80% Lowers and the Legal Brief
To get started, we want to share a small disclaimer. We are dedicated to and proud supporters of everything 2nd amendment, but we are not lawyers. So, before you take what you read here and run with it, you will want to double-check all of your local gun laws where you live. Make sure you are up to date on any special regulations that may apply to you and your situation. Gun laws are always changing and always do your part to stay up to date with the newest and current laws.
What Defines an 80% Lower?
80% lowers are receiver blanks, and aren’t technically considered firearms. So if it isn’t a firearm, you don’t have to worry about any gun laws right? Not quite. You as a firearm builder, have to cut and drill certain parts of the lower in order to turn it into a functioning firearm. Doing so turns the blank into a stripped lower receiver, which is technically a firearm by definition. You finished stripped receiver can then be used to build your AR-15 (or other platform), but is now subject to firearm laws and regulations.
The ATF doesn’t actually define or regulate 80% lowers, and this name in fact comes from retailers. So how do you know if the unfinished receiver you bought is actually legal or not? The answer is fairly simple, 80% lowers are just legally called receiver blanks. The ATF does have a definition of these. They separate an 80% lower from a stripped receiver based on whether or not the main cavity (the area for a lower parts kit and trigger) has been cut and drilled. You can even visit their website to see a nice photograph with visuals to show what they define as a blank, and what they consider a firearm.
So Are 80% Lowers Legal?
Let's take a look state by state...
Even in California, 80% lowers are legal to buy and own. First off, all 80% lowers built and owned in the state of California must be serialized, and you must apply for your serial number through the state. You must have a serial number on your 80% lower, and this relatively new requirement is written in California legislation passed in July 2016. It states all home-built lowers need to have a serial number by January 1, 2019.
Unless you are a licensed manufacturer in New Jersey, you cannot legally build out an 80% lower. So unless you want to run into problems with the ATF, do your research and buy or build an AR-15 legally. Unfortunately, this is the one state that we cannot ship to.
New York still allows 80% lowers, but they do restrict how you can legally build an AR-15 with your lower. They are, however, actively trying to ban the sale and building of AR-15 lowers within their state, so make sure you actively research all applicable laws to your situation. They recently sent out a "Cease and Desist" letter, and you can be sure legislation is to follow shortly. As of now, we are still shipping all products to New York!
You do not need a license to buy or build a lower for an AR-15. You do, however, need a license if you plan to build firearms for sale or distribution. You can still sell a gun you built out of an 80% lower, as long as that was not your original intention. This is a place to use some common sense, as the ATF states that building a gun for sale or distribution makes you a manufacturer, which requires a special license. If you build an AR-15 for personal use, you are in the clear. If you build one for personal use, then sell it later because you either changed your mind or have other reasons, you are in the clear. What you don’t want to do is buy a ton of receiver blanks, drill them all out, and start selling them around town or online as your own custom made receivers with making money in mind. Doing this will probably result in the ATF paying you a visit, so use common sense here.
Do You Need to Serialize Your 80% Lower?
No, you do not unless you live in California, or you are building a Class 2 firearm, like an SBR (short-barreled rifle). Any firearm that is made for personal use does not have to have a serial number on it. While it is not required to have a serial number, it might be a good idea to put one on it anyways. In the event that your gun is lost or stolen, it makes it much easier to identify.
You do not even need to serialize your lower to sell it, although again it would be a good idea to do so. The ATF has stated that “firearm markings are only required by those who are licensed importers, licensed manufacturers, and those who make an NFA firearm for personal use. Those markings would be made the time of import, manufacture, or when an NFA firearm was made. Under Federal Law, no markings would be required in your circumstances.”
This means that if you are wanting to sell a regular AR-15 rifle or pistol, you do not need a serial number. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add a number on it anyways. Once you sell it, you will no longer know anything about it or have any control of it. Having a serial number can ensure you have either an FFL transfer or even a private purchase bill of sale, helping you to stay in the clear just in case.
Hopefully, you now have a little bit better understanding about 80% lowers, and remember, state and federal laws are constantly changing so always perform your own research before beginning. Now get out there and start your next gun build!