ATF Releases FAQ on “80-Percent” Receivers

AR-80percent_1

The ATF has released an public FAQ for 80% lower receivers. Originally posted on Ammoland, the full text of the release is below with pictures documenting the ATF’s interpretation of current statues. In short, its cut and dry where they draw the line and until then, its just a hunk of metal….

 1. Is ATF aware of the receiver blanks, commonly referred to as 80% receivers?
ATF routinely collaborates with the firearms industry and law enforcement to monitor new technologies and current manufacturing trends that could potentially impact the safety of the public.

2. What is an “80%” or “unfinished” receiver?
“80% receiver,” “80% finished,” “80% complete,” “unfinished receiver” are all terms referring to an item that some may believe has not yet reached a stage of manufacture that meets the definition of firearm frame or receiver found in the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA). These are not statutory terms or terms ATF employs or endorses.

3. Are “80%” or “unfinished” receivers illegal?
Receiver blanks that do not meet the definition of a “firearm” are not subject to regulation under the GCA. The ATF has long held that items such as receiver blanks, “castings” or “machined bodies” in which the fire-control cavity area is completely solid and un-machined have not reached the “stage of manufacture” which would result in the classification of a firearm per the GCA.

See comparison examples:

80 percent Receiver Blanks Pic 1
80 percent Receiver Blanks Pic 1
80 percent Receiver Blanks Pic 2
80 percent Receiver Blanks Pic 2
80 percent Receiver Blanks Pic 3
80 percent Receiver Blanks Pic 3

4. Are there restrictions on who can purchase receiver blank?
The GCA does not impose restrictions on receiver blanks that do not meet the definition of a “firearm.”

5. When does a receiver need to have markings and/or serial numbers?
Receivers that meet the definition of a “firearm” must have markings, including a serial number. See 27 CFR § 478.92 (Firearm manufacturers marking requirements).

6. Can functioning firearms made from receiver blanks be traced?
ATF successfully traces crime guns to the first retail purchaser in most instances. ATF starts with the manufacturer and goes through the entire chain of distribution to find who first bought the firearm from a licensed dealer.  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.

7. Have firearms made from unmarked receiver blanks been recovered after being used in a crime?
Yes, firearms 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.

8. Are some items being marketed as non-firearm “unfinished” or “80%” receivers actually considered firearms?
Yes, in some cases, items being marketed as unfinished or “80%” receivers do meet the definition of a “firearm” as defined in the GCA. Persons who are unsure about whether an item they are planning to buy or sell is considered a firearm under the GCA should contact ATF’s Firearms Technology Branch (FTB).

9. What is ATF doing in regard to people making firearms?
There are no federal restrictions on an individual making a firearm for personal use, as long as it does not violate the GCA or National Firearms Act (NFA).

10. What is the National Firearms Act (NFA)?
The NFA imposes a tax on the making, transfer or import of certain firearms recognized to present a greater risk to public safety. The law also requires the registration of all NFA firearms as defined in title 26 USC 5845(a):

(1) a shotgun having a barrel or barrels of less than 18 inches in length;
(2) a weapon made from a shotgun if such weapon as modified has an overall length of less than 26 inches or a barrel or barrels of less than 18 inches in length;
(3) a rifle having a barrel or barrels of less than 16 inches in length;
(4) a weapon made from a rifle if such weapon as modified has an overall length of less than 26 inches or a barrel or barrels of less than 16 inches in length;
(5) any other weapon, as defined in subsection (e);
(6) a machinegun;
(7) any silencer (as defined in section 921 of title 18, United States Code); and
(8) a destructive device.
(Under the NFA the term “firearm” does not include an antique firearm or any device (other than a machinegun or destructive device) which, although designed as a weapon, the [Attorney General] finds by reason of the date of its manufacture, value, design, and other characteristics is primarily a collector’s item and is not likely to be used as a weapon.

11. Can an individual make large quantities of firearms and sell them?
If an individual is “engaged in the business” (defined below) as a manufacturer or seller of firearms then that person must obtain a federal firearms license.  In addition, manufacturers have a variety of specific responsibilities under the Gun Control Act, such as including a serial number and other markings on all firearms.

Under 18 U.S.C. 921 (a)(21)(A), the term “engaged in the business” means— as applied to a manufacturer of firearms, a person who devotes time, attention, and labor to manufacturing firearms as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit through the sale or distribution of the firearms manufactured.

12. Can anyone make firearms and sell them?
With certain exceptions, and subject to any state law that might apply, as long as an individual is not prohibited from possessing a firearm, he or she can make a firearm for personal use. If an individual wants to manufacture and sell firearms, he or she is required to obtain a license, and mark each firearm manufactured in accordance with 27 CFR 478.92. [18 U.S.C. 923(i), 26 U.S.C. 5822]

13. Who can obtain a Federal Firearms License (FFL)?
ATF will approve a properly executed application if the applicant:

  • Submits fingerprint cards;
  • Submits a frontal view photograph;
  • Is 21 years of age or older;
  • Is not prohibited from shipping, transporting, receiving or possessing firearms or ammunition in interstate or foreign commerce;
  • Has not willfully violated the GCA or its regulations;
  • Has not willfully failed to disclose material information or willfully made false statements concerning material facts in connection with his application;
  • Has premises for conducting the business
  • The applicant certifies that:
    • the business to be conducted under the license is not prohibited by State or local law in the place where the licensed premises is located;
    • within 30 days after the application is approved the business will comply with the requirements of State and local law applicable to the conduct of the business;
    • the business will not be conducted under the license until the requirements of State and local law applicable to the business have been met;
    • the applicant has sent or delivered a form to the chief law enforcement officer where the premises is located notifying the officer that the applicant intends to apply for a license; and
    • secure gun storage or safety devices will be available at any place in which firearms are sold under the license to persons who are not licensees (“secure gun storage or safety device” is defined in 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(34)).

[18 U.S.C. 923(d)(1), 27 CFR 478.47(b)]
Under federal law, an application shall be approved if an applicant for a federal firearms license or a manufacturing license meets all of the licensing requirements and criteria.

14. How does one apply for a Federal Firearms License?
Submit ATF Form 7 (5310.12), Application for License, with the appropriate fee in accordance with the instructions on the form to ATF.

Under Creative Commons License: Attribution



Nathan S.

One of TFB’s resident Jarheads, Nathan now works within the firearms industry. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, NFA, gunsmithing, MSR’s, & high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries working with US DoD & foreign MoDs.

Nathan can be reached at Nathan.S@TheFirearmBlog.com

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


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  • sianmink

    It’s too bad we don’t have a slick acronym for 80% lowers, it could have been the most epic headline ever this week.

    • Nate O.

      ATF releases FAQ on EPR.

    • Mystick

      They do.. they call them “ghost guns”…

      • sianmink

        That’s.. not an acronym.

        • Mystick

          Indeed

  • Raoul O’Shaugnessy

    Given ATFE’s history of publishing an opinion about something and then changing their mind once people are following that opinion, I’d be leery of trusting anything those goons say.

    • Skinnypete

      Right why is the ATF even funded. Congressmen Sensenbrenner is right, the ATF should be gone.

  • DaveP.

    In re #7: Not that I think the ATF are a pack of lying weasels or anything, but please provide documentation (“The victim had one of these in his desk drawer, and was stabbed to death on the front porch… counts as ‘found at a crime scene’ to me, Charlie!”)

    • m

      Well, an unserialized, un-logoed receiver in the white, or having the fire control pocket in the white would be a start…

      The Santa Monica shooter was a high profile case that involved an 80 percent. Also involved 30 round magazines illegal in Cali.

      • KC

        That’s the thing, I’m not convinced it was an 80% lower, I think the SN and manufacturing marks were scraped off. Every picture of the guy armed is a different upper than the one we see pictures of.

    • Skinnypete

      They are lying weasels. Along with mist gov. agencies

  • Guest

    Did this statement make anyone shudder? “ATF successfully traces crime guns to the first
    retail purchaser in most instances. ATF starts with the manufacturer and goes
    through the entire chain of distribution to find who first bought the firearm
    from a licensed dealer. ” A reminder of defacto gun registration in this country.
    ATF
    successfully traces crime guns to the first retail purchaser in most
    instances. ATF starts with the manufacturer and goes through the entire
    chain of distribution to find who first bought the firearm from a
    licensed dealer. – See more at:
    http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2014/11/11/atf-releases-faq-80-percent-receivers/#sthash.lDWMCePR.dpuf
    ATF
    successfully traces crime guns to the first retail purchaser in most
    instances. ATF starts with the manufacturer and goes through the entire
    chain of distribution to find who first bought the firearm from a
    licensed dealer. – See more at:
    http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2014/11/11/atf-releases-faq-80-percent-receivers/#sthash.lDWMCePR.dpuf
    ATF
    successfully traces crime guns to the first retail purchaser in most
    instances. ATF starts with the manufacturer and goes through the entire
    chain of distribution to find who first bought the firearm from a
    licensed dealer. – See more at:
    http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2014/11/11/atf-releases-faq-80-percent-receivers/#sthash.lDWMCePR.dpuf

    • Guest

      (oops, sorry for the three extra quotes)

  • Don Ward

    That was not a particularly helpful response from the ATF. I guess the answer is to rely on anonymity and using common sense in the big pond of firearm owners while hoping the ATF has better things to do.

    • Skinnypete

      Yeah while they buy guns for Mexican drug dealers and then they don’t get in any legal troubles. Only in America.

    • Zachary marrs

      If you expect a helpful response from the atf, i have the deed to the quaintest lil’ bridge in Brooklyn to sell you

  • Zachary marrs

    These are frequently asked questions because the atf constantly changes the answer

  • 360_AD

    But if one is manufactured (100%) for personal use, does it have to be marked and serialized?

  • Skinnypete

    When is a court going to rule that any type of lower isn’t a damn firearm. Let’s make sense. A firearm needs to be able to fire a projectile as a whole unit. Like freeze plugs are suppressors some guys say. Nonsense. The sig silencer ruling needs to be made ASAP. Enough of this or that being a firearm. I can’t see a court upholding much the ATF dictates. I’m s only their interpretation of the law. Well fcuk the ATF

    • Cymond

      If the laws and regs were written like that, no one would ever buy or sell a “firearm” again. Every gun law could be bypassed by just selling guns without firing pins, and then selling the firing pins separately. No gov’t entity would ever let that happen.

      It’s also related to the “Theseus Ship” argument. At what point is a “firearm” no longer a firearm? Well, the US gov’t decided it was all about the receiver. Interestingly, some guns define the lower as the receiver (AR-15) while others define the upper (TNW Aero, Ruger Mk pistols).
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship_of_Theseus

  • atfsux

    What I want to know is this;…If I manufacture from an 80% a weapon I actually do intend to keep for my personal use, and do keep for a year or two,…but then fall on hard times and need to sell off excess property to pay rent or what have you,…am I legally able to sell it under such circumstances? Again,…having never INTENDED to sell it, and having fully INTENDED to keep it for the indefinite future for my own personal use,…are such exigent circumstances allowable as a defense?

    • Porty1119

      If memory serves, the lower would need to have a serial number to be sold. This could be as simple as you engraving ‘0001’ onto it. Selling a homemade firearm is A-OK unless you start making them with the intent of selling, in which case an FFL is required.

    • Eric S

      If I recall correctly, you can fill out serialize it, fill out Form 1(?) and pay $100, then it’s legal to sell. There may also be something about selling it to a FFL. That whole ‘main source of income to need a license’ is too vague for me. Cause that would imply one could make them on the side without a license as long as it the profits/revenue didn’t exceed your other sources of income. But legalize is not my strong suit.

      • gunslinger

        “engaged in the business” is vague. if i’m a multimillionare ceo of a compnay, and i make/sell guns at cost or a loss, does that still count? i guess it depends on the meaning of “livelihood” because i do devote time, material, money to make them. but does livelihood also include enjoyment from the activity?

        methinks if you happen to need to sell one, you’ll be fine, so long as you don’t start getting into where the IRS starts looking at financials.

        but not a lawyer, not to be used as sound legal advise.

  • mzungu

    New to guns, but why is the Lower being controled, and not the barrel? I would imagine the gun barrel is 10 times more difficult to make.

    • FightFireJay

      Because the lower receiver (in the case of an AR-15) is the part that contains the trigger mechanism. This is especially important to US law because of the restraints against owning full auto firearms made after 1986.

      Barrels are easy to make… good barrels, thats another story. Plus its not uncommon to replace a barrel on a firearm when it wears out, or to change calibers, length, accuracy, twist rate, etc.

    • Cymond

      what FightFireJay said.

      But also because barrels wear out and need replaced. Depending on the cartridge & ammo, barrel life can be extremely short. An AR-15 barrel is “shot out” by about 4,000 round of Wolf ammo. Some barrels and cartridges have even shorter lives. However, I don’t really know much about barrel life.

      Also, if barrels were restricted, it would also destroy the ease of changing calibers. For example, there are 22LR upper halves for Glocks, 1911s, and AR-15s.

  • Cymond

    “5. When does a receiver need to have markings and/or serial numbers? Receivers that meet the definition of a “firearm” must have markings, including a serial number.”
    Umm…. a factory-made receiver needs a s/n, a home built receiver does not except maybe in some states. The ATF’s “answer” would lead many to believe that they must serialize an 80% lower after finishing it.

    Also, gotta love the bias in the answers about home-built guns used in crime in 6 & 7. [/sarc]

    • Mystick

      …and by serializing it, does it demonstrate intent to sell and therefore fall under the “manufacturer” requirements?

  • Jim_Macklin

    I’m just guessing, but when a gun is left at a crime scene isn’t the logical reason be that the criminal died at the scene when the intended victim had a weapon and shot the criminal. Wouldn’t tracing the criminal associates be easier than trying to trace a gun stolen years before?