TTAG’s Carl Bussjaeger recently wrote about an illegal firearm manufacturer who sold a rifle to someone who went on to commit a mass shooting. The unlicensed firearms maker pleaded guilty as charged. You may have read it, or you may not have, but there’s a lot more to this than meets the eye and we get a lot of questions and a lot of misinformation appears in the comments about situations like this.
Let’s get everyone who hasn’t read about this case up to speed:
August 2019: a man goes on a shooting spree in Texas, shooting 21 and killing five.
As happens in these situations, state and federal law enforcement authorities having jurisdiction investigated the murderer, including his firearm(s). One thing firmly stuck out. The firearm used was illegally sourced, as the murderer, in this case, was already determined to be prohibited from firearm possession.
We ran a search of some of the court documents and there are some interesting revelations. Let’s start at the beginning.
Marcus Braziel, the man who sold the rifle to the shooter, was building firearms without a federal firearms license. He will go to prison for the charges of manufacturing firearms without a license as well as tax evasion.
We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again: it is perfectly legal to make your own firearms. You can buy your own parts, whether partially completed or finished — or even print them yourself — and use them to build a firearm…pistol, rifle, or shotgun. However, without the requisite licensing it is illegal to manufacture firearms in order to sell them to others.
In this particular instance, the accused had purchased copious quantities of already-made AR-15 lowers, uppers, and other components and assembled them into complete firearms. With the modularity and the ease of assembling the AR-15 design, this is pretty easy to do. In addition to that, he purchased mostly-made receivers, commonly called “80% lowers,” finished them into assembled firearms, and marketed them. He ran afoul of the law when he sold them as a means of generating income.
Being an illegal seller, he did not declare the income from his firearms operations. He also failed to collect the Firearms and Ammunition Excise Tax. The government did not get their 11% tax on the finished goods, and even going back towards the days of Alphonse Capone, they still don’t like that sort of thing.
Making your own guns isn’t a bad idea if you’re tinkering about, making things for your own collection. It is very a bad idea if you build a bunch of firearms and then sell them to make a profit. When ATF comes and asks about your firearm collection — and you don’t have a single item that you were purportedly collecting — you’ll get an all-expenses paid trip to the Gray Bar Hotel.
Most people don’t want to mess with making their own guns. For them, it’s often cheaper and easier to buy complete firearms, complete parts, and the like from established retailers. For example, when a company like Palmetto State Armory runs a sale, often times the prices can’t be beat and you have a full warranty in case something goes awry.
Post sale support isn’t something you get from Nate’s Haus of Garage Built Guns.
Selling a Gun Privately and Firearm Bills of Sale
In most states, it is perfectly legal to sell a firearm privately, no background check required. As long as the person to whom you’re selling isn’t a prohibited person, you can sell a gun to another private party. There are only a few hardcore nanny states that demand both parties march to their nearest federal licensee to complete these transactions. But there’s still vigorous debate about the best way to do a private sale.
The schools of thought here vary widely. One friend of mine is content to haul everything he sells personally to an FFL and let them facilitate a private party transfer. I’ve tried to point out to him that this defeats the purpose of a private sale, but he’s set in his ways.
Another approach holds that a cash deal, face-to-face in a 7-11 parking lot is best. Caveat emptor (and venditor).
Many believe that one should never sell a gun without completing a bill of sale. For instance, the Texas Gun Trader website has a FAQ that strongly advocates a firearm bill of sale. The purpose of this document is to protect the seller from prosecution in the unlikely event the purchaser isn’t a legal firearm purchaser or later does something heinous such as, oh, I don’t know…murder a bunch of people in North Texas. After all, you have to protect yourself. That’s why you own a gun, right?
Here’s the reality of the situation, though. A bill of sale that is purportedly designed to protect the seller, in the case of United States v Braziel did just the opposite.
Braziel documented every single one of his firearm sales using the very bill of sale that Texas Gun Trader has made available on their website. A number of buyers lied on that paperwork and stated that they were legal firearm buyers. They weren’t.
Thanks to Braziel’s documenting of the price, quantity, type, and volumes of firearms that he built, he gave the Assistant US Attorney for the Northern District of Texas clear and convincing evidence that he was building and selling firearms without a license.
And because the government could calculate the cost of his parts since he bought partially finished and finished commercial components and they knew the sale price, they could calculate exactly how much tax the government did not get and prosecute Braziel accordingly.
If anyone was wondering, Braziel had purchased 50 AR lower receivers, 10 pistols, and 3 rifles from his local gun store.
The ATF asked the local gun retailer if he knew what Braziel was doing with the firearms, and the licensee stated that he knew that Braziel would buy them, build them, and sell them. 24 hours after that interview the ATF paid a visit to this very same gun dealer who, by his own admission, knowingly enabled these shenanigans and their license was “voluntarily surrendered.”
This case exemplifies many problems with the firearm industry, firearm laws, and how they impact everyday life.
We have a licensee that failed to police their own customers when they knew that unlawful activity was occurring, we have Braziel who purchased lots of complete and incomplete lowers and equipment to finish them, and we have documentation that purports to protect us when things go awry but in reality, becomes weaponized against us.
The truth is that if you are a licensee that turns a blind eye to or enables illegal activity, the ATF and the plaintiff’s attorneys of the world will find some way to hold you accountable.
The truth is that if you are building copious amounts of finished rifles in your garage and you think a sheet of paper that says “I am not a felon, I promise, I swear!” will save you, the ATF, a federal judge, and the plaintiffs’ attorneys of the world will find some way to hold you accountable.
I have never understood the hubris that exudes from people who sell firearms who wave a sheet of paper around declaring themselves fully absolved from responsibility. The “but I have a sheet of paper documenting this!” argument fails when the government is hell-bent on putting someone behind bars.
Also, and more importantly, Braziel was clearly engaged in the business of manufacturing and selling firearms without either of the requisite licenses.
If you play stupid games, you will win stupid prizes.
Should any of our readers want to research the details of this case more closely, the case is the United States v. Braziel 5:20-cr-00128 and is being tried in the Northern District of Texas.
Sentencing is scheduled for January 7th, 2021.
We will keep an eye on this one.