In the wake of proposed gun control legislation from the Biden administration, the gun community seems a bit confused as to what is really going on, and what will come of one of gun enthusiast’s favorite hobbies: building 80% lowers.
What is an 80% lower?
An 80% lower is a frame or receiver of a firearm that has not been completely milled out. Currently 80% are not firearms because of the legal definition of a firearm. According to the ATF, the definition of a firearm is as follows:
“Any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive; The frame or receiver of any such weapon; Any firearm muffler or firearm silencer; or Any destructive device.”
As we take a look at this definition from the ATF website, we see that in order for a receiver to be a firearm, it must be able to be “readily converted to expel a projectile…”
An 80 lower is not considered a firearm, because the portion of the receiver that would make it a firearm by this definition, is not milled out, in other words, not readily converted to fire an explosive.
80% lowers are most commonly made from firearms with easy to work with materials like aluminum and polymers. The AR15 style rifle is the most common 80% lower built firearm because the aluminum is easy to work with using common household tools.
Polymer 80 glock frames are also popular, derived from Glock OEM frames and parts, people can make their own 80% lower handguns using a simple dremel tool and a hand drill.
Legality of 80% Lowers
80% lowers are legal in federal law. However there are some states that regulate them or completely ban the ownership or manufacturer of guns by unlicensed persons. When you build an 80% lower, you essentially become your own gun manufacturer, meaning there are some rules you have to follow on the federal level.
- In order to own a firearm you must be eligible according to Federal law
- The sale of a firearm by a non licensed person is illegal
- Modifications that make a firearm fully automatic are illegal
- Firearms must be categorized as either a rifle or a pistol
States where 80% lowers are regulated or banned:
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
- Washington DC
80% lowers are completely legal, so it goes without saying that the main issue is when they become firearms legally and what state they are in.
Can a felon own an 80% lower?
Whether it is legal for a felon, or whether a felon can, is often the subject of much debate in the country. No matter the state, it is pretty much all encompassing because of federal law that even if a felon is in possession of an 80% lower it is a crime for them to machine it into a completed lower. That is not because on the federal level, 80% lowers are illegal to felons, rather it is illegal for convicted felons to own firearms in the first place.
In states like California, New York, and Washington state, it is illegal for those who have been convicted to own firearms as well as 80% lowers. That is, it is illegal in those states for someone to even own receiver blanks in the state. However, this rule does not apply to every state, as there are laws specifically in those states that regulate the sale and ownership of 80% lowers.
80% Lowers currently?
Currently, the Biden administration has almost reached a climax after a year-long struggle to make headway with “common sense gun laws” in Congress. However, in February, Biden himself announced a call to action signaling to the DoJ to draft a new ruling in the wake of Biden’s newly nominated director of the ATF. Biden plans to circumvent the US legislative process in order to crack down on 80% lowers.
The New Legislation will be set to update the definitions of a frame/ receiver, as well as what determines a gunsmith. The laws are claimed to be a valid defense against so-called “ghost guns” or the very guns that are made from 80% lowers.
While the bill has been filed since May of last year, there has only recently been any major headway after Biden’s new nominee for the director of ATF gets ready to take his seat.The bill once officially filed, will be taken into effect 120 days after its filing. More updates on the trajectory of the bill will be made in the near future, as we progress into the Summer months.
Why is it dangerous to change the definition of firearm?
The ownership of firearms is protected by the 2nd amendment, however, with legislation of the course of a century against the ownership of firearms, a dangerous precedent has been set in legislation that limits the ownership of guns to the American citizenry. Changing the definition of firearms means changing the scope of what people are allowed to do themselves, which means placing a very clear limit on the ownership of firearms.
The bill, not only attacks 80% lowers, but firearms built by people who do not have FFLs. This encompasses 3D printed firearms as well. 80% lowers are just the most accessible form of DIY gun building, as well as the safest.
Changing the definition of firearms will not only infringe upon the second amendment, but will carry on a dangerous precedent for the executive branch in circumventing actual legislation in the pursuit of infringing on the second amendment. When laws are not the things governing the ownership of firearms in America, it is lawless in its entirety. Because this new rule will not actually pass the legislature, it will be the first gun control rule of its kind to completely disregard the American legislative process.
What should people do right now?
Currently the best thing right now would be to connect with other gun enthusiasts and second amendment activists online through online forum groups like VIP Gun Forum. Discussion and awareness about what is going on in this Presidential Administration is important, as the media controls many aspects of the flow of information. Spread awareness of the coming ATF ruling and be sure to stay up to date on the goings on of the second amendment.
In lieu of a federal redefinition of 80% lowers and how they will be regulated, building DIY guns is still legal as of right now. It is however, unclear how the new ruling may affect firearms which are unserialized that have been made from 80% lower receiver blanks.
What is going to happen?
The new rule proposed by the DOJ will make it illegal for civilians or unlicensed individuals to manufacture firearms from 80% lower receivers. They will do this by redefining what a firearm is and what a receiver is. They will also redefine the term for manufacturers to make any possible efforts by the gun community to look for a way to circumvent the ruling before they can even be conceived. Nothing will happen until the rule is actually filed. Note that this will not be a law, or an amendment to pre-existing laws like the GCA or the NFA, but a new ruling by the ATF which will update the definition of firearms.