I was about 16, helping out with a beach demonstration of operator gadgets at the Navy UDT/SEAL Museum in South Florida, when a SEAL vet gave me and my friends a chance to shoot a full-automatic weapon for the first time: blank rounds from a belt-fed M-60. Each of us stepped up, grunted under the bulk of the machine gun, felt the upward jerk of the muzzle as it burped hot anger toward the surf, and said to ourselves: My God, this rocks.
Then the SEAL made us clean up all the spent ammo links that our shooting had spat into the sand. We did not complain. We were still walking on a cloud.
The thrill of full-auto fire is tough to convey to folks who haven’t experienced it. And plenty haven’t experienced it: Machine guns in America are difficult to own and expensive as hell. Basically, machine guns made after 1986 are illegal, which drives up the value of “pre-ban” full-auto firearms — which have to be registered with ATF, and you need a $200 tax stamp of approval for your legally formed firearms trust to take possession of… you know what, just trust me that it’s a long and costly process, and read more here if you really want the deets.
So what are you to do if you don’t have the time or the liquidity to legally buy a pre-ban $40,000 M-16 in full auto? Reader, we’ve got you covered. Over the years, smart guys with milling machines and YouTube accounts have figured out a host of mods to make their rifles fire rapidly (and bafflingly, legally), like full auto, without bringing a platoon of ATF agents to their doors. Check out these options — and if you’re really interested in any of them, check out your applicable local laws before you go scratching that itch on your trigger finger.
1. BUMP FIRE
One thing I love about gun people is they call things what they are. Bump fire is basically what it sounds like: You take a semi-auto weapon, set your finger against the trigger (without wrapping your trigger hand on the pistol grip), and push the whole weapon forward with your other hand until it fires. When it discharges, the recoil “bumps” the weapon back. Your non-trigger hand’s continued forward pressure on the weapon bumps it forward again, into your trigger finger, and now suddenly your magazine is empty and you’re grinning ear-to-ear.
Sound hard? Check out this DIY video:
It’s kind of an awkward dance to perform without much practice, and I don’t recommend it to novices. But fortunately, when there’s a demand, there’s a supply of bump-fire-assist products ready to equip you:
Bump Fire rifle stocks
For $100, you can equip your AR or AK with one of these special stocks that enable you to bump-fire your weapon from a more natural shooter position. Does it work? You tell me:
The manufacturer even has an approval letter from the ATF on its website, certifying that the bump-fire stock does not legally make your rifle a “machine gun.” (Pro tip: If you’re in the market for any full-auto-style mod, ask the maker if he’s applied for one of these ATF opinion letters. If not, run away quickly.)
Another bump-fire stock solution, albeit a pricier one, the SlideFire was developed by Air Force vet Jeremiah Cottle. Here’s how he describes its action:
“There are no moving parts in the Slide Fire and no springs. You hold your finger on the trigger rest and push forward to fire the gun. It is not automatic. Nothing is automatic. You actively fire every round, and if you stop pushing forward or you take your finger off the trigger the gun stops firing. It just helps you fire the gun in semi-automatic very fast.”
The SlideFire is also the modification that got a lot of firearms skeptics wondering: How is this legal? So it’s got that going for it.
Here’s an interesting twist on the bump-fire concept: Instead of a stock, the $299 AutoGlove is… well, what it sounds like. All the magic happens when you stick your sci-fi-lookin’ begloved hand into the trigger guard and pull away.
The big advantage here: You can use the glove’s “trigger actuation device” to bump-fire any semi-auto weapon, not just your favorite AR. Which is great, because at cyclic fire rates, you’re gonna be running through a lot of ammunition, so why not waste it on some bricks of cheap .22?
These suckers — cheap little springs that attach to the inside of your trigger-guard — have been around for a long time, and their history is fraught: They were a favorite of cult leader David Koresh before his deadly standoff with the ATF in the early ‘90s, and a crazy asshole in California used two Hellfire-loaded TEC-9s to murder eight people before shooting himself in the heart of downtown San Francisco in 1993.
But they’re Soldier of Fortune-approved, so there’s that:
2. PULL-AND-RELEASE TRIGGERS
If you’re more of a gadgethead, you’re going to love pull-and-release triggers. The basic concept is a trigger assembly that fires two shots: One when you pull the trigger, and one when you release it. Two-shot bursts are pretty exciting. Joining two-shot bursts together to empty your mag in seconds is like having fantastic sex in a pool filled with Fireball. (I’m, uh, guessing.)
How is it legal? Well, the ATF says as long as each individual shot comes from a motion of the operator, it’s not true full-auto, and you’re street-legal. (This is the point where I, a dad, remind you that only experienced, disciplined shooters should play with a weapon that fires a bonus round on a trigger release. Don’t be the guy who absentmindedly puts that extra slug through a gun-range deck… or something more valuable.)
Franklin Armory Binary Fire System
For a couple hundred bucks, you can modify your AR with this trigger assembly, which has three selector-switch modes: safe, semi-auto, and “binary,” which is fancy talk for “God just reached into my rifle and made it double-tap everything I shot at.”
Not enough of a Dremel-tool genius to drop the trigger package in yourself? They sell complete lower receivers, too.
Pull-and-release systems can have some disadvantages. For one, you could quickly end up with a jam — you’re basically repositioning the hammer before the carrier bolt is out of the way. Fostech’s Echo uses a small sear — similar to those used in real full-auto actions — to keep the hammer clear until your bolt carrier’s home. (But it’s not full auto! They have a letter!)
Like Franklin Armory’s trigger packages, Fostech’s come with a third selector-switch mode, “Echo.” Which is a really beautiful description of tearing shit up with a ton of 5.56.
If the hardware is as slick as their videos, these guys will go far!
3. HAND CRANKS
Look, we’re just having fun here. If you’re not so concerned about being tacticool, or if you have a soft spot in your heart for Gatling guns, then consider hooking your firearm up to a hand crank for some serious rapid fire.
This sucker’s available at Cabela’s and Bass Pro for 20 bucks, and it’s specifically designed for .22 long rifle firearms. Which is great: Make your 10/22 fun to shoot again, and burn through stockpiles of crappy rimfire ammo.
I feel ya, guy in coveralls cranking rounds into the crick by your ATV. I feel ya.
The Redneck Obliterator
When life gives you six AK-47s and a massive metal gear crank, make beautiful, rapid-fire lemonade:
That’s crazy, you say. No one would really shoot a thing like that. Reader, never doubt man’s innate drive to push rounds downrange:
As Bearing Arms’ Bob Owens put it: “I can’t decide if I’m awed, appalled, or a little bit of both.”
4. JUST RENT A MACHINE GUN, ALREADY
Maybe you can’t afford the cost of an M-60 or an Uzi, but rest assured, plenty of ranges with NFA firearms licenses can. Hell, down here in Florida, the gunshine state, there’s an Orlando-based full-auto theme park: Machine Gun America.
But the chances are pretty good you don’t have to go that far to find a full-auto rental range near you. Just be safe and responsible with your fun, and remember: Ammo gets expensive really fast.