This past week, a compact, inexpensive, PC controlled CNC mill produced by Defense Distributed, capable of making a metal lower for an AR-15 at home
, has reignited discussions over the legalities of manufacturing your own firearm.
The Legal Framework for Manufacturers:
The Gun Control Act of 1968 places numerous requirements on firearms manufacturers holding a Type 07 (or similar) Federal Firearms License, including requirements for record-keeping, import/export registration, serialization and marking of firearms. These legally-required markings, including a unique serial number, manufacturer’s name and location, model and caliber are often used by state and federal agencies to track, trace or register specific firearms to specific individuals.
For the most part, the GCA marking requirements meant that nearly every gun produced domestically (and legally imported) bore these markings, and could be relied on by manufacturers, consumers and authorities for their own purposes. This monopoly on marking largely resulted from the fact that the manufacture of a firearm was something best left to the professionals; a skill more appropriately left to the manufacturers, and not the casual tinkerer. In recent years, the firearms industry has seen huge advances in technology that no longer require a machine shop or knowledge of a Bridgeport milling machine. Inexpensive CNC mills, 3D printers and 80% components and their completion kits have made the challenge of building a personal firearm available to the casual builder.
The Legal Framework for Individuals: Making a firearm for personal use is legal. Making a firearm for personal use without a federal manufacturing license is legal. This has always been the case, even after the enactment of the Gun Control Act of 1968 ("GCA"). However, this right has been attacked as of late by gun control advocates – and has been advanced with renewed interest by 2nd Amendment supporters.
Before you begin, however, understand the applicable laws.
Is it legal to manufacture a firearm for personal use?
Yes. Per provisions of the Gun Control Act (GCA) of 1968, 18 U.S.C. Chapter 44, an individual may make a “firearm” as defined in the GCA for his own personal use, but not for sale or distribution.
May I sell, trade, give away, or bequeath a firearm I make if I do not wish to keep it anymore?
No. The GCA prohibits the sale or distribution of a firearm made by an individual. The firearm must be destroyed by approved ATF destruction techniques, and proof of destruction should be retained.
Must my firearm have the required GCA 1968 Markings?
No. Marking requirements for manufactured firearms apply only to federally licensed manufacturers. However, it is both a state and federal crime to deface, remove or modify a firearm serial number if it is already present.
If I Make a Firearm do I have to Register It?
Federally, no, as long as it is regulated as a Title I firearm (most rifles, shotguns and handguns). However, some states, Massachusetts included, require the registration or reporting of the acquisition of a firearm. In the case of Massachusetts, although no federal registration is required, once the firearm were complete and functional, the builder must submit a completed FA-10 or E-FA-10 document within 7 days.
Are there any other laws or regulations I should be aware of if I manufacture my gun?
Yes. The ability to manufacture a firearm for personal use does not permit the manufacture without registration of all types of firearms. Firearms falling under Title II of the National Firearms Act (such as machine guns and machine gun components, short barrel rifles, short barrel shotguns, destructive devices and AOW’s) require compliance with the laws regulating their registration, manufacture and possession, including the National Firearms Act (requiring the payment of a manufacturing tax and registration of NFA firearms) and the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 (banning the individual manufacture of machine guns). For more on this subject see our previous post.
Some states, including Massachusetts, have additional prohibitions on disguised firearms; bans on certain cosmetic features (as found in some state’s Assault Weapons Bans); individual licensing requirements; magazine capacity restrictions and storage requirements. In cases where a firearm is made by an individual, these laws still apply. Be sure you are aware of your state’s laws, and if not, consult with a competent firearms attorney.
What are the legal requirements for becoming a Federally-Licensed Firearms Manufacturer?
If the technological advances make you think you want to jump into the firearms manufacturing world with both feet to make firearms for sale or distribution, you would need to obtain a Federal Firearms License, such as a Type 07 FLL. This process carries with it its own unique federal, state and local considerations, compliance requirements and practices. If you are interested in becoming a 07 FFL, please contact Attorney Matthew P. Trask to discuss the process.