Fairly recently, I was made aware of some rumors circulating on various forums and boards. This rumor suggests Nevada has somehow declared all AR-15s to be machineguns. Sounds a bit too ridiculous to be true, doesn’t it? After much hunting and scouring of the internet (five minutes of effort, thereabouts), I came across a Court Order that seemed to be the source of so much confusion. You can read it for yourself here if you would like, but I’ll cover the salient points. If you just want the quick summary, no, Nevada did not declare all AR-15s machineguns. Not even close.
What is going on?
As I’m sure everyone can, unfortunately, recall, there was a horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017. As a result of one of the ongoing lawsuits that have come out of that tragedy, Parsons v. Colt, a court has issued an order on April 10 of this year. First, this is what the plaintiffs (Parsons) are alleging.
The Parsons assert three causes of action against the defendants: (1) wrongful death under NRS § 41.085 caused by the defendants’ design, manufacture, and sale of AR-15s that were capable of automatic fire through simple modification in knowing violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(b)(4) and NRS § 202.350(1)(b); (2) negligence per se, premised on violations of the same statutes; and (3) negligent entrustment.
The part relevant to this particular rumor is the first allegation, that Colt violated 18 USC. § 922(b)(4) and NRS § 202.350(1)(b). For anyone who doesn’t want to look those sections of law up, the first makes it illegal for any firearms dealer to sell NFA items except as authorized. The second is a section of Nevada law that makes it unlawful to manufacture, import, or sell a machinegun (or silencer) except as authorized by federal law.
Fairly straightforward stuff except Colt didn’t sell a machinegun, did they? They just sold regular AR-15 rifles. Well, that’s where the plaintiff’s arguments come into play.
The Plaintiffs Reasoning
The Parsons, in alleging that Colt violated the law on selling machineguns, have put forward the argument that an AR-15 meets the federal definition of a machinegun. For anyone who doesn’t already have the federal definition of machinegun memorized, I’ll provide it here.
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 term shall also include 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 a person.
The plaintiffs argue that since bumpfire or slidefire stocks exist, the ability to remove a stock from an AR-15 means it is “designed to shoot” more than one shot by a single function of the trigger.
But It’s Still Not a Machinegun
Most of the confusion that I’ve seen stems from not understanding what exactly the court ordered and what prompted it to issue an order. Colt, the defendant, requested that the court dismiss all three of the Parsons’ claims for “failure to state a claim”. What does that mean? It means that Colt is arguing even if everything the plaintiff said was true, there’s no legal remedy. The court was simply responding to this request to dismiss, it was not issuing an order that is legally binding on the entire state of Nevada. The court did, in fact, dismiss both of the Parsons’ claims of negligence. So why didn’t they dismiss the wrongful death claim, that alleges Colt and illegally sold machineguns?
But these arguments ignore the Parsons’ well-pleaded allegations … So these arguments do not merit dismissal for failure to state a claim.
Colt’s attorneys just didn’t meet the bar required by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to dismiss a claim. It passes the “plausible” test, which instructs the court not to dismiss a claim if, assuming everything that the plaintiff has said is true, there is some form of legal remedy available. Since if you assume that the plaintiff’s argument about AR-15s being machineguns is true, it is possible that Colt broke the law. So, under the plausibility test, the court cannot dismiss the plaintiff’s case for failure to state a claim. There is still a huge burden of proof on the Parsons.
The court has even allowed that the defense could resubmit their motion to dismiss if they can answer some of the Parsons’ other allegations.
To be Absolutely Clear
AR-15s have not been declared machineguns in Nevada. A court has simply stated that, if everything that plaintiffs have alleged is true (which is not taken as a given), then there is a legal remedy. That’s it.
Once again, the sky is not falling.