California’s ‘Dr. Death’ Gets 3.5 Years for Machining AR-15 Lowers

A milled AR-15 lower receiver with the stock, barrel and other components. (Photo: Wired)

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.

{ 23 comments… add one }
  • LL February 28, 2017, 12:47 am

    I wonder if all this was a typo. Why should anyone get time for a ‘machine(d) gun? 😛

  • haha February 26, 2017, 11:25 pm

    lol he got his karma shouldnt be ripping people off then and should have followed the law not selling things better not drop the soap

  • Billoth February 25, 2017, 1:24 am

    these comments man……seriously, you already know you have to have a FFL to even order an ar style, or any receiver for that matter *barring the STEN,M3 and some ww2 russian guns* so why try making one when it violates atf laws? this isnt a california thing, *even though many things are blamed on california* this is a national thing. it would happen to me if i pulled the same crap he did, and im in mississippi. the dealer i buy from even took the time to go over all this with me and what i can and cant buy for ar/ak styled guns. why not just buy a 100% stripped upper *can buy then for 68 bucks here locally* and be done with it? im sure someone will chime in on this

  • Justin Murphy February 24, 2017, 9:03 pm

    Charging people $920 for the work on two lowers! Talk about highway robbery. Ghost Gunner is the better option for the $.

  • LJ February 24, 2017, 5:56 pm

    I was wondering about the 80% lowers and thinking about getting one myself but with my job being what it is and my need for my federal security clearance I can’t afford to jeopardize that.

    So can you guys clear this up for me? So I can legally purchase one but I can’t legally get it finished? And if I do build one I get locked ‘under’ the jail?

    • David Craft February 24, 2017, 7:25 pm

      You may purchase a 80% lower for yourself and even drill out the holes to complete the lower. This guys mistake was that he became a manufacturer of the product when he allowed the use of the CNC machine to produce the product for someone else. As a DIY project with your own jigs is not the issue. Manufacturing a weapon without a manufacturers license is a big problem. He became a “manufacturer when he allowed them to use the machine.

      • DIYinSTL February 26, 2017, 12:18 pm

        First, the drilling of the holes with a jig, or even a CNC machine, is easy and a minor part of the task. It is the milling of the fire control pocket and trigger opening that is the bulk of the task. It is perfectly legal for the OP to complete this process though in the PRK it needs to be registered and have the serial number engraved, possibly so in a few other States too. Check your local laws. Crowninshield was in a legal grey area by helping others to complete their lowers on his CNC machine but definitively crossed the line when he charged for the services and machine use. Then there is the small issue (according to the story) of possessing an unregistered machine gun. If that’s true he is lucky to have only gotten 3-1/2 years.

  • DUH February 24, 2017, 4:32 pm

    Can anyone read? This was an enforcement by BATF, NOT California!!!!! It could happen in any state. Same result.

    • American USMC February 25, 2017, 10:23 am

      I can read The article says UNDERCOVER AGENT not BATF AGENT I feel for the citizens of California. If you don’t like the laws ,change them.

      • haha February 26, 2017, 11:27 pm

        this is country wide moron not just CA

  • mcFoo February 24, 2017, 4:06 pm

    OK everyone repeat after me, at least three times, with continuing loudness and fervor. And extend the right arm outward and up at same time: Seig Heil!

    You know it’s amazing how much effort and publicity is put into the type of nonsense police action against a normal law abiding citizen and hard working business owner, bu,t the crack and meth dealers (who contribute nothing, ever) can carry on business pretty much as usual. Or if they get caught, its a slap on the wrist.

    So even if the guy messed up and allegedly broke a law by charging money, at least give the guy a slap on the wrist and warning or probation. where are they showing purposeful intent? But lock him away, shut down his business, and ruin the rest of his life? Now that is truly criminal.

    Here’s a thought – Maybe this year the little Hitler mustaches will be back in fashion for California lawmakers and agencies.

    • Donald February 25, 2017, 10:42 am

      Meth dealers operate with near impunity in my county. The police know who they are and it is almost, not quite impossible to do much about them or their customers. Always remember that a meth addict is a meth dealer once removed so don’t feel to sorry for them…..maybe a little as they are human.

  • sb February 24, 2017, 3:37 pm

    judge said “brazen attempt to circumvent the law.”, …..or was it a brazen attempt to comply with the law..as he understood it? Of course, an independent judiciary is necessary for justice.

  • Kevin Walker February 24, 2017, 11:41 am
  • Kevin Walker February 24, 2017, 11:35 am

    This citizen was arrested on gun-making charges by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives agents. The BATFE had someone contact him and act as an informant going through the making process to convert a 80% lower into a firearm. A 100% lower alone is considered a firearm for the M4/AR15/M16.

    The BATFE sent out a warning letter on April 12, 2013 letter from Debra S. Satowiak, Chief, Firearms and Explosives Industry Division, to Jason Davis, attorney for Ares Armor Metal Works, LLC, advised that a Federal Firearms License is required for “a business premises at which, for a fee, it makes available a computer numeric control (CNC) machine, tools, equipment, and instructions to persons who bring in castings or raw materials for the purpose of creating firearms.”

    I am not aware if this letter was published by BATFE or not, so I’m not sure how an average person is supposed to know about this ruling? Usually these letters are between the BAFTE and another entity and are not made public.

    “The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) has determined that a business, merely by making its machining equipment available for a fee, to individuals to use in building a firearm, has now “manufactured” the gun, and must meet all the requirements imposed on commercial gun manufacturers. This includes a gun manufacturer’s license from the BATFE, the marking of the firearm (or receiver, which for legal purposes is the firearm) with a serial number, manufacturers’ record keeping, and conducting a background check on the person who actually did the work in making the gun.”

    Less than 30 days after this letter was issued to Jason Davis, attorney for Ares Armor Metal Works, LLC, the BATFE undercover informant assembled his 80% lower on May 3, 2013 with Mr. Crowninshiled equipment.

    Crowninshiled took the plea deal offered and is now a convicted Felon and can never own guns again. He will serve 3.5 years in Federal Prison for allowing his machines to be used by another to complete their 80% lower into a firearm.

    This is what Justice looks like to the Federal Government. So don’t knowly loan any tools or provided any assistance, space, etc. to anyone who intends to complete an 80% lower, as that now makes you an unlicensed gun maker and a felon.

    Just waiting for the other shoe to drop, as BATFE can send letters to all of his customers informing them that they are in possession of contraband and need to turn in all their unmarked, unregistered lowers for destruction or face federal prosecution, etc.

  • Eric February 24, 2017, 11:18 am

    He should rely on CAETANO to dismiss the machinegun charge.
    If you read CAETANO v. MASS. and substitute machinegun for taser, the logic is exactly the same between the two weapons.

  • Tdog February 24, 2017, 10:50 am

    So he gets 3 and a half years for machining a lower and I know a guy that ran over and killed an old man while driving drunk and he only did 2 years and is back to work! However, it is your responsibility to know the law. Ignorance is no excuse.

  • Michael Dugas February 24, 2017, 9:14 am

    This is the same state that saw Kate Steinle murdered; these are seriously demented people.

  • Ken Weaver February 24, 2017, 8:19 am

    He should have given them an itemized bill for wear and tool re-grinding plus electricity and held a mini class on CNC machining during the “visit” and had that cover the cost.

  • joe February 24, 2017, 8:10 am

    Don’t we all feel safer with this dangerous individual off the street? Think of the victims!! oh wait … there aren’t any.

    Time to dismantle this police state and its 77,000 page long federal register making paperwork criminals out of us all.

    • Chuck February 24, 2017, 8:55 am

      I agree 100%

  • Chris February 24, 2017, 7:37 am

    Wow. I don’t see anything wrong there. No trigger or other lock work. That’s not really a gun. The cops in California must really be bored. Why don’t they go fight real crime instead.. Drug dealers, rapists,murderers, child molesters… Hell, even possible terrorists and illegals… But no, they want to hang a guy for machining metal and charging for his work… Pathetic…

    • Abner T February 24, 2017, 9:27 am

      For the cops it’s low-hanging fruit.
      And, uh, it’s Kalifornia…

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