David Olofson loaned his Colt AR-15 rifle to Robert Kiernicki on several occasions. On one occasion, Kiernicki attracted some unwanted attention at the firing range when the gun produced three- and four-round bursts with each trigger pull. A complaint to the police resulted in an investigation that traced the weapon back to Olofson, who was charged in due course with knowingly transferring a machinegun in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(o). A jury convicted Olofson of this crime, and the judge imposed a sentence of thirty months in prison.
Olofson’s appeal centered on the jury instructions, specifically, the trial judge’s definition of “machinegun” as follows: “any weapon which shoots . . . automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.” Although this language came directly from the statutory definition of “machinegun,” Olofson argued that the judge should have further clarified what the term “automatically” meant based on Staples v. United States, 511 U.S. 600 (1994), in which the Supreme Court defined an automatic weapon this way: “[O]nce its trigger is depressed, the weapon will automatically continue to fire until its trigger is released or the ammunition is exhausted.” Such a definition might have saved Olofson, for some of the evidence indicated that his gun jammed after shooting just three or four rounds — even if the “trigger [was not] released or the ammunition . . . exhausted.”
Olofson, however, was pretty clearly trying to give more weight to the Staples language than it could reasonably bear, and the Seventh Circuit held as much.