industry: during his term, it expanded by 158 percent thanks to right-wing rhetoric about the government taking away people’s guns.
If gun laws remain the same, it’s entirely unclear what could be done to stop devices like the AutoGlove, or even if anyone should try. We do know that the frequency and lethality of mass shootings are increasing. And a faster rate of fire could only make things worse. At the same time, the AutoGlove is a pretty simple DIY device for anyone who wants to put in the effort to build their own.
My first reaction to the AutoGlove was fear. Then, I wanted to use it to play Duck Hunt. It’s a nifty gadget. As far as it’s intended use goes, it’s hard to say for certain that it should be legal. But as Sugarmann put it, “allowing people to buy devices that let semi-automatic weapons mimic full-auto fire doesn’t make anyone safer.”