PA Attorney General Says 80% Receivers Are Firearms; NRA Outraged

PA’s Attorney General wants to redefine 80% lower receivers as complete firearms requiring registry and background checks. (Photo: NRA)

Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Josh Shapiro issued an opinion declaring that 80% lower receivers are considered firearms and are therefore subject to all the relative laws of complete firearms. This comes in response to a request for advice from the Pensylvania State Police Commissioner, Colonel Robert Evanchick.

“My Office is taking the initial step of clarifying – through my official, legal opinion – that under Pennsylvania law, 80% receivers are firearms and can be treated, regulated, and enforced as such,” Shapiro said Monday. “The proliferation of these untraceable weapons strikes at the heart of our public safety, hindering law enforcement’s ability to protect our communities. Today, we take the first step in addressing this problem.”

What’s An 80% Receiver?

Eighty-percent receivers are readily available online from several distributors. They are partially milled blocks typically made from aluminum or polymer. Kits often include a jig to hold the billet steady and most even include bits for use in a drill press. AR-15 lowers and Glock lowers are the most common models.

To make a complete gun, the buyer must finish milling a significant amount of material away and then purchase kits for triggers, uppers, bolts, and barrels. For instance, AR-15 kits require the user to remove all the material from the trigger void, but the mount for the buffer tube and the mag well are already cut.

The buyer receives a block of material in the mail that looks like a receiver, but has no functional parts and is not able to fire anything. Therefore, these billets also don’t have a serial number, and that’s why Shapiro has a problem.

Ghost Guns

These unfinished receivers, don’t have serial numbers and are not required to be sent through a dealer with a Federal Firearms License (FFL). That means there’s also no background check required to get one.

Since there’s no serial number and no paper trail, anti-gunners call them “ghost guns.” Some people like the idea of ghost guns because the federal government supposedly doesn’t know you have them, which makes it harder for the Feds to pry them from your cold dead fingers, should it come to that.

ATF’s Opinion

The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms had this to say in 2015 regarding 80% receivers:

“‘80% receiver,’ ‘80% finished,’ ‘80% complete,’ ‘unfinished receiver’ are all terms referring to an item that some may believe has not yet reached a stage of manufacture that meets the definition of firearm frame or receiver found in the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA). These are not statutory terms or terms ATF employs or endorses.”

Criminals With Ghost Guns

Attorney General Shapiro and Gov. Tom Wolf believe that treating these incomplete receivers as firearms won’t inhibit legal gun owners, but will stop those who are ineligible to own guns from getting them illegally.

“If we don’t recognize that 80 percent receivers are firearms under Pennsylvania law, we are creating a giant loophole that allows criminals to skirt our agreed-upon laws that keep people safe,” Gov. Wolf said. “Changing this classification will not hurt legal, responsible gun owners – This change will stop criminals, terrorists and other people who can’t pass a background check from acquiring a gun through the loophole.”

SEE ALSO: Defense Distributed Announces Pre-Order for Ghost Gunner 3 with AK Compatibility

Shapiro’s office says that in the city Philadelphia alone more than 100 guns have been recovered from criminals that started out as 80% receivers. They also report that felons have purchased “duffel bags full of these kits” at three different gun shows in PA.

This news comes on the heels of a shooting at Saugus High School in Southern California last month wherein the shooter used a .45 caliber handgun built from an 80% receiver. (It’s noteworthy that there were “several” other unregistered guns at his house, according to USAToday.)

Who Else Buys 80% Receivers?

Not everyone who buys an 80% receiver is a criminal, however. The kits offer the chance to be a part of the gun building process. Thousands of people “build” AR-15s by ordering all the pieces and assembling them, though if they buy a complete lower receiver it must be processed by an FFL owner. Many, like Rob Sanders, enjoy the process of finishing an 80 percent receiver.

“This was my first gun, and I wanted to build it as much as I could myself,” Sanders said in a phone interview with GunsAmierca regarding the polymer lower for his AR-15. “I wanted to hunt hogs and the AR I tried with a friend felt like a well-evolved gun. When I heard about milling my own, it sounded awesome.” Sanders says the cost was similar to buying a finished forged lower.

“My kit came with a jig and a side-cutting bit. I just used a drill press with a vice and a hand drill,” he said. “I didn’t even own the tools–I checked them out from a tool library.”

Sanders wasn’t motivated to build a ghost gun. “I don’t give a shit about it being registered. I bought all the parts with a credit card and I’m under no misconception that I am fully ghosted,” he said. “Anyone who is looking to skirt regulation should just do it the old fashioned way: buy used.”

Sanders’ rifle is a far cry from his friend’s “well-evolved” AR-15, but that’s not what counts.

“It looks like a raccoon lives in it, but I pull the trigger and it goes boom. I can’t complain. I just think it’s cool to be that involved with the gun building process.”

NRA: “Precedent To Destroy Our Freedoms”

The NRA is outraged by Shapiro’s opinion. They say that claiming 80% lowers are firearms is ridiculous.

“Shapiro’s ‘theory’ of treating non-functioning blocks of polymer, steel, or aluminum as “firearms” is the equivalent of calling a pile of aluminum tubes a bicycle or even considering a hickory or ash tree a baseball bat,” they said Monday.

It sounds like the NRA will fight this opinion to prevent it from becoming a legal precedent.

“Make no mistake — This opinion applies to much more than unfinished receiver kits!” they said. “Using the extremely vague description provided by AG Shapiro, almost any chunk of material (metal, polymer, etc.) could be considered a firearm and he and his anti-gun cronies can use this precedent to destroy our freedoms one step at a time.”

“No Publicity Is Bad Publicity”

A quick internet search for 80% receiver yields many options to buy kits. They may even be a terrific gift for those who want to “make” their own guns but can’t work from a solid billet of aluminum. Some manufacturers, like Polymer80, even offer serialized kits that must be shipped through an FFL and registered.

Whether Shapiro’s new definition of 80% receivers as firearms will hold up in court remains to be seen. What is certain is that he has added a lot of free publicity to 80% lowers and retailers are sure to see a spike in sales this holiday season.

***Buy and Sell on GunsAmerica! All Local Sales are FREE!***

About the author: Levi Sim is an avid hunter, and an increasingly avid shooter. He strives to make delicious and simple recipes from the game he kills. He makes a living as a professional photographer, writer, and photography instructor. Check out his work and he’d love to connect on Instagram: @outdoorslevi

{ 15 comments… add one }
  • dk February 6, 2020, 7:40 pm

    I am a gun lover my self. But too many of us are in denial.
    All of you who buys 80% lowers didn’t buy it to use as paper weight on your desk. You bought it to see if you can make it into a functioning firearm. Didn’t you? You bought it to make it into a firearm. Then why so deny it? Admit it. You can still have it, in this great country of ours.

  • Mr. Sparkles December 21, 2019, 6:27 am

    Silly me, I thought the BATF defined firearms.

  • Mike Watkins December 21, 2019, 12:21 am

    Well then, any hunk of metal is a gun.

    But let’s see where that logic leads:

    Any photograph is child porn.

    Any computer file is stolen top secret defense department documents.

    Any joke you tell is racist or sexist bullying.

    Any sex act is rape.

    And any thought is conspiracy to commit any of the above.

    Any person possessing a pee-pee is a rapist,

    And any person possessing a bodily orifice is a prostitute.

    We are ALL criminals so lock us ALL up and provide us our meals and tv’s and free college courses. Unfortunately no one will be a non-criminal to run things.

  • Tommygun851 December 20, 2019, 2:23 pm

    You make something one thing just by saying it is!!! You can’t say that a chicken is a duck just by saying that it’s a duck!! The fact of the matter is that it’s an 80% complete reciever because that’s exactly what it is!! That’s all! Shapiro would have to change federal law to get it defined as anything else. What an idiot!!

  • Archangel December 20, 2019, 12:14 pm

    So, a paperweight is a gun now?

  • Alan December 20, 2019, 11:06 am

    An attorney general’s opinion is just that, an opinion. He has no court backing to affirm the decision.

    • soapweed December 20, 2019, 8:50 pm

      Alan: You may come to rue the day, when you give any credence to what a bunch of attorneys in robes think. Your rights and responsibilities come from a higher frequency long ago. Quit legitimizing the legal cabal and grow some brass cahones.

    • Barry D Thomas Sr August 7, 2020, 11:49 am

      Daddy used to say ” Opinions are like A–Holes. Most people have one. Some people have two. Poop out of one and TALK out of the Other”.

  • Zupglick December 20, 2019, 11:05 am

    So the AG of Pennsylvania can make up law out of thin air?

  • Clint W. December 20, 2019, 10:12 am

    I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that Mr. Shapiro follows the Jewish Faith. I am not being bigoted, I have many close Jewish friends, but I am always amazed that anyone of Jewish decent is for gun control of any kind. What was one of the first things Hitler did? Confiscate firearms. It just seems like they would be the one group soundly based in their Second Amendment rights. There is nothing in the Torah about turning the other cheek and beating your swords into plowshares, that is all the New Testament. Of course, if Mr. Shaprio is just a run of the mill Christian, then he is just another left wing, commie, Democrat dumbass.

  • Les Whitehead December 20, 2019, 9:57 am

    Your freedom and rights will continue to disappear under democratic rule, Socialism is Communism. Wake up America !

  • Steve December 20, 2019, 9:09 am

    I guess they should outlaw 3D printers as well. They really need to grab a big dose of reality, I’m sure you can buy any number of manufactured weapons of of any brand, caliber, etc at lots of different street corners or alleys in the big Pennsylvania cities. The reason you will see a major rise in violent crime in the state is directly tied to the lack of prosecution from the AG offices. They must have taken a lesson from Chicago.

  • Michael Aumick December 20, 2019, 8:13 am

    What is with these people!! How is defending The Constitution unconstitutional???? It seems that this AG shares a mental disorder that is common to most liberal extremists. I don’t know if there is a name for this mental defect but I call it the ” I think it so it is fact” delusion. If anyone in the mental health field knows the proper name for this form of criminal insanity , please share. When I’m discussing a subject I like to use the proper terms.

  • Robert Frasconi December 20, 2019, 6:22 am

    AG Shapiro is a rabid, Leftist ideologue and a fraud.

    As an individual who lives in Pennsylvania, I placed a matter of election fraud before his office (including all the way up to the executive offices and to him personally) only to have the matter completely ignored by him and all of his underlings.

    The matter dealt with election fraud and perjury committed by a former state representative who was a close working colleague with Mr. Shapiro when he served as a representative in the state legislature. It also dealt with a cover-up of that fraud by a sitting county investigating grand jury specifically impaneled to look into election irregularities within the county in which I reside.

    The proof is incontrovertible and irrefutable, yet AG Shapiro and his office ignored the crimes committed by the state representative and by the local DAs and judges who covered it all up (all Democrats, by the way).

    The most egregious part about the whole sordid ordeal was that, while others had presentments issued against them by the grand jury for voter fraud and were punished, the ex-state representative and Shapiro colleague was never punished for his weightier fraud and perjuries.

    In fact, two of the three election-related referrals made by the county election board to the DA’s Office, never resulted in presentments issued by the grand jury.

    A Fifth Presentment was issued by the grand jury, but it was sealed by the presiding judge of the grand jury at its issuance and remains sealed to this very day. Of eight presentments, it is the only presentment never made public by the investigating grand jury.

    My surmise is that the presentment pertained to an individual accused in the second referral made by the election board to the DA. In other words, the corrupt DA and judges covered over an actual grand jury presentment (I.e., a grand jury recommendation for charges to be brought) after it became apparent that they could not get away with prosecuting only two of the three referrals made by the county election board while allowing the state representative’s election fraud to go unpunished. So, instead of allowing the Fifth Presentment to be unsealed and made public (which would have shown the hypocrisy of moving forward with only two of three election referrals), the corrupt judges and DAs allowed the Fifth Presentment to remain sealed.

    It remains sealed to this very day.

    Grand Jury secrecy was used to cover up election fraud in Pennsylvania. AG Shapiro knows all this and failed to perform his mandatory duty to investigate the election fraud, perjuries, and cover-up because of his personal and professional relationships with the accused and with the Democrat DAs and judges who covered up the crimes.

  • Jason Coffey December 20, 2019, 4:13 am

    It’s one aspect of an all out assault on We the People’s 2nd amendment! They hate Americans for electiing Trump! If we are ever going end this constant attack it’s time to put everytwe got into doing it now🇺🇸

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