Fed definition of AR-15 part is under fire

This photo provided by the U.S. Department of Justice shows AR-15 lower receivers, which federal agents have seized for firearms investigations nationwide. For decades, the federal government has treated the mechanism called the lower receiver as the essential piece of the semiautomatic rifle. But some defense attorneys have recently argued that the part alone does not meet the definition in the law. (U.S. Department of Justice via AP)

DALLAS (AP) - A subtle design feature of the AR-15 rifle has raised a technical legal question that is derailing criminal cases tied to one of America’s most popular weapons.

At issue is whether a key piece of the AR-15 satisfies the definition of a gun that prosecutors have long relied on.

For decades, the federal government has treated a mechanism called the lower receiver as the essential piece of the semiautomatic rifle, which has been used in some of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings.

That definition is critical in pursuit of people who are charged with illegally buying and sell parts for the rifle or building them. But some defense attorneys have recently argued that the part alone does not meet the definition in the law.

Federal law enforcement officials have long been concerned about the issue. Now they are increasingly worried that it could derail some criminal charges and undermine firearms regulations nationwide.

(Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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