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By Zachary Hayes

Secretary of State John Kerry initially said the White House would sign a U.N. Arms Trade Treaty approved by the General Assembly on April 2. The treaty would have effectively rendered the Second Amendment null and void. The U.S. Senate, which would have to ratify the treaty for it to become law, preemptively voted 53-46 against it in March, while the House voted unanimously in June not to fund implementation. The assault on gun rights in the United States is far from over, particularly when it comes to automatic rifles . . .

The Senate defeated a bill in April that would have not only banned so-called “assault rifles,” but also limited the capacity of magazines to 10 rounds. But few Americans, even those who consider themselves firearms enthusiasts, are aware of some of the more arcane laws as they pertain to semi-automatic rifles. Any American can purchase just about any rifle they please—including AK-47s, AR-15s and M16s—without any paperwork or background checks. The caveat: you have to construct it yourself.

What The ATF Says

An unlicensed person, pursuant to the Gun Control Act (GCA) of 1968, can make any gun for personal use, but not for distribution or sale, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The import of “military-style firearms” was first banned in 1989, but parts kits have been legal, well forever. The caveat is that you can’t utilize more than 10 imported parts, including the receiver (frame), to construct a rifle, pursuant to Section 922(r) of the GCA.

It’s relatively easy to find gun kits online with a simple web search. In fact, 25 percent of semi-automatic rifles were purchased online in 2010, according to a poll by the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Many rifle owners (36 percent) said personal protection is the main reason for their purchases, while 58 percent cited hunting and target shooting. Beginning hunters can’t only find a Remington 783 kit online for half the price of the constructed rifle, but can also take classes on safety education at sites like to fully prepare themselves for the sport. Despite all the attention being given to mass shooters and the firearms they use, rifles remain a fundamental right for protection and sport in America.

How To Construct Your Rifle

For noobs, though, building a rifle from scratch can be daunting. This is where the relatively new phenomenon of “build parties” comes into play. Gun owners across the country who have purchased parts kits are getting together for some barbeque, beer and assistance with building their new rifles.

Most of these parties are arranged in online gun forums, while others are organized by local gun rights groups. Gene Hoffman of the Calguns Foundation, told that the parties are knowledge-sharing get-togethers that feature blow torches, welding and sawing. An AR-15, which until recently was difficult to find for a reasonable price, is pretty easy to construct if you have the knowledge and equipment, Hoffman said.

Legal Advice

The GCA requires all firearms that are manufactured for sale to have a serial number. But your newly-constructed rifle, built for personal use, is perfectly legal without one as long as you do not sell it. Federal law didn’t require serial numbers at all prior to 1968, so many older firearms do not have them either.

If you’re worried about being questioned by police, rangers or other authorities, you may encounter while using your rifle, you can carry the receipts for your parts kit as proof of build. But telling an officer who’s at all familiar with the law that you built the rifle yourself for personal use should suffice. As always, while federal law supersedes state law, it behooves new rifle owners to familiarize themselves with local ordinances as well.

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  1. I love the idea of a build party. I’m not real keen on the idea of alcoholic beverages being served when rifles are being built. Am I being too much of a safety nazi?

    • I’d be more concerned about the quality of work done, though you are correct that alcohol and power tools are not a good combination.

      • You want to fire a rifle made by the boys that were drinking up?

        r,f,a, you changed your comment.

        • I drive a car that’s maintained by a mechanic whom I pay in beer (by the case as it were) and never think twice. I suppose I’d shoot a rifle built during a party (though I’d sure test fire it before I counted on it!)

        • Ardent, I nearly pissed myself laughing about paying your mechanic in cases of bear. When I was a little kid my dad and uncle decided to make a studebaker into a convertible. Some beer was involved. They cut the roof off with a cutting torch.

          It was moms car and they were supposed to be changing the oil. There was some beer involved. Dad lived rough for a while after that. Mom even had him in church on Sundays.

        • I put together my first AR lower while I had a supendously awful hangover. It works just fine. I did forget that tiny little spring in the trigger assembly though and had to take it apart and put it back together later that day.

          I’m not a fan of AK’s, but if I could find a build party in central Ohio, I’d probably throw one together. The underfolders look neat.

    • you are not being a safety nazi. alcohol and firearms should not mix is and way shape or form.

      • seems a little draconic I personally when detail cleaning my guns will enjoy some home brew but to each their own

    • yeah- i think this one is obvious ,err… SHOULD be obvious if for no other reason than to avoid the stereotype or any appearance of impropriety.
      to sum it up, no you’re not being a safety nazi– and anyone who says otherwise is an idiot

  2. Not at all. Anyone who thinks guns and alcohol are a good mix deserves neither. 😉

  3. I’m going to say you’re over doing it jwm. A rifle shooting party should not include alcohol, but if the action with the rifles includes no ammo and no shooting I don’t see how it’s any different than having a few beers while working on ones car or doing a bit of home repair. Obviously you wouldn’t want to be so drunk as to compromise the work at hand, but I fail to see the danger in some social drinking while assembling springs and leavers in a frame. A box o’ rifle parts is about as dangerous as a box of car parts, with the exception that car parts often weight more and thus have a greater drop hazard and make a better bludgeon.
    In the same way one ought not to test drive the car being working on over beers one ought not to shoot the gun being built over beers, but otherwise I just don’t see where the inherent danger is.
    I think that for many people a gun is something they keep in a safe until they transport it to the range after which it goes back in the safe. They have a ‘gun mode’ that is distinctly different from their other modes. For others though guns are an everyday part of life. I don’t remove my CCW pistol when I get home and pop open a beer, that would just be silly. However I most assuredly wouldn’t drink on my way to shoot. If you’re in the habit of becoming inebriated you probably ought not to own a gun at all until you deal with your alcohol issues. However, if you drink responsibly and in moderation it’s not as if all guns need to be locked away somewhere lest you suddenly spaz out and start shooting.
    For clarity, a gun in the corner or on your hip while you unwind with a cold one ok, intentionally playing with or shooting guns while drinking, probably not ok, and if you’re habit is to get blitzed, seek help for the drinking problem.
    The exception here is it’s a rifle build, not a play with loaded guns or shoot them party. I’d have serious issues with someone who brought ammo for the rifle to a rifle build since there is going to be so much handling of the proto weapons, however it’s not as if freshly assembled rifles grow bullets in their chambers and start shooting people, even if those people have beer with dinner. There is safety and there is oppression. Guns ought to be handled safely but also ought not be oppressive to every day life and or social gatherings. (They really do only shoot if you load them and pull the trigger.)

    • I may be a bit over sensitive to the alcohol issue as I’ve lost several good people over the years that could not overcome their need for the alcohol. 1 just recently.

      • Really, I understand. Alcohol has ruined or killed a lot of good people. It’s also been responsible for many inexplicably strange and stupid decisions. This is much of why I specified that if one has a drinking problem they need to address it. The worst of it is that alcohol abuse and addiction are over represented among the warrior class. I suppose it’s not hard to see how it can (temporarily) help deal with the pain of loss, the reality of what a warrior does, even just the nerves that follow from doing dangerous things, but for some people it becomes and end in and off it’s self and that almost never ends well.
        Toss in the macho attitudes and relative youth of those who elect to go into harm way and problem drinking, binge drinking and eventual alcoholism becomes a serious problem within some communities. I don’t have any answers, but I can sure see the problems.

    • FTA: “… the parties are knowledge-sharing get-togethers that feature blow torches, welding and sawing.”

      Still not a good combination.

      • Lol well you’re onto something Will. I guess many years in shade tree garages with lots of beer, an armed posse and many tools in use may have inoculated me against the danger of it to an unhealthy degree. When you put it that way it sounds at the least like a good way to lose a finger.

      • For my two cents, one or two beers is not a problem. I grew up with alcohol, and we have no as in zero alcoholics in our family. If people know their limits, then they can do things, even build a weapon safely. if not, Darwins law is applied.
        BTW, I do not drink.

  4. I’d be up for a build party, heck if my buddies could cowboy up for a crate of mosins I’d plan a cosmoline bash

    • I started a project in my garage to de-cosmo a single mosin once and by the time I had finshed I had kids and grandkids involved and my wife making a family meal for all. It just snowballed that way. I had inlaws in the garage as well. Best money I ever spent on a craptastic milsurp rifle.

      • I love it when a plan comes together! Especially when it brings family and friends together for a common goal. Good times!

  5. Let’s be clear that we are not talking about ‘automatic’ rifles, and that it is not legal to build yourself an automatic rifle. Semi? Fine.

    • correct. Semi-auto only. You have to be an ATF approved firearms maufacture (don’t know what class it is) to make supressors, short barreled shotguns, and fully automatic rifles.

      • Not true. You can build your own NFA firearms (including silencers but NOT machine guns ) and Form 2 them.

      • Sorry but that isn’t correct. Any non-prohibited person can build a silencer, short barrel shotgun, short barrel rifle, or anything else with the lone exception of a machine gun. Provided you pay for and receive the proper tax stamp of course.

  6. “The treaty would have effectively rendered the Second Amendment null and void.”

    No not really. The Supreme court ruled that an international treaty that conflicts with the constitution is null and void.

    • Also, it seems to me there’s a school of thought that treaties are on a par with statutes, and therefore subordinate to the Constitution. Of course, I don’t doubt for a second the Obamatons would try to violate Second Amendment rights with a treaty. They already think the Constitution, and that provision of it, are toilet paper.

    • If Obama signs it, and Congress ratifies it, it becomes law, an it over rides our Constitutional law. I think the correct term is that it supersedes our law. I hope I am wrong. Can any one prove what I said is wrong?

      • Most constitutional scholars appear to agree that treaties cannot override the constitution, but it hasn’t really been tested all that strongly in the courts.

  7. Thank you JT. One thing people dont seem to understand is, if it goes against the constitution in any way it is null and void. it is actually pretty clear. People just have to read the constitution.

    • So if the ATF raids your house slams you and your family to the floor, doesn’t allow you to view the warrant because it is sealed, takes all your guns, shoots your dog, constitution or not, there ya go!

      • I hear you, the fact remains that the constitution says what the constitution says. I am not so ignorant that I dont see what is going on around us, but people think that a treaty is the be all end all. I guess if enough people believe it to be true it, it will be.
        I completley get what you are saying though.

    • There are plenty of “legal interpretations of” the Constitution that have nothing to do with what is written in the Constitution.

  8. I’m also wondering just how cheap building your own rifle is. With Colt(TM) brand Colt ARs down to $1000 and DPMS offerings getting as low as $625, is there really much savings in rolling your own?

    • I’d be more interested in assembly an AK on the cheap. I’m guessing there might still be some savings there as prices haven’t really fallen at the same rate as AR’s in my neck of the woods.

    • and to think how much some are crying over the fact that they spent 2K on an AR platform back in December/January that you can now get for $625.

    • I was thinking about that myself last night and fooled around a bit on the webs. You can get an 80% stripped lower for about $100, but then when you start adding in the trigger kit, the stock, buffer, and the rest of the parts for the lower, you are in at a minimum another hundred, and three times that if you go for a high end trigger. And you still haven’t built or purchased an upper.
      That’s another one of those details fo AR style rifles. The lower is the actual firearm and it cannot be more than 80% complete if you want to avoid buying through an FFL and registering it. But (as I understand it) since the complete upper, bolt barrel and all, is not a firearm, you can pick those up in any stage of completeness without registration. Now I could easily be wrong, but it seemed to me that the total cost of a build out is $600 to $900 without getting fancy. Isn’t it cheaper to buy a Colt or S&W?

      • It’s not so much the cost savings as the pride of having built something yourself. Plus for those who are concerned about such things, it’s a completely off the books firearm that the ATF and cops know nothing about. That counts for a lot with some folks.

        • Ditto.

          Assembling your own arm is like us car guys building motors, adding turbos and nitrous.

          It’s an educational experience and a peide thing.

    • I think it’s in kind of the same realm as building your own PC. You’re not really going to save any money, but it’s a neat hobby.

      • As a person who built my own PC you are most certainly correct. No real savings but I could safely say that what I built was my own. What I installed was my own.

    • I built a sub-MOA M4 equivalent for $1,100. Stag lower, Match trigger. M16 BCG, Mako furniture, Blackhole Weaponry 1/8 M4 profile stainless match barrel.

      I got exactly what I wanted, because I ordered and assembled it. Only FFL part was the Stag lower.

        • Right. No one else had posted that and I thought it bore mentioning that a “kit” typically includes everything but the FFL item (lower for an ar) and sometimes the barrel.

    • I’ll add up my most recent build:

      Aero stripped lower – 145 w/ ca transfer fees
      PSA LPK w/o FCG – 45
      Geissele trigger – 285
      Troy battle sights – 200
      Adams Arms upper – 650
      Magpul CTR – 70
      BCM buffer assembly – 35

      So that’s 1430 for a piston AR, with high end sights and an amazing two stage trigger. Use magpul BUIS and a mil spec trigger and you can subtract 250 – 300 off the price. Subtract more for a milspec stock.

  9. Sounds like a good idea to me. Looking on the web, all the listings are from antis aghast at the idea, all referring back to a single article where some anti disguised as a normal person went to a party in Kalifornia, built an AK, put 5 rounds through it, then destroyed it. Another AK 47 crime spree averted.

    • I know how it is. . . my evil black rifle creeps about 5 feet per night towards it’s ammo supply,each day I set it back. It hasn’t killed anyone. . . yet, but it just sits over there, leering and you know what it’s thinking. Further more I’ve heard it make racist remarks. I’ve taken to carrying a side arm just in case the AR tries to go on a killing spree.

  10. Also please note, that there are companies who do build parties. Those companies have been threatened by the ATF and shut down. They are pressuring anyone who announces a build party not to have them.

    • What I have heard is that this pressure is being applied to companies that provide pre-programmed CNC machines, where all you have to do (pretty much) is push a button to mill your own aluminum lower.

  11. It is innacurate to state that it “is perfectly legal without [a serial number] as long as you do not sell it.” It does not need a serial number, and you can make it yourself, as long as there is no intent to sell it when you make it. You can always sell it later to someone who admires t and make yourself another. You just can’t make the admirer a new firearm for sale.

    The non-serialized firearm made without the intent to sell can transfer through commerce without a serial number. ATF even has special instructions for FFLs on how to log in non serialized firearms for repair or transfer.

  12. I am not clear on something: How can you end up with a rifle and no serial # (?) — if the lower part (which you need) is what is considered the “gun” part — and buying goes through my FFL — just like a complete gun. I don’t think my FFL would accept a “gun” w/o a serial #.

    What am I missing here?

    • Many older firearms lack serial numbers, so the ATF has an exemption and special handling for firearms that don’t have serials.

    • I think they are referring to lowers that have not had all the machining done and are thus sold as blanks. These aren’t yet a firearm and thus don’t require a serial number or an FFL to transfer. However you will require access to machine tools and some skill in order to complete the milling to the point that the lower can have parts assembled to it and be a working gun.

      • That is correct. 80% lowers fit this bill (google it). While most lowers are aluminum and this require some skills and specialized equipment, some companies are now selling polymer lowers that can be worked with regular woodworking tools and relatively simple equipment such as a tabletop drill press.

    • Before the Gun Control Act of 1968, there were many inexpensive shotguns and .22 rifles that had no serial number at all. For example, I have Mossberg’s w/o any serial number on them from (I’m guessing from the model #) that were sold under other retail companies’ names in the early 50’s. No serial number anywhere.

      When a FFL is dealing with a firearm that had no serial number, he should write “none” or “NSN” in the bound book for the serial number. If there is a date code the manufacture stamped on the firearm, then he should make note of that somewhere on the line.

  13. “As always, while federal law supersedes state law, it behooves new rifle owners to familiarize themselves with local ordinances as well.”

    Federal law only supercedes state laws where laws are in conflict (supremacy clause)
    A state can define any law it wished (subject to court challenges) that can be mpre restrictive than the Federal law. So basically, the advice to be aware of local ordinances is fine, but don’tthink that you can ignore a state or local law just because the Federal version is less restrictive.

    • True. This is why California and the north eastern states have so many restrictions on ARs and AKs, like ten round mag limits, and in California, bullet buttons. And if our legislature has its way, bullet buttons will be banned as well; the only allowable semiauto rifles will have to have internal mags. Although pre-existing rifles will e allowed, they want all of them to be registered, doing away with one of the main attractions of doing an “80% build.” This is the same mindset that led to the SAFE ACT seven round restriction (now ten) round mags for pistols.

  14. I think things are coming back around to normal. Tonight I was at WalMart in Gilbert, AZ (the one on Market Street if you want to go there), and there were THREE AR-15 type rifles for sale, all 3 between $750 and $1000. They were sitting unattended in a locked glass display case, the gun counter unmanned. A few months ago if you could find such a scene there’d have been a line of OFWGs waiting to buy them when the counter re-opened, but tonight there was no one.

    • I don’t know. I was in a gun shop the other day (northern California) that had a bunch of stripped lowers–all for $300 each. Seemed a bit steep to me, but what do I know.

      • $300 is way too steep.

        Aero Precision is asking $105 for theirs online. A dealer should be able to order a lower themselves and match that price.

      • Where in nor-cal? If you happen to be from the Calaveras area, I can highly recommend J&G Sales in Valley Springs. I just bought an Aero stripped lower from them, they ordered it themselves and matched the online price, before the DROS fee.

  15. This is such a misleading half accurate article nobody uses blow torches to build a gun I think you’re more of an anti-gun person get your facts straight. This was clearly a case of an anti-gun person writing an article that seemed like they were on pro second amendment rights side.

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