A California man known online as “Dr. Death” has been sentenced to three and a half years in prison for illegally machining AR-15 lowers and for the possession of an unregistered machine gun.
Daniel Crowninshield of Sacramento was arrested in 2014 for work at C&G Tool, a metal shop in North Sacramento. Crowninshield sold his CNC machining services to convert 80 percent AR-15 lowers into fully functional lower receivers. While converting 80 percent lowers is legal, it is illegal to sell such services without a Federal Firearms License (FFL).
Crowninshiled pled guilty to the charges in April 2016, though his defense attorney said his client didn’t believe he was doing anything illegal.
In sentencing, U.S. District Judge Troy L. Nunley referred to Crowninshield’s actions as a “brazen attempt to circumvent the law.”
Advertising his services in online forums, Crowninshield encouraged potential clients to bring their own 80 percent AR-15 lowers to his machine shop. To give the pretext that his customers were building the guns themselves, he asked them to place their hands on the CNC machine and push certain buttons.
According to an undercover agent (UC) with the California Department of Justice, Crowninshiled asked the agent to take
…one of the blanks and assemble a jig around the blank. Crowninshield then directed the UC to place the blank into a CNC machine, owned by Crowninshield at C&G Tool and used to mill out machine parts. Crowninshield then directed the UC to close the safety door on the CNC machine and to hit a specific button to start the machine.
While Crowninshield’s customers helped in the manufacturing process, the bulk of the work still fell to “Dr. Death.” As Popular Mechanics points out, operating a CNC machine requires more than just a push of a button. Crowninshield had to program the machine and guide his customers through its operation, which was more than enough to qualify him as a firearms manufacturer.
Crowninshield committed his most fatal mistake when he asked for payment. It isn’t illegal to help another person convert an 80 percent lower, though helping more than a few people might still land someone in hot water. But when Crowninshield accepted money for his services, he “engaged in the business” of manufacturing firearms, which requires an FFL license.
According to the UC, Crowinshield charged a total of $920 for two 80 percent lowers and for the service of milling four of them. Crowninshield never asked the agent to fill out any purchasing paperwork or about completing a background check, and none of the lowers had serial numbers.