Adding an auto sear to a semi-automatic AR-15 takes a matter of minutes, says John Sullivan, the director of engineering at Defense Distributed, a DIY gunsmithing and gun access group. 3D-printing the auto sear itself would take around 10 minutes, Sullivan says, given that it’s less than a cubic inch of material. “It’s a single piece of plastic. It’s not even something you have to print out and assemble,” Sullivan says. Because the part doesn’t directly receive any of the explosive pressures of firing off rounds, it can be made of plastic and still function reliably, Sullivan says, though might break eventually. “The part atrophies. But that’s the whole point of these 3D-printed parts. When the part breaks you take it out and replace it. It takes two seconds.”
Of course, for the vast majority of Americans printing a drop-in auto sear is also very illegal, Sullivan points out. In the eyes of US gun control laws, the auto sear component is itself considered an automatic weapon, which are federally banned if they weren’t manufactured before 1986. “The part in and of itself is a machine gun,” Sullivan says. “Everyone who prints this out is committing a felony.”
That hasn’t stopped 3D-printable blueprints for auto sears from spreading around the internet; the files themselves are legal, after all, even if the printed part isn’t. The decentralized gun access group Deterrence Dispensed six months ago released a printable auto sear file called the Yankee Boogle, an apparent Boogaloo reference. A “trailer” for the gun file’s release, which includes images of printed plastic auto sears, remains online and has more than 200,000 views on YouTube. Separately, two Boogaloo members were indicted in September for allegedly attempting to sell auto sears to representatives of the Islamic extremist group Hamas—the buyers were in fact FBI agents—though it’s not clear how those auto sears were made.
According to the FBI, Watson had been selling his own 3D-printed auto sears on Portablewallhanger.com since at least March. The FBI found more than 600 PayPal transactions to the business account Watson created for the e-commerce site, and 362 Stamps.com shipments made to 46 states.
Aside from Watson’s alleged sale of a 3D-printed auto sear to Carrillo, the FBI says it found other evidence of connections to the Boogaloo movement. One cooperating witness in the case, a Boogaloo member, told the FBI that he had learned about Portablewallhanger.com from advertisements on a Boogaloo Facebook group. And Portablewallhanger.com also advertised in March that it would donate 10 percent of proceeds to the GoFundMe campaign of Justice for Duncan Lemp, an anti-government militia member who was killed by police in March and has since become a martyr figure for the Boogaloo movement.
Court documents also reference conversations in emails and on social media accounts associated with the Portable Wall Hanger business that appear to be coded references to installing and troubleshooting drop-in auto sears. While Watson seems to have been careful in how he described his product, his customers weren’t always so subtle. One Instagram user going by the name “Duncan Socrates Lemp” wrote that Watson’s hooks “only work in armalite Walls,” a clear reference to an AR-15 manufacturer. Another named booglordinc left a comment on an Instagram post for “Red Coat Hanger Packs,” an apparent pun that references the term “redcoat,” used to describe perceived enemies of the Boogaloo revolution. “I don’t mind seeing redcoats lying on the floor, but prefer to leave em properly hanging #twitchygurglythings,” booglordinc wrote:
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