The shooting sport has become more popular than ever before – nearly half of all the record-setting gun sales conducted in the past two years were transacted by the hands of first-time buyers. But it’s 2022, and we’re in the thick of a looming recession. Inflation and supply that’s been outstripped by demand for the better part of two years means gun prices are perhaps the highest they’ve ever been. In many cases, new buyers and enthusiasts alike are simply unable to acquire the rifles and pistols they want.
So, many are turning to the “DIY” route: They’re becoming at-home gunsmiths, assembling the long gun or handgun they want, piece by piece, minus the dealer fees and premium price tags. How’s this work? Is it legal? It’s relatively easy and, yes, it is entirely legal under federal law. In fact, the practice has been well-established since the late 1960s, when the Gun Control Act was ratified by Congress.
Starting your custom gun build should begin with the firearm component itself: The frame (for handguns) or receiver (for rifles). The stripped frame or receiver determines what caliber you’ll chamber, and what parts you’ll install to assemble your new firearm. The core firearm component is also the most difficult and expensive component to acquire. You’ve got two choices when it comes to sourcing your frame or receiver: Buy one from a gun dealer or fabricate one yourself. The latter may sound complex, but therein lies the surprise: You can, indeed, easily fabricate a stripped firearm receiver or frame at home, with basic tools and knowledge, using a partially finished unit called an 80 percent lower. These units are often used to build the most popular firearms in circulation, like the AR-15 and GLOCK and 1911 series of handguns.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms classifies these unfinished firearm parts as “receiver blanks,” or “frame blanks.” By law, they’re not classified as firearms and do not fall under the prevue of typical regulation. They cannot be made to fire, even if the end user has the parts required to assemble, because they’re not fabricated to completion. You’ll be the one doing that, using something called a jig. The jig is a tabletop tool that houses the frame blank or receiver blank, providing a physical guide (with instructions) on how to drill, cut, and finish your receiver or frame.
Once your firearm component is fabricated, you can finish your custom firearm with final assembly. Of course, you can simply purchase a stripped frame or finished receiver, but you’ll have to pay dealer fees, a small retail premium, and go through the paperwork necessary to obtain a functioning firearm, even though you’re not technically buying a working rifle or pistol.
Whether you buy or build your stripped firearm component, going the route of assembly at home provides advantages for your wallet and your time at the range, especially right now: Since you’re not buying a finished firearm, you’re not compromising on parts you may not want, or which you’ll replace. You can invest in higher-quality components, like a match-grade barrel, competition trigger, and custom grips. You’re not paying a brand’s premium, nor the overhead costs of a manufacturer and dealer. Since all but one part of your custom firearm is unregulated, you can purchase the individual parts needed more easily online or at different sporting goods stores, and often for less.
Naturally, state laws vary: Some states have banned the sale of non-firearm components, instead treating those products as firearms-by-definition. These laws run counter to the established federal laws that guide gun control and regulation of parts. Always do your research, and make sure your state allows “at-home” gunsmithing before you start your custom build.