A $50 Part That Makes AR-15s Shoot Like Machine Guns Has People Worried

The product appears to be the latest effort by gun enthusiasts to get around strict laws on fully automatic weapons.
AR-15 rifles are displayed on the exhibit floor during the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., on Friday, May 20, 2016.
AR-15 rifles are displayed on the exhibit floor during the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., on Friday, May 20, 2016.  Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Kent Bogard does not sell a product that makes a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle shoot like a fully-automatic machine gun. He wants to make that very clear. 

“You saw how simple it is, a child could install it,” he says in one breath, before adding a clarification in the next: “It’s not a machine gun.”

Bogard does, however, offer a $50 item that he says can be discreetly and easily installed on nearly any AR-style weapon, enabling it to shoot hundreds of rounds per minute. That extremely high rate of fire is virtually indistinguishable from machine guns, which are strictly regulated under federal law. But again, he emphasized, his device does not make a machine gun, at least not according to his reading of the statute.

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“There’s no regulation against it,” Bogard said. “There’s nothing technically illegal about it.”

The product, which Bogard has dubbed “The Bolt,” appears to be the latest workaround developed by gun enthusiasts to simulate full-auto machine gun fire on semi-auto AR rifles, which are legal to own in most places if they remain configured to fire one round per trigger pull. A machine gun shoots multiple bullets with a single trigger squeeze, a feature included on some weapons used by military and police; civilian ownership is restricted except for certain circumstances, with a background check and special license typically required.

The tough laws on machine guns—having one without the right paperwork can carry a 10-year prison sentence—haven’t stopped the public from seeking them out, often with deadly consequences. VICE News and The Trace previously documented the rise of “auto sears,” another small and simple device that creates full-auto machine guns and has been linked to mass shootings and cases involving anti-government extremists across the country.

But there are also other devices that don’t work exactly like a machine gun but mimic the functionality, unleashing a spray of bullets within a split second. The most high-profile example is the “bump stock,” used in the 2017 Las Vegas massacre, which left 61 people dead and remains the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history.

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Bogard, a 77-year-old Florida native who now lives in Idaho, told VICE News that before making “The Bolt,” he sold more than 4,000 bump stocks (which retailed for around $300 each) at gun shows across the Pacific Northwest, until they were banned in 2018 after the Vegas shooting. The bump stock uses force generated by the gun’s recoil to rapidly pull the trigger over and over, faster than humanly possible, simulating a machine gun but not actually operating like one.

Anticipating that bump stocks would be outlawed post-Vegas, Bogard said, he began developing a new device that uses a similar principle. By changing the configuration of the trigger mechanism, the design enables a shooter to harness the recoil and pull the trigger extremely fast. In a sales pitch delivered by Bogard at one gun show recently, he claimed the modification allows him to empty a 30-round magazine in 2.3 seconds.

“I don’t have the fastest trigger finger in the world,” Bogard said in a phone interview with VICE News. “The rifle is going to bounce back and forth on the trigger if it’s [held with] a loose grip. If you do not know how to fire it, you’ve got a semi-automatic rifle—period. It will not ever mistakenly fire more than one round. You have to know how to hold the rifle to move how it wants to go.”

Similar devices have apparently been around for years, with YouTube tutorials showing the installation process and online retailers offering discount versions for a fraction of the price that Bogard charges at gun shows. But while not exactly new, Bogard’s Bolt and the proliferation of so-called machine gun conversion devices has sparked alarm among gun control advocates.

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David Pucino, deputy counsel at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told VICE News that Bogard’s Bolt is essentially a ticking time bomb in the wrong hands.

“It's the latest devious attempt to get around the limits on machine guns,” Pucino said. “It’s an attempt to introduce an extraordinarily dangerous weapon into civilian hands. As in bump stocks, it’s only a matter of time until an innovation like this results in mass carnage.”

Asked whether he worries about enabling another tragedy, Bogard responded: “I don't think anybody is going to do any damage with the product I'm building.”

A spokesperson for the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which regulates firearms, told VICE News that decisions about similar products are made on a case-by-case basis.  

“While I cannot speak specifically to this product, ATF has a very defined procedure for making determinations on such items,” said John Ham, the ATF’s acting deputy chief of public affairs. “Such products are evaluated by ATF’s Firearms and Ammunition Technology Division, who then determine if the item meets the definition of a machine gun under federal law.” 

Last year, the ATF issued a cease-and-desist order to a company called Rare Breed Triggers, ordering them to stop making and selling a product called the FRT-15, which retailed for $380 and used a trigger modification to increase the rate of fire. Other types of “Forced Reset Triggers” could also be considered machine guns, the ATF said, because they “allow a firearm to automatically expel more than one shot with a single, continuous pull of the trigger.”

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ATF agents even went so far as to test-fire a gun with an FRT-15 installed and the trigger held down with a zip tie—and it fired more than once, the government has said in court documents.

Rare Breed Triggers has responded with a lawsuit, arguing its device technically requires the trigger to reset and calling the cease-and-desist letter “the product of bad faith and/or the need to advance a political agenda.” The case remains pending in federal court in North Dakota.

Ryan Busse, a former gun company executive who now speaks out against the industry and AR-15s in particular, told VICE News that accessories like the bump stock, forced reset triggers, and Bogard’s Bolt rely on “artful dodges” to skirt the definition of machine gun under the law. 

“In gun technology right now, perhaps things are changing faster than the definitions can keep up,” Busse said. “It’s like when the internet blew up 20 years ago, our laws were not established to keep up with that and perhaps that’s what’s happening here.”

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Bogard said he has not sought permission from the ATF to sell his device, but he’s not hiding it either—he operates openly at gun shows and said he assumes undercover agents have already stopped by his booth without his knowledge. He declined to provide video footage of a modified gun in operation, and downplayed the danger of his device, calling it “a toy” and “a novelty item.”

But Bogard also noted his device is difficult to detect, hidden away inside the grip, with no obvious signs of anything changed on the gun. Several firearms experts, including one law enforcement official, who examined photos of the device shared by VICE News said they were previously unfamiliar with the modification.

“It’s invisible,” Bogard said. “Not even a military inspection will turn it up.”

Bogard declined to say exactly how many he’s sold already, but said it was more than hundreds and closer to thousands. He doesn’t plan to file for a patent or seek national distribution. Until recently, he said, the secret was one of his best selling points.

“A lot of the people who have purchased this from me, they don’t want people to know what they’ve got,” he said. “They’re, for the most part, scared of government control or what might happen. Confiscation, that's the thing right now.”

Of course that’s not to suggest what he's offering makes a machine gun, Bogard added, but still, “I can understand why everyone is twitchy about it.”