26 U.S.C. 5845(b): DEFINITIONS (MACHINEGUN)
27 CFR 479.11: MEANING OF TERMS
The 7.62mm Aircraft Machine Gun, identified in the U.S. military inventory as the "M-134" (Army), "GAU-2B/A" (Air Force), and "GAU-17/A" (Navy), is a machinegun as defined by 26 U.S.C. 5845(b). Rev. Rul. 55-528 modified.
ATF Rul. 2004-5
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has examined the 7.62mm Aircraft Machine Gun, commonly referred to as a "Minigun." The Minigun is a 36 pound, six barrel, electrically powered machinegun. It is in the U.S. military inventory and identified as the "M 134" (Army), "GAU 2B/A" (Air Force), and "GAU 17/A" (Navy). It is a lightweight and extremely reliable weapon, capable of discharging up to 6,000 rounds per minute. It has been used on helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, and wheeled vehicles. It is highly adaptable, being used with pintle mounts, turrets, pods, and internal installations.
The Minigun has six barrels and bolts which are mounted on a rotor. The firing sequence begins with the manual operation of a trigger. On an aircraft, the trigger is commonly found on the control column, or joystick. Operation of the trigger causes an electric motor to turn the rotor. As the rotor turns, a stud on each bolt travels along an elliptical groove on the inside of the housing, which causes the bolts to move forward and rearward on tracks on the rotor. A triggering cam, or sear shoulder, trips the firing pin when the bolt has traveled forward through the full length of the bolt track. One complete revolution of the rotor discharges cartridges in all six barrels. The housing that surrounds the rotor, bolts and firing mechanism constitutes the frame or receiver of the firearm.
The National Firearms Act defines "machinegun" 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." 26 U.S.C. 5845(b). The term also includes "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, and any combination of parts from which a machinegun can be assembled if such parts are in the possession or under the control of the person." Id.; see 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(23); 27 CFR 478.11, 479.11.
ATF and its predecessor agency, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), have historically held that the original, crank-operated Gatling Gun, and replicas thereof, are not automatic firearms or machineguns as defined. See Rev. Rul. 55-528, 1955-2 C.B. 482. The original Gatling Gun is a rapid-firing, hand-operated weapon. The rate of fire is regulated by the rapidity of the hand cranking movement, manually controlled by the operator. It is not a "machinegun" as that term is defined in 26 U.S.C. 5845(b) because it is not a weapon that fires automatically.
The Minigun is not a Gatling Gun. It was not produced under the 1862 - 1893 patents of the original Gatling Gun. While using a basic design concept of the Gatling Gun, the Minigun does not incorporate any of Gatling's original components and its feed mechanisms are entirely different. Critically, the Minigun shoots more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger, as prescribed by 26 U.S.C. 5845(b). See United States v. Fleischli, 305 F.3d 643, 655-656 (7th Cir. 2002). See also Staples v. United States, 511 U.S. 600, 603 (1994) (automatic refers to a weapon that "once its trigger is depressed, the weapon will automatically continue to fire until its trigger is released or the ammunition is exhausted"); GEORGE C. NONTE, JR., FIREARMS ENCYCLOPEDIA 13 (Harper & Rowe 1973) (the term "automatic" is defined to include "any firearm in which a single pull and continuous pressure upon the trigger (or other firing device) will produce rapid discharge of successive shots so long as ammunition remains in the magazine or feed device in other words, a machinegun"); WEBSTER'S II NEW RIVERSIDE -UNIVERSITY DICTIONARY (1988) (defining automatically as "acting or operating in a manner essentially independent of external influence or control"); JOHN QUICK, PH.D., DICTIONARY OF WEAPONS AND MILITARY TERMS 40 (McGraw-Hill 1973) (defining automatic fire as "continuous fire from an automatic gun, lasting until pressure on the trigger is released").
The term "trigger" is generally held to be the part of a firearm that is used to initiate the firing sequence. See United States v. Fleischli, 305 F.3d at 655-56 (and cases cited therein); see also ASSOCIATION OF FIREARMS AND TOOLMARK EXAMINERS (AFTE) GLOSSARY 185 (1st ed. 1980) ("that part of a firearm mechanism which is moved manually to cause the firearm to discharge"); WEBSTER'S II NEW RIVERSIDE- UNIVERSITY DICTIONARY (1988) ("lever pressed by the finger in discharging a firearm").
Held, the 7.62mm Minigun is designed to shoot automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger. Consequently, the 7.62mm Minigun is a machinegun as defined in section 5845(b) of the National Firearms Act. See United States v. Fleischli, 305 F.3d at 655-56. Similarly, the housing that surrounds the rotor is the frame or receiver of the Minigun, and thus is also a machinegun. Id.; see 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(23); 27 CFR 478.11, 479.11.
Date signed: August 18, 2004
Carl J. Truscott