Ares Armor sells EP Armory 80% lower receivers. Well, they sold them. We reported that Ares Armor was raided by the ATF (even after a restraining order was issued against such action) for selling these lowers, and at the time there wasn’t much information available about the reason why the ATF believes that these lowers actually meet the legal definition of a firearm. Now, thanks to one of our buddies, we’ve gotten our hands on the actual letter from the ATF on the subject and it answers a lot of the questions that we’ve been having. . .
It turns out that the ATF believes the lowers are illegal because the fire control cavity is, indeed, formed during the manufacturing process. The order in which this happens doesn’t matter.
80% lower receivers aren’t considered firearms as long as insufficient manufacturing processes have been completed to turn it into a functioning firearm. The ATF has stated an opinion on exactly when that is in the process of making an AR-15. The general rule of thumb is that the point at which the fire control cavity is milled out is when the hunk of metal becomes a gun.
EP Armory believed that they could make a polymer lower that was easier for people to finish by making the fire control area a different color plastic. It would eliminate the need for precise machining, letting buyers just drill it out instead of painstakingly milling and using a jig. In order to stay in the clear in regards to the 80% requirement, they believed that by molding the fire control area first (something they referred to as a “biscuit”) and then molding the receiver around that biscuit, that they could produce an 80% receiver that included the helpful, differently colored guide.
Their logic was that since the plug was constructed first and the lower molded around it, then at no point was that fire control cavity “created” — it was always filled with material.
The ATF disagreed.
Unlike “castings” or “blanks” which are formed as a single piece so that a fire control cavity has not been made, EP Arms uses the biscuit specifically to create that fire-control cavity during the injection molding process. as described in your letter, it appears that the sole purpose of the “buscuit” is to differentiate the fire-control area from the rest of the receiver and thus facilitate the process of making the receiver into a functioning firearm. ATF has long held that “indexing” of the fire control area is sufficient to require classification as a firearm receiver. Based upon EP Arms manufacturing process, it is clear that the “biscuit” serves to index the entire fire-control cavity. In fact, the biscuit is meant to differentiate the fire control cavity from the rest of the firearm so that it may easily be identified and removed to create a functional firearm.
Therefore, the submitted sample is properly classified as a “firearm” as defined in 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(3) because the fire-control area is created during the manufacturing process through the use of the biscuit.
There are two opinions that the ATF present as reasons why EP Armory’s lower is in fact a firearm.
- The fire control cavity is “indexed,” and the ATF believes that indexing the area is sufficient for the object to be a firearm.
- The biscuit is a separate object from the lower receiver, and therefore the fire control cavity is actually formed during the manufacturing process.
The letter goes on to detail how, for the same “indexing” reason stated above, the mere addition of the index marks for the trigger pins also puts the object past the 80% completion mark.
This is interesting because it’s the first indication we’ve had about the ATF’s opinion on the matter. So far we’ve been running on the assumption that, as the guys at EP Armory claim, the ATF’s objection centered around the biscuit being added after the rest of the lower was manufactured. But now it looks like the ATF’s opinion is that the timeline of manufacture doesn’t matter as long as the fire control area is made of a different material or indexed in any way it will be more complete than the 80% rules allow.
This marks a major shift in the case, from an offensive stance on the part of Ares Armor and EP Armory to a defensive one. Now they not only have to prove that their lower receiver is manufactured legally as per the relevant Federal laws, they need to win a legal argument that the ATF’s opinion on the matter is wrong.
To be honest, I’m not seeing a happy ending to this case. The ATF’s opinion seems fairly logical at first glance, and the only hope of a win is if they can prove that the ATF’s definition of a firearm is inconsistent with that prescribed in Federal law. The ATF have had a lot of latitude when it comes to adding new regulations above and beyond those in the black and white letter of the law, and these two shops now need to prove that the ATF overstepped their boundaries when they made this decision. And they need to do it in California.