Are 80 Percent Polymer Lowers now banned by ATF?
In the world of DIY homebuilt gun projects, the so-called 80 percent lower is about a standard as it gets. The problem is, it seems like recently the ATF has declared war on the industry that is making and selling polymer versions of this gun part for one reason or another. What the deal here?
What is an 80 percent lower?
When the original colonists set up here in the New World from Britain, there was no problem with individuals making their own guns. Many local blacksmiths, carpenters, and others good with their hands did so in their shops for their own needs, often importing lockworks for the early muzzleloading muskets of the day from England and building a gun around it. After all, it was far cheaper to ship a box of 100 locks to the colonies than crates holding 100 finished muskets.
(A few hundred years ago, the lockwork was the actual gun, and many were shipped to the country to be turned into firearms later by homesteaders good with their hands. When a gun broke, the lock was often recycled and turned into a new musket)
This led to a country that grew up making their own guns.
Today, this tradition still exists. It is perfectly legal to build your own gun in the privacy of your home as long as (a) its legal for you to own a gun and (b) you don't violate the National Firearms Act of 1934 by building a suppressor, short-barreled rifle, machinegun, or AOW, and the gun is (c) not for sale or distribution. If you do not believe me, just check out the ATF's page on this.
(An unfinished 80% aluminum lower. These are currently still considered non-guns and can be shipped through the mail to anyone)
In the same analogy as getting a lock for your 1700s-era musket and building a gun around it, you can today buy an incomplete AR-15 lower receiver (the part of the gun that is serial numbered and seen as the ATF as a 'firearm'). If it is partially completed, but still requires a good bit of machining, it is often billed as "80-percent" complete, requiring a homebuilder to perform the other 20% of the matching process to make it an actual gun.
As such, it is not a firearm until it is finished and can be sold as a paperweight legally through the mail for later use.
The ATF decides whether a product "80 percent" lower is a finished gun or just a piece of otherwise harmless metal/plastic and issues its thoughts on the matter in what is deemed a 'determination letter.' The thing is, they can change that determination at any time (remember this below).
These receivers most commonly come in aircraft grade aluminum. Others, however, come in easier to work with (and cheaper) polymer. It seems that these are the ones under attack lately.
On March 7, the ATF pulled out all the stops and raided Bakersfield-based EP Armory, a maker of 80 percent lowers. At stake apparently was the manufacturer's polymer lowers rather than its metal ones.
(Just a piece of two-colored plastic until you remove a color and do some more modifications, which, depending on your skill and luck could take an hour and a drill or a week and a machine-shop)
You see the EP80 polymer lower was made out of two separate color plastics, which means all you have to do is cut away the oddball color and follow some other simple tasks and you are in business. All you need is a "A drill press, drill bit set up to 3/8-inch, drill bit 3/32 x 8 inches long, 3/8-inch or smaller, end mill, 5/32-inch drill bit for the hammer and trigger pins, 3/8-inch drill bit for the selector, C-clamps, Dremel tool with a variety of cutter bits and sanding bits, Files, Sandpaper, Level, Safety glasses, Gloves and of course some patience," to build one.
(Yes, two different colors of plastic, but still just a solid hunk of plastic here, not a gun. There is no way that, without knowing what you are doing, and having the right tools and patience, you can say this is a functional firearm)
These lowers came out a pretty good while ago and have been sold legally for at least a year, but the ATF apparently decided that this month they were forbidden.
They are currently listed as out of stock on the company's website and the following statement was posted.
"Currently all sales and manufacturing of the EP80 have been put on hold until the BATFE can revisit the most recent determination which was on an understanding that the EP80 was manufactured in a way that would not comply with federal GCA (GUN CONTROL ACT) law. We have already previously resent and replied explaining the manufacturing process with no feedback other than a large group of agents entering the premises and confiscating our product and our means to manufacture it, until given further notice."
We feel very confident that litigation from our attorneys will remove the misconception released by the BATFE and will in turn release E P Armory from any charges that could lay ourselves in a criminal court from this."
(This is a finished AR polymer receiver, but you have to treat these like a firearm and require an FFL to buy or sell. This, apparently, is what the ATF says that some 80 percent lower makers are selling.)
However, EP Armory had already shipped several thousand of these lowers to its distributor...
On March 10, the ATF reached out to Oceanside, CA based Ares Armor about their stock of polymer incomplete lowers from EP Armory. According to the ATF they wanted to play nice. Ares side of the story was slightly different.
This was posted by the owner of Ares:
"I received communication on or about 3/10/2014 from our legal counsel (Jason Davis) that the BATFE was in the process of obtaining a warrant against Ares Armor based on their incorrect determination of EP Armory's Product. I was advised that the BATFE had offered to forego obtaining a warrant if Ares Armor was willing to: (a.) Hand over all of EP Armory's 80% Lowers. (b.) Turn over Ares Armor customer's private information to the BATFE.
In exchange for turning over our customer's private information the BATFE said that they would not "raid" Ares Armor's facilities and would not pursue "criminal" charges. This made me feel as if I was being extorted. I agreed to their terms in order to delay an impending and unjust raid against Ares Armor long enough to obtain legal protection under the law."
Ares then obtained a Temporary Restraining Order preventing the ATF from harassing them.
Unfortunately, it didn't last the week before the Bureau asked one federal judge set aside the motion and a second one to issue a warrant. Then on Saturday morning March 15, the ATF came in with guns drawn on two of Ares locations.
(From Ares Armor's facebook page, surveillance still of the ATF paying a visit in the search for 80 percent EP polymer lowers that have been legal and openly sold for more than a year)
The ATF seized as many as 5000 polymer 80% lowers, wrecked the store, and broke open at least one safe with a sledgehammer. Ares is fighting the ATF in court and is back in business, but has suspended the sales of the polymer lowers in question for now.
Another 80 percent polymer lower company, Polymer80 (wonder how they came up with the name?) has suddenly pulled their website down.
When you go to the site, there is no functionality and the message, "Our apologies, but at this time Polymer80 is down for site updates/upgrades. We are in the process of adding new products such as tactical gear, and other sportsman types products & accessories. Please check back periodically for more site news."
There is no reference to polymer lowers on the site at all, regardless of the domain name.
While we have no confirmation they are closed due the craziness of the latest ATF determination letters on polymer incomplete AR lowers, you do have to wonder about the timing.
Some other sites (JMT) are still selling nearly the same product for now, so it may be an isolated issue-- or maybe just one of having an incomplete lower that is two different colors.
We don't know, and we feel neither may others in the industry, after all, ATF sometimes is accused of "raid now and figure it out later" these days.
Watch this space for updates.
This just posted on Polymer80s facebook page:
"Some of you may have taken notice that we are no longer offering the G150 80% lower for sale on our site. We want to be clear that:
A. We were NOT shutdown in anyway by the ATF
B. We were NOT raided by the ATF
C. We have NOT even been contacted or directed by the ATF in any way, shape or form
D. We have done this VOLUNTARILY and PROACTIVELY
We currently do NOT have an active customer list nor do we have any inventory. We are going to proactively work directly with the Science and Technology Department at the ATF to quickly get a determination letter and move forward providing a fun, affordable and legal option for gun ownership.
Our goal is protect your privacy and our rights, so instead of cashing in on a potential flood of business created by the current climate, we have opted to take a measured approach that protects your information and our 2nd Amendment rights as law-abiding
What's your feelings on this? Let us know in the comments below.