Annals of Regulation: My CT Short Barrel Saga

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Reader Matt writes:

I had planned to wait for my paperwork to be completed to send this in to the TTAG staff but after reading that the ATF may be intentionally delaying NFA paperwork for those of us in Connecticut I decided not to wait for the proverbial cows to come home. These rumors/revelations/accusations also conveniently aid the point I want to make by sharing my saga with you.  Laws and regulations meant to deter criminals or prohibited persons from getting their hands on firearms are disenfranchising law-abiding people . . .

So without further ado, here’s what I went through in order to acquire a short barrel AR15 here in The Nutmeg State. While it will largely be preaching to the choir, I want to illustrate in painful detail the absurdity, time, and money I went through to stay within the letter of the law.

This all started on one fateful day when I stumbled upon a Colt DOE upper on Gunbroker. All I could think was, “Wow that is freaking cool!” Sticker shock and NFA regulations cooled my jets and prevented me from buying it right then and there. The next couple of weeks rolled by and all the while I was mulling over the idea of SBRing my current rifle lower, but I didn’t want to deal with the NFA hurdles. As it turned out it was a good thing I didn’t try to SBR my Connecticut-registered assault weapon lower that is probably at least partly responsible for the hold-ups with CT paperwork at this point.

Then then the lightbulb clicked on. Build an AR pistol! What luck! Not a week ago I read an ATF opinion letter saying firing a SIG Brace from the shoulder is A-OK. (I’m well aware ATF changed their mind on this). I could have my pistol and fire it from my shoulder too!

Another great benefit of the pistol over the SBR is that I can take the pistol out of state without getting a permission slip first; that’s a great feature for me since my family has a vacation home I frequent in New Hampshire and I sometimes travel to Maine and Vermont with a friend. It looked like an AR pistol was the way to go — it was like having my cake and eating it too.

Preparations for this project began with doing some research about the route I wanted to take with my build: options, parts, cost, etc.  I knew the cost would be higher because I needed to stick with a pre-ban lower to stay compliant with Connecticut law. The way our latest assault weapons ban (PA 13-3) was written, it didn’t include firearms previously grandfathered from our first assault weapons ban, so-called prebans (really pre-pre-bans now).

Pre-bans are firearms manufactured before 1994-ish. Thus, one can have a pre-ban AR15 receiver (at a cost of $700+) that is functionally identical to one manufactured yesterday (at a cost of $150 or less). By current Connecticut law, the one manufactured yesterday is considered an “assault weapon” and illegal to purchase, but the one manufactured 20 years ago is just fine, because legally it’s not considered an “assault weapon.” Makes sense, right?

All this “sense” is where I ran into the first roadblock. I can get a pre-ban lower easily enough; they just cost six times as much (or more) as a new virgin lower. The problem is the status and prior configuration of the lower. It’s very unlikely that a 20+-year-old lower that is sold stripped on Gunbroker is a virgin lower. It’s also not very likely that 20+-year-old lower was ever configured as a pistol. There were AR pistols back then, but they weren’t as popular as they are today (nor do I want to spend the $2000+ on a complete pre-ban pistol – a local gun shop has one in stock right now for $3000). Besides, it could be impossible to verify the past configuration of the lower.

So what if you don’t know your pre-ban lower’s history? For those who are unfamiliar, once a firearm is a rifle it is always a rifle and there is no way to go to any other configuration without first filing for the required tax stamp. There are variations and a few minor exceptions to this, but none apply here. That means once the receiver is part of a rifle, it stays that way and the only way to make it short again is to make it a SBR.

Other than the seller’s word and serial number records, I have no way to verify the past configuration of many pre-ban lowers for sale. For some lowers, it’s known that they were sold as complete rifles. But some companies sold stripped lowers and twenty years is a long time for a stripped lower to never have become part of an assembled firearm.

Again, I really wanted to avoid that tax stamp because I didn’t want any of the restrictions on travel, use, storage, and supervision that comes with NFA items, so I was kind of stuck going the pistol route. If I want to keep going that way, I needed answers from the ATF. So I wrote them an email.

I asked, if I can’t verify the prior configuration of a preban lower receiver and I have no indication or reason to believe it was ever a rifle, can I assemble that receiver into a pistol configuration? Surprisingly, only a few days pass and I get my answer. Incredibly the answer I got was yes, you can build a pistol from it so long as it complies with the Gun Control Act of 1968.

I was completely and utterly stunned!  I was expecting a resounding no, and this seemed too good to be true. Since mamma didn’t raise no fools — I got an answer by email instead of a physical written letter and this answer seemingly goes against prior ATF rulings — I thought it prudent to seek the advice of a lawyer.

I sent my lawyer (one who specializes in the NFA and federal firearms law) the email response I got from the ATF. During my very expensive 30 minutes appointment, I asked my attorney, “Can I rely solely on this answer from the ATF to build a pistol and be legally OK?” The answer I didn’t want, but expecting anyway was, “No.”

Wonderful. Just what I didn’t want to hear. But damn it! I’m not going to let some stupid bureaucracy prevent me from getting what I want! After months of waiting and planning and romancing a Colt SMG clone (with no fun switch, sadly) I’m not giving up that easily. So I guess the SBR route it is.

Just to cover my bases though, I wrote a physical letter to the ATF citing the answer I got by email and some other salient points about why I might be able to build an AR pistol from an unverifiable lower receiver… I’m still waiting on a response to that.

Tired of waiting for an answer to one of life’s persistent questions (with no help from Guy Noir), the course of this project is now charted for one that I never wanted to take to begin with.  I acquired a pre-ban lower and, just to keep those bases further covered, this lower is one (that according to the internet) that was originally sold as a stripped lower. I then started on my Form 1 and came to the next road block – the CLEO signature.

I live in a city that, to quote the officer I met with at the police station, “is not very big on guns.” A few honest questions later from him about what I wish to accomplish, what a Form 1 is, what I will do if the CLEO doesn’t sign, et cetera, I handed said officer two copies of my completed Form 1 and he promised me that he would get them over to the chief of police immediately.  He did warn me, though, that I shouldn’t get my hopes up for a speedy turn around. A typical wait time to get a pistol permit approved around here is 7 months. Something like this could be “a bit longer,” he told me. Fantastic.

I then commenced waiting and waiting and waiting…. I waited around for three months with nary a peep from anyone about my forms. Needless to say I got VERY tired of and annoyed with waiting. But what recourse do I have? I can incessantly badger the police department and the chief’s office, but I get the feeling the results of that will be less than effective. Besides, I don’t want to waste more time and effort on that losing proposition anyways. What’s left then?  There is one final route I can go to complete this project; forming a trust and submitting directly to the ATF.

I researched a few lawyers, sent feeler emails and made a few calls. I got some outrageous prices quoted ($1600 for a trust!) before I settled on a lawyer I like. He is well reviewed on AR15.com by other Connecticut people for trusts and he spent a lot of time talking to me before he even knew he had my business. We made arraignments, talked, strategized, I filled out his questionnaire and made my appointment. One week, $600, and two hours later, I have my trust executed, even more questions answered, and a very large grin on my face.

I’m so excited; I can FINALLY submit my Form 1! I decided e-filing is the way to go because I want that fast turnaround. I’ve been waiting long enough! I created my e-file account and … can’t log in. Damn do I hate computers sometimes. But my spirit will not be broken! A couple of days of site maintenance and phone tag with the help desk later and my password was reset. I logged in and my FIRST EVER Form 1 was submitted electronically. Yay! Now I just had to wait another three to six months for my approval. And I’m still waiting as of 06/24/2015.

So that’s my saga and if you have stuck with me this long, thanks. I know it’s not very exciting, but I hope it effectively illustrates the incredible amount of time, money, and effort I needed to go through to legally make a short barrel rifle. Forget about the AR pistol, that just doesn’t seem to be a possibility right now. Even though I can legally own an AR pistol in Connecticut provided it is built with a pre-ban receiver, federal law is preventing that from happening.

More importantly though, I want this to illustrate to someone who is anti-gun, or a legislator who is planning some sort of gun control law, the idiocy that is this process. It’s absurd to think that I, as a law abiding person with no criminal record or intent, must go through a months-long process of back-and-forths and hoop jumping to have the pleasure of spending twice as much as it would cost me just about anywhere else when any criminal can easily acquire or make what I want by just going ahead and doing it.

And no, this isn’t a call for more laws or regulation. Laws and regulations do fuckk-all and any person who has a shred of intellectual honesty knows that. You cant read this, understand the process and what is happening, understand what owning a NFA item means, and say that more regulation is what’s needed to prevent criminals from getting these kinds of firearms.

The NFA needs to repealed. Federal firearms laws need to be reformed or eliminated. The People of the Gun know this, but I hope my story illustrates to some of those who are out of the loop some of the hurdles, inefficiencies, and delays of exercising my rights I must suffer because I follow the law.

For the reader’s benefit, I have assembled a pricing guestimate for this project including the tools to build the upper, magazines, and the various legal fees. These associated costs are unfortunately integral to completing this specific project right along with the physical parts necessary to make a functional firearm. The point is to show how ridiculous it is that I need to spend $3000 when two states away in New Hampshire this would have cost me $1450 or less. To be perfectly clear, I do not own the parts that would put me into constructive possession of an unregistered SBR.

  • $600 – Upper – barrel, bolt, quadrail, misc bits & pieces
  • $700 – Lower – PWA preban (expect to spend at least $1000 for anything with a pony on it)
  • $600 – Stock, buffer, receiver extension, magazine adapter, misc bits & pieces for lower
  • $60 – Tools
  • $40 – Mags
  • $200 – Legal consult
  • $600 – Trust
  • $200 – Tax Stamp
  • Total = $3000, 10+ months of waiting (September 2014 thru ???), and NFA restrictions.

If I didn’t live in an anti-gun state.

  • $600 – Upper – barrel, bolt, quadrail, misc bits & pieces
  • $150 – Lower (or less, can you say $39.99 Anderson lower?)
  • $600 – brace, buffer, receiver extension, magazine adapter, misc bits & pieces for lower
  • $60 – Tools
  • $40 – Mags
  • Total = $1450, 2 weeks of waiting for all the parts to come in and assemble them. And no NFA restrictions.

comments

  1. avatar Silver says:

    What you discovered was the true intention of the laws in places like CT. The tyrants there don’t care about stopping crime, in fact they wake up every day praying for more so they can justify new power grabs. No, the intention is to destroy the morale of American citizens, get them to give up on their rights out of frustration, and make it as hard as possible for anyone to live their own lives without first asking the government for permission.

    “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.”

    -Thomas Jefferson

  2. avatar Chicago Steve says:

    So to summarize, he formed a trust and built an SBR, and because of supply and demand had to overpay for his lower.

    Must be a slow news day.

    1. avatar Richard in WA says:

      And spent and additional $1500/10 months complying with the letter of the law – when someone with criminal intent would just go put the thing together and shoot people.

      It seems obvious to those “in the know” but hopefully someone reads this who doesn’t realize that firearms are already heavily-regulated for those who chose to obey regulations. But when my Facebook feed is full of “close the gun show loophole” and “criminals have easy access to assault rifle” rhetoric, I don’t think that the informed are willing to step beyond their ignorance.

    2. avatar Heartland Patriot says:

      No, you are flat wrong and your snark doesn’t change that. He still doesn’t have his SBR and it’s because of useless laws that don’t stop violent crimes against good people at all.

    3. avatar James kallaher says:

      Why the hell would any one an ar pistol you are losing hundreds of feet per second velocity and if you need to stop an intruder indoors best try to get the guy away from a wall protecting your family ,,,, in gun ban states where ar platforms are even barely available I would go for a carbon lower with a 16″ barrel and f&&@ the commumists who otherwise would delay signatures for the law abiding

      1. avatar Matt says:

        It’s a 9mm build so I’m not loosing anything.

    4. avatar Matt says:

      I still do not have my paperwork and thus have not built it. I wouldn’t exactly characterize it as supply and demand is why I had to pay more; that really doesn’t account for the whole of it.

  3. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    FWIW, I built an AR pistol using really good parts for about $500.00.
    No paperwork, no registration or permission.
    I feel sorry for people in places like CT.

    1. avatar refugee camp occupant says:

      Even here in occupied California, I can get an AR pistol (maglocked, sadly) for about $1k.

    2. avatar Matt says:

      Tom, what parts did you use?

      If I could use a $40 lower that would lower the price quite a bit. I’m also going for the retro look and thus look have gone with an A1 upper and a repro aluminum stock. I’m planning on a Hahn dedicated block, ADCO barrel and ramped RRA bolt to finish it out.

    3. avatar Joe says:

      Assembled my 8″ 300 pistol here in NE for right around $600 including duracoat. Must suck for those on the coasts

  4. avatar David says:

    Engraving the lower – Don’t forget to engrave the lower.

    1. avatar Matt says:

      I’ll be doing that at work for free on the laser engraver.

      Thanks for the reminder though!

  5. avatar Gary McClenny says:

    I feel your pain. Even here in Texas, it took me nearly 3 years to take possession of a suppressor—and a suppressor by itself can only hurt you if you swing it hard enough!
    Our lesbian CLEO refuses to sign off on the forms so I had to form a trust as well. And, it’s legal to hunt all game animals except migratory birds with a suppressor. The whole mess is insane.

    1. avatar Jjimmyjonga says:

      She did not sign because she likes women better than men?

    2. avatar refugee camp occupant says:

      Not sure what the CLEO’s sexual orientation has to do with anything.

      1. avatar captain obvious says:

        Has everything to do with it. Ever met a lesbian who wasn’t an anti-gun lib?

        1. avatar Matt in FL says:

          As a matter of fact, I work with two lesbians who are avidly into guns. If you include their spouses (yes, they’re both happily, and legally, married — mind blown), that makes four lesbians I know who are not anti-gun libs. How are those preconceptions now?

        2. avatar John L. says:

          Yes. Your point?

        3. avatar FedUp says:

          I know a female couple who want a friend of mine to come to their place and shoot some of the surplus antlered varmints. And at a time when there seems to be a bit of a deer shortage in my state, so it’s probably worth his while to pony up for a nonresident license and accept their offer. The biggest buck he ever shot came from their land several years ago.

          Now, when it comes to the rallying political homosexuals, yes, they’re at least 90% progressive statist douchebags, as evidenced by the recent article here about an attempted OC at one of their rallies.

      2. avatar Ed says:

        How about because she is most likely a left wing, gun hating, plaid shirt wearin’, lumberjack smellin’, thinks she’s “as tough as any man…” bull dyke. Who, If you told her it wasn’t legal for two women to marry would whip out her copy of the Constitution and get on her liberal media issued soapbox…the same Constitution she readily wipes her ass with when some neanderthal man wants to have a muffler for his rifle. Mind you, if there was no muffler on his car there would be tickets for faulty equipment and noise pollution. Double standard much? Also, why can’t we just call things the way we see ’em? Why are we picking up this horrible lib habit of making sure we don’t offend anyone,ever?
        Myself? I won’t be neutered by political correctness…my feelings are mine and I won’t ignore them for anyone.
        You could move to Rhode Island and build a pistol (for the time being) but if you do…take some advice…learn spanish and don’t expect a carry permit.

  6. avatar TJM says:

    So for the same price you could have walked out the door (or waited whatever the CT waiting period is) with the pre-ban Pistol. I you do this again, you save the $600 Trust fee (which seems 2-3X too much.)

    1. avatar Matt says:

      Had I known what I was in for, I would have done just that. Live, learn, and complain about your mistakes to others.

  7. avatar Don from CT says:

    To the OP, there are ways around everything in CT, except for the AR pistol.

    You could have completely eliminated the CLEO signoff, fingerprinting and photo with a Trust. And it just so happens that one of the bet trust attorneys doing NFA work is in CT. His name is Jeff Crown.

    Congratulations on your entry into the NFA world. I wish there was a way I could get you my email because there are many (legal) ways to avoid most everything you encountered.

    Don
    p.s. I was an 07 FFL in CT and am on the board of a major gun rights group in CT. I’ve dealt with this on a daily basis for years.

    1. avatar Matt says:

      Don, drop me a line at my burner and I’ll get to you with the real email: smithmatt326()gmx()com

      1. avatar Matt says:

        I should add, we may have crossed paths at some point in the past.

    2. avatar Dan in CT says:

      Hi Don, If I could, I’d like to pick your brain a bit. I’m looking to take the NFA plunge. I live in CT but a more 2A friendly town. Thank god. I have a registered, striped AR 15 lower I bought just before the lunacy. I’m looking to do a 300blk SBR build but I have no clue where to start. I’ve never done anything NFA before. ANY advice would be greatly appreciated!

  8. avatar Retired LEO. says:

    And if the illegally elected POTUS claimant has his way today he’s singing amazing grace, and calling for banning guns.
    I say illegal because I checked my Aunt & Uncle in WV cast absentee ballots. 2 & 6 years after they died as my Mother did in SC a year after death.

  9. avatar Ralph says:

    Good article, Matt. But when I first read the title, I thought it said “My CT Short Barrel Saiga.” Which is another good idea for an article.

    1. avatar SpeleoFool says:

      I had the same mis-translation when I first scanned the title. Wishful thinking?

      I saw a picture somewhere (most likely vepr.org) of a chopped Vepr-12 with the folding stock. Looked like it packed up super tiny. Seemed like fun, but I had to wonder about how bad it would beat me up. [insert witty comment about Russian ladies here].

    2. avatar Matt says:

      Thanks Ralph, appreciate it!

  10. avatar Frank says:

    Joe criminal down the street made his SBR for $3.00. Stolen AR and a cheap harbor freight hacksaw.

    1. avatar Rusty Chains says:

      Except Joe Criminal would just sell the stolen AR or trade it out for a gun he could shove in his pocket. Despite what that bleating fool Josh Earnest says even when shortened an AR pistol is not an easily concealed firearm.

  11. avatar Xanderbach says:

    That sounds awful- I used to live in CT (New Haven, in fact… no chance of getting a permit their) but moved to AZ. I also got the bug to build a 633 clone, going the pistol route until I decide if I want to SBR it or not. It only cost me about $800 with all the parts, since I could just buy any old stripped new receiver, and there are no permits for firearms in AZ besides your driver’s license. I can use 32 round magazines also…

    When I was in New Haven, the idea of trying this build wouldn’t even have occured to me, since it was so out of the realm of my financial possibility. Which I guess is their plan. The poor can’t buy firearms in CT. The rich can.

    1. avatar Don from CT says:

      To get a pistol permit in New Haven, all you’d have had to do was apply. Because of the BFPE, CT is a de facto SHALL ISSUE. state.

      Ct is bad enough. Let’s not make up fallacies.

      Don

      1. avatar Matt says:

        Awful indeed.

        And Don, it is shall issue but that doesn’t mean it didn’t take me 7 months to get my permit for no good reason :/

        Had I been more “aware” at that age I would have complained much more

  12. avatar GS650G says:

    Too bad his work, family and heart is in CT because he could move elsewhere and not have these headaches.
    Not telling him to move (since that is frowned upon) just making an observation of his situation.

    1. avatar Don from CT says:

      See below. There are easy ways to (legally) get just about anything in CT. It just takes knowledge.

      I’m not in any way saying CT is great. But compared to NY, NJ, CA, and even RI, CT is not so bad.

    2. avatar Matt says:

      You said it perfect “Too bad his work, family and heart is in CT”. CT is crappy but I do still love it like some abused partner.

      Could I would I just move to NH.

  13. avatar Ray says:

    I’m sure the gang bangers are dutifully jumping through all the legal hoops just like you are. Thank God for gun laws! (sarc.).

  14. avatar Don from CT says:

    My CT Short Barrel Saga – as a Trust.

    Here is all the work I had to go through to make a SBR when I lived in CT and has a trust. It wouldn’t make a good article because it didn’t have any drama or intrigue. Also. At about 5 lines, it wouldn’t be long enough to be engaging.

    1) Download and print Form 1.
    2) Fill out Form 1, ignoring CLEO signoff, fingerprints and photo requirement, per instructions.
    3) Write out a $200 check
    4) Put it all in an envelope an mail off to the nice people in West Virginia.

    Done. The last SBR I did in CT before I got my FFL took me probably 30 minutes, including printing the form and addressing the envelope.

    Know the system, work the system.
    And if you don’t know the system, ask someone who does.

    Don

  15. avatar Don from CT says:

    One last thing. I’m often asked “how good a trust should I get.”

    I guess that means “should I get a $99 gun trust, use an illegal copy of Quicken Willmaker to make a trust (free) or go to a guy like Jeff Crown and get a real trust.

    The answer is that it depends.

    If you intend to make a couple of SBRs based on post ban receivers and maybe buy a .22 LR can, then its fine to go the cheap route. Why? Because you will have probably a total of $400 invested in NFA hardware. (2 – AR15 lowers at $75 ea and a $250 can). Its not the end of the world if there are succession issues after you die.

    If however, you own tens of thousands of dollars in machine guns and/or silencers, then you would want to get the most professional, thorough trust money can buy.

    I hope this helps.

    Don

  16. avatar Mike says:

    I’m also in CT and looking to build an SBR. I’ll be taking the trust route. My local shop said I would need to voluntarily register it as an assault weapon with he state prior to the trust and ATF paperwork. Is this something you could shine some light on? Couldn’t find anything on the DESPP website.

  17. avatar StuckInCT says:

    Any updates on this build? Love to hear how long you waited here in CT for the paperwork to get filed….

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