St. Louis Gun Rights Examiner has been very much caught up in the excitement about 3-D printed guns, but there is no denying that at the moment, and for the foreseeable future, printing an entire gun out of plastic is quite likely the least sensible approach for acquiring useful firepower. As a proof of concept, and as a shot across the bow of “government monopoly on force” advocates like the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), it’s perfect, but if you need to anonymously acquire a “regime change rifle” right now, don’t look for it to come out of a printer.
One way people have for years been building perfectly capable so-called “assault weapons” at home is with what are referred to as “80% complete receivers.” We’ve talked about them before. The basic idea is that the receiver of a gun (more specifically, the lower receiver, in the case of AR-15s) is the gun, as far as federal law is concerned. All the other parts–the barrel, the trigger, the stock, etc., are just parts–not serial numbered, and not controlled in any way. And even the lower receiver, if a sufficient amount of work needs to be done on it before it can be used in a gun (about 20%, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives), is not yet a gun.
That means that there are no laws regulating the sale of an 80% complete receiver. The seller can even guide the buyer through the machine work that needs to be done, as long as the buyer actually does the work himself.
The best known of the manufacturers of 80% complete receivers is KT Ordnance, in Montana, and according to Harpers contributor Dan Baum, KT Ordnance alone has sold more than 10,000 80% complete AR-15 and AR-10 lower receivers–completely legally, and with no paperwork:
“I’ve sold more than ten thousand of these,” [KT Ordnance owner Richard Celata] said. None of them had been reported to the federal government as gun sales, nor did anybody know anything about the people who’d bought them — although I should note that I’ve never come across a report of a killing in which a homemade AR-15 was mentioned. The federal assault-weapons ban was in effect for six of the years Celata has been making 80 percent receivers. But he might as well have been selling frying pans or shovels for all his business was affected.
Similarly, a recent Mother Jones article informs readers of AK-47 (well, semi-automatic copies of them, anyway) “build parties,” in which participants buy the kits they need (including stamped metal sheets that are bent into forming the receiver), and are instructed over the course of a day in turning the pile of parts that are not regulated by any law, into functioning “assault weapons.” A recent article in Daily Finance refers to this trend as a “much bigger danger” (than 3-D printed firearms). In my experience, “bigger danger,” in this context tends to mean “bigger boon to liberty.”
It’s with “assault weapon” lower receivers that, along with magazines, 3-D printing could make its biggest early impact, because the lower receiver is not subject to the heat and pressure that make a plastic upper receiver impractical for the time being. Defense Distributed’s printed AR-15 lower receiver fired over 600 rounds without trouble (they stopped when they ran out of ammo). Since it’s only the lower receiver that the law cares about, though, that’s the most important part to be able to make without the government’s approval, or even knowledge.
Over 10,000 80% complete receivers sold, by just one of the producers. The efforts to stop effective home-produced guns, whether printed or not, are akin to trying to put toothpaste back in the tube. Millions of Americans, without specialized skills or terribly expensive equipment, can build, one way or another, precisely the firearms the forcible citizen disarmament advocates are most desperate to ban.
Update: Reader Michael Lubrecht made an important observation in comments:
It’s not entirely true that parts are unregulated. To legally build an AK kit into a working carbine, you have to throw away a bunch of perfectly good imported parts, replacing them with similar or identical parts made in the USA. This is to meet the requirement that a completed, imported rifle have no more than 10 critical parts on a government list for legal “sporting rifles”. If you exceed that limit, you’ve constructed an illegal “assault rifle.” This doesn’t usually apply to AR-15s, since few of those parts are imported – but it does apply to the imported AK kits, as well as kits for building FN-FALs (even easier to assemble) and other firearms.
He is entirely correct. My thanks to him, and my apologies to any readers whom I inadvertently misled.
- Incomplete receivers: anti-gun show ‘study’ does gun rights unintentional favor
- Printing guns is far from only way to bust a ‘government monopoly on force’
- Feinstein’s ‘assault weapon’ ban goes to committee, as bans become irrelevant
- CSGV suddenly decides printed firearms are ‘hype,’ ignores their bigger problem
- On Gun Control and the Great American Debate Over Individualism
- “I Built This AK-47. It’s Legal and Totally Untraceable.” In Mother Jones, no less.
- Sure Beats Those Tupperware Shindigs
- A Much Bigger Danger