When a 37-year-old man opened fire on police officers in Fargo, N.D., on July 14, killing one officer and wounding two others and a civilian, his lethality and the massive arsenal at his disposal were not the only points of concern for authorities. The shooter, whom police killed in the shootout, used a gun modified with a device called a binary trigger, which allows a gun to fire so rapidly that it sounds like an automatic weapon, the Associated Press reports. Some states prohibit the sale of binary triggers specifically, or modifications similar to binary triggers generally. According to the manufacturer's websites, they cannot be sold in 12 states, and in Washington D.C., and at least one other state has a partial prohibition on similar modifications, according to firearm law experts. But the relatively new, inexpensive innovation is currently legal in the majority of states and at the federal level. “It’s a matter of technology outrunning regulation, which is not a new thing,” said Robert Spitzer, professor of gun policy and politics at the College of Williams & Mary Law School.
Binary triggers have an effect similar to better-known bump stocks, but the technology differs. A binary trigger is a modification that allows a weapon to fire one round when the trigger is pulled and another when it is released — in essence doubling the firing capacity. Bump stocks are a frame or component added onto the back of semi-automatic weapons that allow them to fire like machine guns by using the recoil from an initial trigger pull to fire multiple rounds. Under former President Donald Trump’s administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives moved to ban bump stocks after the 2017 mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival where a gunman using bump stock-modified weapons killed 60 people. Federal regulators argued that bump stocks fell under 1934 and 1986 federal regulations on automatic weapons. The ban survived multiple challenges around the country until January, when a U.S. Appeals Court in New Orleans ruled in favor of challengers who argued the federal regulations against machine guns don’t specifically cover bump stocks. In July 14 incident, Mohamad Barakat opened fire on police officers responding to a car accident, police said. Barakat fired from a vehicle loaded with firearms, a homemade-gasoline-repellent grenade, propane tanks filled with improvised explosives, and over 1,800 rounds, police said. North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley said he believes the violence “may have been the start of a larger attack,” as the Downtown Fargo street fair and Red River Valley Fair were underway.