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I've got a question inspired by a dream I had last night. If someone were to load a firework into a firearm, would that result in the firearm being classified as a Destructive Device? For instance, lets say you took a standard, breach-loading 12 gauge shotgun (barrel diameter just over 18 mm), and you inserted into it an 18mm fireworks rocket, followed by a blank shotgun shell to ignite the rocket's propellant.

Would that cause the shotgun and/or firework to become classified as a Destructive Device under the National Firearms Act? If it does, what actions would the owner of the weapon need to do to avoid breaking federal law?

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This ATF page quotes from 26 USCA §5845(f)(2) as follows:

(f) Destructive device.--The term “destructive device” means * * * (2) any type of weapon by whatever name known which will, or which may be readily converted to, expel a projectile by the action of an explosive or other propellant, the barrel or barrels of which have a bore of more than one-half inch in diameter, except a shotgun or shotgun shell which the Secretary or his delegate finds is generally recognized as particularly suitable for sporting purposes; . . .”

The hypothetical device you describe has a bore of > ½", and when fired would cause a projectile (the rocket) to exit the barrel. The rocket's firing is clearly caused by firing the blank shotgun shell, and would, I think, be seen as "expelling" the projectile. The objection that "the rocket fired and expelled itself" would not be persuasive.

Thus, I think the device you describe meets the statutory definition of "destructive device."

To avoid breaking this law, do not either a) insert a projectile (here, the rocket) in the shotgun bore, or b) set up any external mount or mechanism to ignite the rocket as a result of igniting a shotgun shell (blank or not blank) in the shotgun barrel.

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  • Wouldn’t the “except a shotgun or shotgun shell” exception apply to this particular rule? – nick012000 Jun 17 at 23:52
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    The exception applies to a "...shotgun or shotgun shell which the Secretary or his delegate finds is generally suitable for sporting purposes..." I think this exception would not apply to the device you propose because a) your device is a shotgun and shell and a rocket; and b) the device you propose will not be seen as "particularly suitable for sporting purposes." – DavidSupportsMonica Jun 18 at 0:48
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Here's the problem. You are using a gun-like contraption to launch something, and that 'something' also has explosive properties.

This lands us right in front of the St. Petersburg Declaration, in which Russia invented antipersonnel bullets with bursting charges, then called everyone together to ban them. While the nascent US wasn't enough of a power to be invited to join that party, the doctrine nonetheless is part of human rights law.

Of course, at the Geneva Convention level, nobody bats an eye at rifle grenades, which use the energy of a shell or blank discharge to launch a grenade, the very definition of a thing with explosive properties. But those, while perhaps not entirely illegal, are obstructed to the point of futility.

As DavidSupportsMonica discusses, you also run into a technicality: firing anything out of a barrel larger than 1/2". While there is an exception for things that look, walk and quack like plain old shotgun buckshot, that plainly doesn't apply to fireworks.

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