Can You Really Get a Rifle Without A Background Check?

Perhaps you’ve heard that there might be a way you can legally obtain a gun with NO serial numbers, NO FFL’s, and NO paperwork…and that’s absolutely correct. You CAN do all of those things without breaking any laws – but you have to do the gunsmith’s portion yourself. For the sake of our customers, we thought we’d try to clear a few things up.

So here’s the deal: you can buy an incomplete lower receiver online and have it shipped to your house as long as it’s less than 80% completed. The ATF refers to them as ‘receiver blanks’ and you’ll also see them online as incomplete, or 80%, lowers or receivers. As far as the government is concerned, the lower receiver is the part of the gun that constitutes as a ‘firearm,’ so it’s the only piece of a rifle that absolutely must have a serial number and be sold through a licensed dealer. However, until that receiver is more than 80% completed, it’s NOT considered a firearm. It’s just a piece of metal. As such, you can skip the background check and paperwork and have a receiver blank mailed directly to your house, just like any other gun part.

This image came from the ATF website. Click it to go there.
This image came from the ATF website. Click it to go there.

Once you have it, it’s not as simple as just assembling everything. You’re going to have to do some milling, which in most cases requires a drill press. It’s up to you to “complete” the part and make it into a functional lower receiver, and you MUST do the work yourself in order to stay legal. You’re also only allowed to build a rifle that you’d legally be allowed to purchase in a store, so this isn’t a workaround to get yourself a full auto without paying the tax stamp. If you want full auto, you’ve still got to go through the bureaucratic mess. Oh, and if you do something illegal anyway, don’t blame us – we’re not your lawyer, and neither is Google.

According to what the ATF is saying about the matter right now, you can build a rifle out of a receiver blank and personally own it legally without EVER having to put a serial number or identifying markings on it – though, if you decide to go this route, we recommend putting something on it somewhere for your own records. There’s some argument over whether or not you can transfer the completed rifle at some point down the road – since we’re not lawyers, we’re going to say that you shouldn’t transfer (sell, give) a gun you built from an 80% lower without having a talk with an actual attorney who specializes in these matters. We can’t say it enough – don’t just Google it and hope for the best. Talk to a legal professional. Breaking the law accidentally is still breaking the law, and we don’t want to see anyone wind up with felony charges because of incomplete information.

There are a lot of people excited about 80% lowers, and for good reason. The ATF has come out and said on their website (click here to read their statements) that they don’t have any power to regulate 80% lowers, and the law is on the side of the people in this case.

That being said, we all know that the ATF is notorious for suddenly reversing their opinion and prosecuting people for crimes that weren’t crimes when they happened. There’s also a lot of talk in the official answers about how 80% receivers “jeopardize public safety” and there’s even some attitude about calling them 80% lowers…“These are not statutory terms or terms ATF employs or endorses.” Given the tone of the ATF’s statements, we here at Gadsden Guns are watching closely to see what happens, especially considering this gem from the ATF website:

That's not exactly encouraging, is it?
That’s not exactly encouraging, is it?

We’ve also heard of cases where the ATF has brought criminal charges against a company that was selling receiver blanks with markings on them to show purchasers where to drill. According to the standards posted on their website, this should have been legal, but according to the people who pressed charges, the markings made them more than 80% completed. Meanwhile, you’re legally allowed to buy a jig or a template that accomplishes exactly the same thing…for now. We’ll see what happens in the future.

We’re all for building your own rifles. In fact, building a rifle at home is the best way to make sure you get the highest quality firearm possible, suited exactly to your own needs. It’s way more cost effective than buying a standard issue, over-the-counter gun and switching out parts as you go, and you’ll get the gun you want from the start instead of throwing out all the substandard parts or the components that don’t do what you need them to do. If you want to go the 80% receiver route, that’s fine. Do a little research and make sure you’re within the law, and go for it. We’ll even help you find the other parts.

But if you’re like us, and you’re worried that this legal workaround is going to turn out to be a legal fiasco in the near future, there’s no shame in starting with a stripped or complete lower, serialized and all.

Look, most people who buy rifles have no need to custom build. Most people who buy a firearm never go through the whole box of ammunition they bought with it. For someone who’s going to let their gun sit in a safe year-in and year-out without ever taking a trip to the range, there’s not exactly a reason to make sure it’s a nice gun. It doesn’t even matter if it fires when the trigger is pulled if nobody’s ever going to pull the trigger. For someone who actually shoots their gun, though…for the guy who knows why he’s buying that rifle, whether it’s for long-range shooting, for three-gun competition, or for a bug out bag, it makes a lot more sense to build from scratch.

Of course, you can get a high-end gun off the rack and compete with it without having to do much, but you’re going to pay a premium for it. In our humble (but accurate) opinion, the only sure way to make sure you’re getting exactly the gun you want at a fair price is to build it yourself.

As opposed to an 80% lower that you’ll have to finish yourself with a drill press and a can of spray paint…which you might not even be able to bequeath in your will to your kids…which may or may not be legal in a few years…we recommend starting with something more like this:

Isn't it sexy?
Isn’t it sexy?

If you don’t like the engraving, don’t get a lower with an engraving…but one of the cool things about building your own rifle is that you CAN get parts with rattlesnakes on them, or in custom colors and finishes, and your gun looks however badass you want it to look when you’re done. Plus, when you opt for a stripped lower like this one instead of a receiver blank, you can enlist the help of a gunsmith to complete the job. If you use an 80% receiver, you MUST do the work yourself in order to remain compliant.

Maybe you want to do even less work. A complete lower like this one makes a custom build even more simple:

Lightweight AND cost effective. Win.
Lightweight AND cost effective. Win.

Hey, those storebought rifles are built for a purpose, too: to appeal to the widest possible audience for the lowest possible manufacturing cost. That’s fine as far as business goes, and like we said earlier, it’s not an issue for most shooters. Custom builds are for a more serious class of shooters, the kind of people who want the control to decide what components are worth the money to get the best, and whether or not a lower cost is worth sacrificing a little bit of quality or an extra feature.

A lot of the same people who like control over their shooting platform also like the extra control to keep their name off of extra government lists by going the 80% route. We respect that. It’s completely up to you whether you want to skip the paperwork and put in a little extra work with a receiver blank, or whether you’d prefer to play it safe with a standard lower receiver. As far as we’re concerned, there’s at least one huge advantage and disadvantage on both sides, so it comes down to a matter of personal choice…and we do like having choices.

If you’re in the building phase, or your weighing your options and want some extra help, feel free to get in touch. Leave us a comment on this blog, stop by our Facebook page, Tweet us @GadsdenGunsInc on Twitter, or click here to see other contact options. We’ll do our best to give you advice or point you in the right direction, even if we don’t have what you’re looking for.

You can see our selection of lower receivers here.

We’d love to hear what you think about receiver blanks – are they the best thing to happen to personal privacy, or is it a recipe for disaster? Let’s respect one another in the comments, but feel free to talk it out and debate. And remember, if you have legal questions, ASK A LAWYER. When a mistake could mean a prison sentence, it’s worth the extra time to pick up a phone and call an attorney in your state.

What do you think?

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