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80 Percent Lower Receivers in Today's World

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80 Percent Lowers

As more shooters are building their own ARs from rough-machined receivers the ATF stands in to clarify what makes a gun a gun.

There are guns, and then there are ghost guns, at least based on the terminology coined by California Senator Kevin De Leon to describe unfinished lower receivers that could later be turned into functioning, firing ARs by competent gunsmiths. The issue as de Leon saw it was the fact that these guns could be built without being serialized, but so-called 80 percent rules place gunsmiths in a tough spot. For gun owners and smiths it was a simple matter of buying unfinished receivers that were to be machined later and built into custom rifles just as the actions of high-end bolt action rifled are oftentimes sent out in the white for later machining. But for de Leon and his counterparts the 80 percent lower receiver was viewed as a danger to society. In an effort to regulate and control receiver sales legislation was passed that worked to redefine what guns really are.

That a piece of machined aluminum is the equivalent of a firearm and must be treated as so may seem absurd to gunsmiths who are simply trying to receive raw materials to finish manufacturing a custom gun, but anti-gun forces have taken up machined receivers as the topic of the day. There is no evidence that has been presented that measures to control receiver sales will, in turn, keep criminals from breaking the law, but the current focus on receivers and the vague language that classifies a gun or not again could certainly cause issues for gunsmiths that will require more paperwork, more time and hassle, and could potentially land individuals trying the remain in compliance with the law in hot water.

“Because receiver blanks do not have markings or serial numbers, when firearms made from such receiver blanks are found at a crime scene, it is usually not possible to trace the firearm or determine its history, which hinders crime gun investigations jeopardizing public safety,” the ATF said in a statement related to receiver production.“[F]irearms that began as receiver blanks have been recovered after shooting incidents, from gang members and from prohibited people after they have been used to commit crimes.”

It has become critical, therefore, for anyone who purchases a receiver to know what, at least according to the ATF, makes a gun and gun. According to the GCA section 921(a)(3), a firearm is anything “which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive.” That readily be converted portion is where things get murky. According to these regulations a receiver that does not have holes or dimples for the selector, trigger or firing pin is not classified as a firearm. So long as the receiver doesn’t have the fire control cavity machined it is not classified as a firearm. Once these action occur the receiver is then classified as a gun.

The vast majority of those who purchase an 80% receiver, a so-called “ghost gun,” are doing so legally and without intention to harm others. One of the most compelling reasons to own an AR is its simplicity and high level of modularity, and having receivers available for finish work by a competent smith is part of the AR experience. As with all firearms regulation, the Second Amendment rights of American gun owners are called into question, and it’s imperative that gun owners are educated in the law and are a voice of reason when knee-jerk legislation seeks to limit our rights.    

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