Design of AR-15 could derail charges tied to popular rifle

In this photo taken March 15, 2017, AR-15 style rifles made by Battle Rifle Co., a gunmaker in Webster, Texas, are on display in its retail shop. The gunmaker is one of more than 10,000 currently in the United States. President Donald Trump promised to revive manufacturing in the U.S., but one sector is poised to shrink under his watch: the gun industry. Fears of limits on guns led to a surge in demand during President Barack Obama’s tenure and manufacturers leapt to keep up. (AP Photo/Lisa Marie Pane)

(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.

That definition is critical in pursuit of people who are charged with illegally buying and sell parts for the rifle or building them.

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.

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