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ATF raids '80% complete receiver' manufacturer, looking for 'illegal guns'

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives raided EP Armory, in Bakersfield, California Friday, along with owner Chris Cook's home. Details at this point are still very thin, but Cook says that agents indicated that they are looking for "illegal guns." From ABC 23 News:

They want to ban semi-automatics?  Fine--throw us into that briar patch
Photo © Oleg Volk. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

The ATF was not able to provide information on the on-going investigation. Grahm Barlowe with the ATF declined to comment on why the store was targeted or exactly what agents were looking for.

Cook said agents told him they were looking for illegal firearms.

EP Armory is known mostly for its innovative "80% complete" AR-15 receivers. Such receivers, by virtue of still needing some machining in order to serve as the foundation of a firearm, are, legally speaking, just an inert hunk of metal--or in this case, strong (Kevlar-reinforced) polymer. That means they can be legally sold to anyone, without background checks, without the necessity of a serial number, without a requirement for records--almost as if there were a Constitutional amendment stating that by the absolute law of the land, we the people have a right to arms--a right that shall not be infringed.

One of the innovative features of EP Armory's receivers is that the machining can be done without a drill press or milling machine, or even a jig. By using different color polymers for the portions that are to be milled away, a drill and a Dremel can be all that is needed to convert a hunk of plastic into Congressman Henry Waxman's (D-CA) nightmare (see sidebar video for the process).

It should be noted that the BATFE arrested no one, and in fact eventually permitted EP Armory to re-open later Friday, although they confiscated Cook's files, laptop, cell phone and iPad. While at this point it is impossible to know what gave them the idea that they might find "illegal guns," one can speculate. Could it be that, by virtue of the ease (and lack of required tooling) of completing the lower receiver, the BATFE has determined that the incomplete lower receivers are more than 80% complete, and are thus to be treated by the law as functional firearms (and thus "illegal" firearms, because the company was not going through the legal hoops required for complete receivers)? Quantifying just what percentage of machining remains to be done, after all, is rather subjective, which gives the agency quite a lot of wiggle room to arbitrarily harass whomever they want.

And it's not as if the BATFE does not have a history of doing just that with makers of 80% complete receivers. In 2006, the BATFE raided KT Ordnance in Montana, eventually charged the owner, and bizarrely charged one of the inert hunks of metal produced at KT Ordnance, before finally dropping the case (KR has gone on to sell over 10,000 incomplete receivers). To this point, the goings-on at EP Armory are looking alarmingly familiar.

It is, of course, entirely possible that the BATFE does have a reasonable suspicion that Cook and EP Armory have violated federal gun laws. Since those laws are unconstitutional abominations, that would still not excuse their actions, but one could argue that such a scenario would be somewhat less arbitrarily vindictive tyranny than bringing the power of the federal government to bear against someone whose only "crime" is making the palladium of liberty more easily accessible to more people.

In the meantime, EP would probably appreciate some business coming their way, and who doesn't need a homemade AR-15?

Update: National Gun Rights Examiner David Codrea, writing for his War on Guns blog, notes a possible link to this story about an alleged large-scale illegal firearm fabricating operation in California. That is quite possible, but even if true, of course, it is also very possible that EP Armory has done nothing illegal, even if their products were used in the operation.

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