A Review of 80% Lower Laws

As gun enthusiasts watch the latest attempts to rewrite 80% lower laws in an attempt to eliminate access to homemade firearms kits, it’s worth looking at existing legislation to understand the impact these changes may have on hobbyists. While the vast majority of homemade gun owners are law-abiding citizens, bad actors are causing legal issues for 80% lower owners. While any legislation is unlikely to affect criminal behavior, it does put your right to make a quality firearm at home at risk. Let’s take a look at where federal and state laws currently stand, how the proposed ATF rule change will affect that, and what you can do about it.

The Truth About “Ghost Guns”

Before we look at 80% lower laws and the climate surrounding them, we also need to address “Ghost Guns”. This is a common terminology used by proponents and detractors of homemade firearms. We’ve even used it, but it’s important to note that it is, in fact, not a real category of weapon. Originally meant as a reference to the fact that homemade weapons did not require the copious paperwork often associated with government overreach in commercial firearms transactions, it has instead been co-opted for fear-mongering.

Those in the media and gun control advocates have used this terminology as a broad brush to lump non-serialized firearms legally manufactured by enthusiasts for private use in with de-serialized weapons used by criminal elements. Stolen firearms will have the serial numbers removed or obscured, the act of doing so is, itself, a crime. Criminals will do what they need to do to obtain weapons and make those weapons harder to trace. Current law-enforcement reporting often places non serialized and de-serialized firearms in the same category without distinction, muddying the waters about the true numbers of homemade firearms that are used in crime. Punishing firearms hobbyists for these criminal acts does nothing to further safety or the public interest.

80% Lowers Are Not Guns

One thing existing federal 80% lower laws agree on is that they are not firearms. As we covered in our open letter to President Biden, the ATF itself has argued this fact repeatedly.  These unfinished gun parts cannot accept ammunition and fire it without the work from the purchaser to finish the machining and assembly process. While this is often framed in the media as “just” putting the gun together, that phrasing belies the skilled labor needed to drill, remove excel metal or selvage, and tool or machine then carefully fit components. 

While not an exhaustive example, the ATF itself offers guidance to the public and law enforcement when determining if a part is a firearm under 80% lower laws. As you can see in the regulatory authority’s pictures, the legal 80% lowers require much more than just “putting together”. Even partially machining the block of metal turns the receiver into a firearm under ATF guidance, so the idea that a person purchasing an 80% lower and a finished firearm are equivalent actions is immediately proven false. If you are purchasing an 80% lower, you are purchasing a part to make a gun, not a gun.

Making your own firearms for personal use is legal at the federal level. The Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA) sets out specific guidelines for what the ATF can require background checks or transfer paperwork on. Under the agency’s own definitions of firearms, 80% lowers do not meet that criteria.

State And Local Regulations

While 80% lower laws at the federal level are currently friendly to hobbyists, due to some state and local legislatures, owners may run into some 80% lower legal issues. 

  • Serial Number Required – Several states, including Connecticut, California, and Oregon, require the maker of a homemade firearm to apply for and receive a serial number from a state agency. This, in effect, registers your firearm with the state. The process for applying for a serial number and requirements for its display on the firearm may vary.
  • License Required – New Jersey requires anyone manufacturing a firearm to be licensed by the state as a manufacturer, fulfilling the same process and obligation as if you were opening a fully-fledged factory.
  • Prohibited – New York prohibits the manufacture or transfer of firearms that are or may be “untraceable”, including non-serialized firearms. 

More and more states are considering anti-gun legislation that could impact your ability to purchase or use parts legally ordered. 

Proposed ATF Rule Change

In response to President Biden’s call for a rule to apply more regulation to homemade firearms, the ATF announced Proposed Rule 2021R-05. This contains several provisions related to homemade guns. 

  • The Right To Manufacture Firearms For Personal Use Is Reaffirmed – Much of this rule is problematic, so let’s start with one of the bright points. The ATF specifies the legality of homemade firearms remains in effect.
  • 80% Lower Kits Will Have To Walk A Thin (And Vague) Line – If a frame, receiver, or kit containing either could be “readily be completed, assembled, converted, or restored to a functional state” it must be serialized by the manufacturer or seller and FFL transfer requirements must be met. As for the definition of readily, “a process that is fairly or reasonably efficient, quick, and easy, but not necessarily the most efficient, speedy, or easy process.” In short, a frame becomes a receiver when they feel like it based on mystery criteria they are the sole judge of.
  • An FFL Licensee Who Obtains Your Firearm For Any Reason Must Serialize It Before Any Further Transfer – Whether you’re having some custom work done or need to put your firearm up as collateral on a loan, before you get it back, it will be serialized and FFL forms filed.

Where Do We Go From Here?

More than ever it’s important for responsible gun owners to get involved with their elected representatives. The ATF’s proposed rule is in the comment period until 08/19/2021, giving you a chance to register your opposition to the new rule. In addition, groups like Defense Distributed are working to confront any government overreach before it builds up steam. You can be sure this rule will be challenged in court, but that is never a guarantee, so contact your representatives and senators about your rights. Don’t forget to approach your state-level legislatures, as well. While federal gun control is getting a lot of attention, groups are working coast-to-coast in an attempt to curtail your rights. 

Now Is The Time To Buy

With an uncertain future for availability under 80% lower laws, now is the time to get your parts to make a quality homemade firearm in your workshop. Order your legal 80% lower kits and parts from JSD Supply today.