HomeTop StoriesThe Fargo shooter used a binary trigger. Here's what you need...

The Fargo shooter used a binary trigger. Here’s what you need to know about the device that’s worrying police

Sitting in a parked car with an arsenal of guns and ammunition, the man who shot at police officers in North Dakota earlier this month opted to use the only gun in his vehicle modified with a binary trigger. The device allowed the gun to fire so fast it sounded like an automatic weapon.

The July 14 shooting in Fargo, which killed an officer and wounded two others and a civilian, has brought a spotlight to the device and other trigger modifications that are a growing concern for law enforcement.

Mohamad Barakat, 37, opened fire on the officers as they responded to a car crash. He fired from his vehicle loaded with rifles, a homemade grenade, gasoline bottles, propane tanks with improvised explosive devices and more than 1,800 rounds, police said. Barakat was killed by a fourth officer who returned fire.

North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley said Friday that he believes the violence could have been the start of a larger attack as the Downtown Fargo Street Fair and the Red River Valley Fair were underway.

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Wrigley noted that Barakat had four semi-automatic pistols and three semi-automatic rifles, but only one of them – the one he selected to go on his shooting spree – had a binary trigger.

Here’s a look at the device, the regulations surrounding binary triggers, and how they differ from bump stocks:


A binary trigger is a modification that allows a weapon to fire one round when the trigger is pulled and another when released — essentially doubling its firing capability, firearms experts and gun manufacturers say.

The modifications are relatively inexpensive, costing a few hundred dollars depending on the model. It’s also a relatively new technology, first released in 2015, in part in response to federal regulators seeking to expand the scope of banning modifications that create automatic weapons.


They are legal in most states and at the federal level. Federal regulations do not yet cover the sale of binary trigger modifications, said Robert Spitzer, a professor at the College of William & Mary Law School whose research focuses on gun policy and politics.

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“It’s a matter of technology trumping regulations, which is not new,” Spitzer said.

Some states specifically prohibit the purchase of binary triggers or modifications such as binary triggers in general. The manufacturer’s websites note that they cannot sell them to citizens in 12 states, including California, New York, Florida and others or in Washington DC.


Bump stocks are a frame or component added to the rear of semi-automatic weapons that allow them to fire like machine guns by using the recoil of an initial trigger pull to fire multiple rounds.

Under the administration of former President Donald Trump, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has decided to ban bumpstocks after the 2017 mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival where a gunman killed 60 people using bumpstock-modified weapons. Federal regulators argued that bump stocks fell under the 1934 and 1986 federal regulations for automatic weapons.

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The ban survived multiple challenges across the country until January, when a U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled in favor of challengers who argued that federal anti-machine gun regulations don’t specifically address bump stocks.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has also taken steps to regulate so-called “forced reset triggers,” saying they were also essentially creating machine guns out of semi-automatic weapons by adding a spring to a trigger, allowing it to reset and fire more quickly.

Greg Wallace, a professor at Campbell University Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law who has studied gun laws, said binary triggers operate on a completely different mechanism than forced reset triggers. He said binary triggers modify the part of the trigger that counteracts the hammer or striking mechanism.

Wallace said he agreed with several articles calling binary triggers a gimmick “that has little or no practical use in the real world”.


Associated Press writer Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas, contributed to this report.

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