What You Don’t Know Can Harm You
Okay, so you’ve been thinking about building an AR-15 and you’ve been hearing good things about picking up a so-called 80% lower receiver and the necessary jig (or drill guide) to finish it yourself. Now the world is filled with countless “experts” who can tell you all about how safe, easy, and legal it is and about how you can get around that pesky background check to boot.
Sure, all of those things are true– kind of. It is also true that the jails are full of people who tried to assert their constitutional rights in the face of unsympathetic law enforcement types. Like it or not, this is just what the world has become and it is up to you to make sure that you don’t blunder into any inadvertent tiger traps. So let’s start with the VERY FIRST RULE of building an AR-15 of your own.
Rule Number One
Stay out of jail. This is a simple risk/reward ratio calculation. Make sure you know exactly what you’ve got, what you’re doing, and what your individual state laws are before you even touch an 80% lower build project. You simply must be aware of the fact that you are manufacturing a firearm and need to make sure that you do it the right way from a legal standpoint even before you start doing any of the actual physical labor necessary to make that receiver blank into a fully-functional weapon.
Rule Number Two
There are two starting points for 80% lower builds. One of them is completely legal under ATFE guidelines and one of them is rolling the dice. Here’s how you can tell the difference: While many of the manufacturers and guys at gunshows say differently, the ATFE itself defines an unfinished receiver blank as one that is a completely solid chunk of metal (or plastic) in the area of the fire control group (but not in the magazine well). Are there starter holes or dimples on the side that would enable you to easily drill them out? Is there a partial cut milled down the center of the blank receiver just to get you started on opening up the center of the receiver? Let’s review: if you plan on building an AR-15 receiver blank and bought one that has even the slightest amount of work done on it already, you just purchased an unmarked lower receiver– at least in the eyes of the ATFE – and not an 80% blank.
Rule Number Three
Okay, so you’ve checked out the laws on building an AR-15 and have purchased a certified ATFE-compliant receiver blank and a jig. Now you are ready to do the finish milling and drilling. The big thing is to go real slow and always remember the old carpenter’s creed: measure twice and cut once. Don’t get in a hurry and don’t get sloppy. Otherwise you end up with a cool-looking paperweight for your desk. Use a drill press. Sure you can do it with a hand drill. You can also do it with a rock and a nail, but doing it right, especially the first time, is going to be a lot easier if you use the right tool for the job.
Rule Number Four
Now that you have it built, a few important issues remain. The letter of the FEDERAL law says that you don’t need a serial number on your new rifle since you made it yourself. Okay, great. So what happens when you get pulled over by the local metropolitan cop and he sees you have a gun with no serial number on it? Perfectly legal, or so you shout at him as he cuffs you and confiscates your gun. You should win in court. Eventually. You hope. What the laws on building an AR-15 say and how they are interpreted by a quota-driven justice system mad for revenue are two different things. Be smart and put your own serial number on your own gun. You can make up your own.
Any thing you want or even nothing, so long as you put your name and address on it as well. FU 666 NAZI SWINE is perfectly acceptable. You don’t have to tell the Feds what it is. But it does have to be done according to ATFE regulations specifying the way in which it has to be applied to the receiver in order for it to be accepted BY THEM as a valid serial number, if the question ever comes up.
Rule Number Five
As jack-booted-thuglike as the ATFE may appear to be a times, they ain’t got nothing on some of the little closet Hitlers in the various states. So you need to make sure you are good-to-go with your own state and local authorities as well as compliant with all the Federal stuff. So, a couple of statewide AR-15 builder cases-in-point. For you guys in Connecticut– move somewhere else while they’ll still generously allow you to leave. Build an AR-15? Not going to happen where you live.
Out on the other commie-infested coastline, meaning California, you can still do your own 80% lower builds, believe it or not. For guns built before July 1, 2018, you MUST put your own serial number on it and you MUST tell them what it is. For guns finished after this date, you MUST buy a government-issued serial number from the state of California, MUST pay them the fee to purchase it (imagine that), and MUST affix said serial number in the manner which they shall prescribe. In addition, all of the other California specific AR-15 regulations still apply as well.
In summation, take advantage of the fact that you can actually build your own home made AR in America, but make sure you conform to all of the Federal and state AR-15 regulations that apply to you. Some jurisdictions have made it extraordinarily hard, even impossible, to do so but even the most gun-friendly place in the Union is still subject to the joint regulations laid down by the ATFE. If in doubt, check with them.
And don’t forget to drill everything exactly perpendicular. The slightest deviation will make for a gun that does not cycle or fire with 100% certainty and the problem will never go away. Do it right. Do the entire process, including the dratted paperwork, right.