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.