Skip to main content
  1. News
  2. Politics
  3. Policy & Issues

'80% receivers' go mainstream

See also

This column has closely followed the emerging phenomenon of 3-D printed firearms, but the fact remains that for now and for the immediately foreseeable future, other methods of building a gun at home will be cheaper, easier, and yield a more useful, more effective end product (although 3-D printed "high capacity" magazines are another story, and even the printed guns might advance more quickly than expected). One well known method involves buying an "80% receiver" (generally the lower receiver of an AR-15). The "80%" refers to the fact that the final 20 percent or so of the machining (drilling holes for pins, milling material off certain areas, etc.) has not yet been done, and will need to be before the receiver can be incorporated into a functioning firearm.

This is significant because the lower receiver of an AR-15, according to the federal government, is the gun, legally speaking, with none of the other parts subject to any requirement for serial numbers, background checks, etc. Secondly, that 20 percent of machining remaining to be done means that this (prospective) lower receiver is also simply a hunk of metal, legally speaking, and is thus not subject to federal gun laws. By this method, then, anyone not barred from possessing firearms may legally own an AR-15 for which there is not, and has never been, any paperwork--the government has no clue the gun exists. And, of course, anyone who is barred cannot be stopped with even the most stringent of "universal background checks."

Perhaps the most famous of the producers of 80% complete AR-15 receivers is KT Ordnance, in Montana--one small operation that has sold over 10,000 of them. Even so, in the universe of guns in the U.S., or even of AR-15s, the proportion produced this way is almost certainly quite small.

That may be changing (and with vastly stricter regulation of so-called "assault weapons" either threatened against, or already inflicted on, the people of New York, Connecticut, Maryland, California, etc., that can hardly come as a surprise). Now, with firearms parts and gunsmithing tool retail giant Brownells entering the picture, "80% receivers" could be said to have gone mainstream (for considerably more money, there is also a .308 Winchester, AR-10-like version).

Interestingly, the cost of these receivers is not all that much cheaper than many complete (but "stripped"--lacking fire control parts, pins, trigger group, etc.) AR-15 lower receivers available today (and prior to the Sandy Hook Elementary atrocity, one could probably have found them cheaper than today's 80 percent complete version). Moreover, Brownells is also selling the jigs that make it easy to correctly perform the last 20 percent of the machining, but at another $90, buying the jigs would mean that the cost of this receiver has gone well over what one would have to spend for a complete stripped lower receiver.

That would indicate that anyone buying the jigs is planning to build several "off-the-books" guns (which he can never legally sell), or, alternatively, finds the anonymity to be worth paying a premium. For the forcible citizen disarmament jihadists, neither of those possibilities can be very comforting. And anything that makes them uncomfortable is a good thing for Americans.

Update: As it turns out, Amazon sells them, too. How long will it be before "activist investors" and the Bloomberg Moms (BMs) start whining at them?

See also: