The Truth about Homemade Guns, Private Sales, and Firearm Bills of Sale

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.

Homemade Guns

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.

comments

  1. avatar neiowa says:

    If the Feds only had 10% as much interest in Bathhouse Barry or Lyin’ Joe Biden

    1. avatar Truckmant says:

      that is for sure or for that matter hillery and hunter why are any of these people still walking around free

      1. avatar Miner49er says:

        Hillary is not in prison because there is no evidence that she committed a crime.

        Barack Hussein Obama is not in prison because he has never been charged with a crime, much less convicted and sentenced, because there is no evidence he committed any crimes.

        Joe Biden is not in prison because there is no evidence he committed any crimes, evidence and charges are required by the US Constitution before a trial can be held, much less individuals sentenced to prison.

        1. avatar GS650G says:

          Idiots like you still believe she not only did nothing wrong but that she would have been a good president.

        2. avatar I1UlUZ says:

          The fact that her emails were not archived, they were classified and sent somehow from a classified government network to her homebrew email server is all the proof that is needed. Classified messages just don’t get lost and find their way to a low side network on their own. Someone had to break the law by doing that. She routinely took forbidden devices into the SCIF, there is no record of her ever using the State Dept IT equipment.
          The fact there is no proof is proof in itself proof laws were broken. Or another way, look at the emails from her to others like POTUS the from line was not from her State Dept email address.
          All of her State Dept emails by federal law were required to be kept, none were. That is the rumor I read on the unisex bathroom wall one day.
          Then there is the Steele flowing shower of golden flow fairytale…… Another pisser she should be in Club Fed.

        3. avatar Big Bill says:

          And yet Trump was put on trial without any evidence that he committed a crime. That was done by the Democrats.
          See, that’s one big difference between Democrats and Republicans; the Republicans act as you think they should, requiring actual evidence before making a legal charge, while the Democrats don’t.
          The facts are plain to see.

    2. avatar Phil says:

      Dude everytime I think Biden I think CRACKHEAAAD

    3. avatar Ing says:

      Oh, they do. Their 10% interest is more of an investment…which would go away if anyone investigated.

  2. avatar rt66paul says:

    It makes me wonder how many C&R collectors decided that the recent run on guns made it a good time to sell part of their collections. While many people might say they are not interested in “old” technology, many C&R firearms, even some that are 120 years old are perfectly serviceable and use modern ammo(if you can find any)

    1. avatar Specialist38 says:

      AIM evidently has plenty of 8mm Kurz for you StG.

      Hell! They even have 45 GAP.

    2. avatar Big Bill says:

      There’s no problem in selling off part or all of your collection.
      The problem (legally) comes when you buy and/or assemble with the intention of selling.

  3. avatar Eric Bishop says:

    Mr. Braziel is what I commonly refer to as a fucktard.

  4. avatar Leigh says:

    the laws are on the books…use them…prosecute the criminals…
    we don’t need more laws or bans…we need to enforce the laws already on the books

    1. avatar The Crimson Pirate says:

      Be careful what you wish for. In 2014 PA State Police started doing exactly that. We discovered the hard way that all of the denied background checks were people who should never have been prohibited in the first place.

      Now we have all of these people who are not a danger to themselves or others who have been jacked up, railroaded into typically 2 guilty pleas and are now for sure prohibited.

      Meanwhile, the actual criminals and felons are bright enough not to buy from an FFL.

  5. avatar jakee308 says:

    Since the government is bent on making criminals out of firearms owners, then firearms owners should start acting like criminals and sell and buy on the black market with NO documentation. No ID’s checked. No bill of sale. No names. Cash on the barrel head and no guarantees.

    Of course that means you take your chances that you don’t get either arrested in a gun buying sting or some real crooks decide to take you and your cash and firearms.

    This can be prevented but it means bringing others into the sale. Crime always becomes tricky when more than one person is involved. You can never tell when someone will fold like a cheap camera and rat you out.

    Just ask the majority of the inmates of your local prison.

    1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

      I totally agree with your first paragraph.
      The folks in my circle are trusted with my life and the life of my family. And I will back them with my life. Doesn’t get much tighter than that.

      Sometimes, rarely, one of us needs some quick cash. The gat is offered for what is needed, or what is asked. “Family first”.

      It’s forgotten after that, unless months later, the seller wants something back. Then it’s pulled out of a safe, untouched, and offered back at the same price.

  6. avatar former water walker says:

    I’ve been an antique dealer for more than 25 years. If the gubmint understood how “loose” things were the whole deal would go extinct. That the doofus illegal gun dealer thought he could outwit/evade the feds is mindboggling. As an aside I went to my LGS this morning to attempt to get some 9mm ammo at a reasonable price. They had 800 fifty round boxes of Federal. Sold out in 11 minutes(!). Stopped by Cabelas Hammond. Pathetic is an understatement. I have enough ammo for the foreseeable future…

    1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

      How much was the 9mm you bought?

      25 bucks a box of 50?

      1. avatar former water walker says:

        Nope…16.99! Federal too. Don’t really need but want.
        .Election day special.

        1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

          Not a great price, but still a solid decent price in today’s market…

  7. avatar Green Mtn. Boy says:

    IIRC something else came out of that case,that was the definition of what is a receiver and the ATF and government want’s to remain mum on that point.

    1. avatar Big Bill says:

      You’re right.
      It’s the fact that the lower receiver of an AR doesn’t fit the legal definition of a “firearm,” and that means they don’t legally require a serial number under the fed’s rules, nor do federal rules governing the sale of a firearm legally apply to them any more than buying a new barrel for your Glock does.

  8. avatar bob says:

    Anyone have a link to the guy in California who the ATF tried to nail for making firearms that lead to the lack of the definition of “firearm” being applied to an AR because the lower does not house the firing pin, bolt, chamber, etc..??
    If I remember correctly his lawyer got him off due to that fact and its been swept under the rug…. maybe until now.

  9. avatar GS650G says:

    50 lowers is a lot. That will get noticed and put you on the radar should you order that many without licences.

    His business practices hurt gun owners a lot. The Left siezes on these stories and it bolsters their arguments.

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