Sari Horwitz isn’t one to be troubled by a little thing like “ethics” when it comes to bashing firearms and gun owners as criminals, or because of criminals. It is therefore no surprise when she decided to take the hit piece route to describe the current trendiness of building firearms at home using a combination of parts kits and parts that have not been fully manufactured.

Firearms have been made by individuals in North America for hundreds of years. It has always been completely legal, as long as the builder can legally own a firearm.

Clever citizens manufacture everything today from simple single-shot rifles, shotguns, and pistols, up to finely-crafted semi-automatic rifles, handguns, shotguns and .50 BMG sniper rifles like the one an acquaintance built from scratch several years ago. Building homemade guns has simply always been done, and has rarely, if ever, been a problem.

In recent years, building AR-15 rifles, AKM-pattern rifles, and certain pistols has become popular among gun owners. I suppose that I’m guilty of being part that myself. I’ll be attending a AK build class with Rifle Dynamics at the end of May to learn how to build an AK-pattern rifle like a professional.

AR-15 carbines are the most common homemade firearm in recent years, and Horwitz chooses to focus on a specific part used in their construction. That part is the partially complete hunk of metal known as an 80% lower receiver. It is classified as being no different than a paperweight as long as multiple manufacturing steps have not been completed by the time it is sold to the consumer.

The consumer must still find the machine and jogs equipment to accurately machine holes for:

  • the fire control group
  • the trigger pin
  • the hammer pin
  • the trigger slot
  • and last but not least, the safety selector.

If they do a bad job, or use the wrong tools, they’ve turned a hunk of metal into a defective bit of scrap.

This piece of metal in question has become widely known by the marketing term that refers to it as an “80% lower receiver.” This is only a marketing term. In the eyes of the ATF Firearms Technology Branch (FTB), this chunk of metal is either firearm, or it isn’t. There isn’t a matter of degree or percentage determination. If it isn’t a firearm, then it’s just something else… perhaps a paperweight.

Horwitz is focused like a laser on the lower receivers offered by Ares Armor, perhaps because Ares Armor head honcho Dimitri Karras has so thoroughly embarrassed the ATF for the raid they conducted on his stores, in what appears to be little more than an attempt to acquire customer data.

ares billet 80
An unfinished Ares Armor billet aluminum “80% lower receiver.” The term “80% lower receiver” is actually just a marketing term and not a legal term, which is confusing to many. In the eyes of the ATF Firearms Technology Branch, a part is either firearm or it isn’t. There isn’t a matter of degree or percentage determination.

There is just one high-profile crime in recent memory using a firearm built from one of these parts, which Horwitz makes the boogeyman of her lament:

It was John Zawahri’s failure to pass a background check that prevented him from buying a firearm in California several years ago.

So the 23-year-old obtained an “unfinished receiver,” the metal piece that holds the critical mechanisms that allow guns to fire, and built an assault rifle himself. Last summer, he went on a rampage at a college in Southern California, firing about 100 rounds and killing five people before police fatally shot him.

Zawahri’s assault became one of the most notorious cases involving unfinished receivers, which are unregulated and have become readily available for purchase online and at some gun stores. Officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives view the spread of the receivers as an effort to get around strict gun-control laws, particularly in California. They also acknowledge that they have no idea how many of the components have been made and sold.

Surprising no one familiar with her work, Horwitz has attempted to create a crime wave from a single crime.