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Legally Armed: V21N3

By Teresa G. Ficaretta, Esq. & Johanna Reeves, Esq.

The Hazards of “80-percent Receivers”—Manufacturer, Importer, and Distributor Beware!

The so-called 80-percent receiver has been the topic of many discussion circles and has attracted the attention of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) as well as certain state legislators. Vendors often sell these allegedly unregulated items with fixture systems and instructions for completing the unfinished items so they are frames or receivers for firearms regulated under the Gun Control Act of 1968. Purchasers of the items may then machine the items so they are complete firearm frames or receivers and assemble them with all other parts necessary to make a functional firearm. Some purchasers acquire the items from importers or manufacturers and then distribute the items to consumers for finishing. Purchasers, including federal firearms licensees (“FFLS”), often rely on representations from the seller that these items are unregulated by ATF.

The abundance in the marketplace of so-called “80-percent” receivers or frames is clear from a simple search on the Internet. Entering “80-percent receiver” into the search engine results in a significant number of hits for AR-15 type “80-percent receivers.” Similarly, entering “80-percent pistol frames” results in hits for vendors of “blanks” for a number of popular pistols. There can be no doubt there is a significant amount of confusion regarding the controls that attach to partially machined bodies. This article addresses the confusion and the potential hazards of manufacturing, importing, and distributing these allegedly unregulated items. However, we must first comment on terminology. The terms “80-percent receiver” or “80-percent frame,” do not appear anywhere in the law or regulations. In addition, these terms are misleading because an item that is 99 percent finished may be unregulated under the statute, while something marketed as 80 percent complete may be classified by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (“ATF”) as a “firearm.” Accordingly, throughout this article we will use the term “blank,” to refer to items that have not yet reached a stage of manufacture where they are regulated as “firearms” under the Gun Control Act.

Authors’ Note: This article...

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V21N3 (April 2017)
and was posted online on February 17, 2017


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