Liberty Isn't A Loophole.

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.

Just as tellingly, Horwitz misleads her readers when she characterizes, “the spread of the receivers as an effort to get around strict gun-control laws, particularly in California.”

In fact, homemade firearms in California must meet all the same requirements any other firearm in the freedom-restricted state. If the home-builder makes an AKM-pattern rifle or AR-15-style rifle, he or she must still comply with state rules regarding the parts, attributes, and features allowed under state law (PDF). This includes (but is not limited to) magazine restrictions, cosmetic feature restrictions, and other absurdities that do not restrict the range, accuracy, or lethality of these firearms.

It seems that Horwitz considers the centuries old tradition of manufacturing your own firearms to be a “loophole.”

Converting them into firearms is relatively simple: use a drill press to create holes in the receivers, well out certain areas and then combine the pieces with other parts to make a fully functioning semiautomatic rifle. The process can take one to seven hours, depending on skill level.

ATF officials say gun enthusiasts are effectively exploiting a loophole in the law designed to regulate firearms. Under the Gun Control Act of 1968, it is illegal for an unlicensed person to make a firearm for sale or distribution. Vendors, however, say that because the receivers are not finished, they are not firearms and therefore are legal to sell and distribute.

Again, Horwitz chooses her words carefully  in order to misrepresent the actual facts.

There is no “loophole,” in upholding an American tradition, and it isn’t the vendors, but the ATF Firearms Technology Branch (FTB), which has repeatedly ruled that these unfinished parts are not firearms and are perfectly legal to sell and distribute.

As a matter of smart business, most of the manufacturers of these parts have had their products specifically submitted to the FTB to ensure that their products are legal and these so-called “determination letters” are publicly posted on the web sites of most manufacturers for customer viewing.

You may view a copy of one of these determination letters belonging to 80 Percent Arms at this link (PDF). Again, there is no loophole, there is no exploitation, and there is no skirting of the law. There is a rigid attention to detail and close work with the ATF by manufacturers to ensure that vendors are offering customers a completely legal product.

Horwitz then plays the oldest tool in the disreputable journalist’s toolkit, the “officials say” card.

Law enforcement officials say their inability to trace the firearms is becoming a major problem. Firearms built with unfinished receivers are increasingly being found at crime scenes and being purchased from suspected gang members by undercover ATF agents.

Local police, officials say, often don’t contact the ATF about the guns because they know they can’t be traced, which makes estimating how many are out there that much more complicated.

The use of “officials say…” typically means one of several things.

  • more officials than one actual agreed upon something.
  • an actual government official—typically someone pushing an agenda—wants the journalist to publish a claim, but he/she doesn’t want to tarnish his name or position by attaching his name to it, generally because they know the claim is disreputable, dishonest, or unethical.
  • the reporter wants to make a claim, but doesn’t want to take credit for manufacturing parts of the story, and so cites unnamed officials as experts to lend credibility to her unsupported claims, AKA, “This is conventional wisdom among ‘my people.'”

Officials say that Sari Horwitz is a known plagiarist with a penchant for attacking legal gun ownership in a disreputable manner.

Sari Horwitz
Sari Horwitz

I can’t say that I blame them.


rifleman's rig 3

I suspect that what bothers Horwitz and her progressive allies at the Washington Post isn’t the singular use of a homemade AR-15 to commit a mass shooting, the arrest of two brothers arrested for manufacturing a number of guns from these parts for illegal sale, or the statistically insignificant percentage of these weapons as a total percentage of firearms in the United States (under 1%) or their use in crimes (so small that it isn’t significant enough to track).

What bothers Horwitz, the anti-gun left, and I suspect the Obama Administration, is that the growing number of people who are building these firearms are building them specifically to have firearms that the government cannot easily track as a hedge against tyrannical government. These are “rainy day” guns that many builders will shoot several times to function check, coat in preservatives, and lock away in a safe with several dozen magazines and several thousand rounds of ammunition against that horrible possibility that the government may attempt to destroy the Republic.

One could make the argument that a patriotic citizen who wants to ensure the liberty of his or her children might have a duty to buy (with untraceable cash, of course) an 80% lower and the parts to build a rifle for that dark day ahead, even if they never intend to take it out of a gun safe for any other reason.

At least, that’s what some experts say.