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.
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.
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.”
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.