When many of us think of a firearm, we think of a complete package. In our mind’s eye we see the weapon as it is depicted in films or fully assembled in a shop or someone’s cabinet. What many don’t realize is that under United States Law, only a small part of that piece of equipment is considered an actual firearm. Closely monitored and regimented, the receiver portion of the gun is the only part that needs to be serialized and accordingly, the only part that the government is interested in. But what is this seemingly innocuous part and why are gun enthusiasts so fascinated by it?
The Part That’s Really A Weapon
The receiver is the portion of the firearm that holds all of the crucial operating mechanisms. Inside that small metal box is the magazine well or rotary magazine and the all important trigger mechanism that allows the gun to be shot. Without it, you essentially have a pile of useless metal on your hands, which the government has rightfully deemed not to be a threat.
Billets and Forged
There are two main types of lower receivers used in the creation of firearms – the milled or billet receiver and the forged. Although both function exactly the same, the main differences lie in the method in which they are constructed. Experienced machinists create a billet receiver by hand whereas a forged receiver is completely lacking the ‘human touch’. When a billet is created, a block of high quality aluminum is placed in a machine and it is painstakingly milled and crafted into the crucial casing that it becomes. In contrast, the forged receiver is created simply through melted metal being poured into a specific mold. The result? A completely uniform product every time.
What’s the Deal with 80%?
In contrast to a 100% receiver, an 80% lower receiver is a ‘body’ that is without the important details that allow it to be considered complete. Any receiver considered 80% is without the deep pocket that houses the trigger and hammer and has none of the holes necessary for the inclusion of the actual trigger parts, hammer or safety selector. Doesn’t seem like something to get that excited about…however….
As many of you know I'm the gun expert and founder of the Dixie Gun Worx shop and web site, so I can attest to the high level of interest in these ‘bodies’ of firearms. I field multitudes of questions per day related to this seemingly innocuous, incomplete part – “Can I sell one’ “If I make one, can I keep it?” and probably the most important inquiry, “ Is it illegal to have one?”
The key to these 80% lower receivers lies in the fact that they have no serial numbers. Without grading, manufacturer’s stamps or markings of any kind, these parts are not considered to be guns at all. They can be bought and sold freely as parts without having to go through the lengthy licensing process that actual firearms require. Essentially, all the consumer needs to do is complete the final 20% and they will have successfully created a customized, unmarked weapon that is officially ‘off the grid’
It is not a free for all however. Although it is legal to own a gun created with an 80% receiver and to have one for personal use, it is absolutely and completely illegal to sell or trade these weapons. Any firearm customized or otherwise, cannot be sold without a serial number in order to allow the ATF to keep tabs on the weapon and it’s activity.
Now…Where Do I Get One?
Once customers are clear on what 80% receivers are in general, the second question I have to deal with most frequently is where to purchase one. Like any thing else online, there is a large amount of availability for receivers. Obviously this is due to the ‘loophole’ that comes with legally owning a non-serialized weapon and even more obviously, one has to expect the level of quality to fluctuate to extremes. Every manufacturer has a different product, each claiming to be the best on the market. How does one ensure that only the best receiver ends up in the mailbox?
According to my research and experience, the easiest way to ensure that you get the best possible quality for your receivers is to invest only in Military Specification product. What sets Mil-Spec receivers apart from the rest are the quality of metal and the consistency of specifications. The Aluminum used in these receivers is consistently 70 -75% T6, making it as hardy as any military grade product. In addition, the hard coat or phosphate coating used is of similar high standards and extremely wear resistant. The specifications used in creating these receivers are as reliable as you can get. No matter what you plan on doing to your firearm later, when you purchase a Mil Spec receiver, you can be assured that there will be consistency in design every time.
A Word of Caution
It is important to note that manufacturers throw around the term ‘Mil-Spec’ in the same way that ‘organic’ is among the food community. The regulations on its usage are very lax indeed and many companies take advantage of this in order to make extra money. For example, as long as the tiniest part of the receiver is Mil-Spec, the manufacturer has full right to claim the entire thing as military specifications. It would be tiresome indeed to invest the money in a top quality receiver only to discover that the only thing military grade about it is the paint job
Which Receiver is the Best?
The final question I face daily deals with choosing between the two receivers. What is the difference really, between a hand created item and one that is manufactured to strict specifications? In the opinion of myself and most master gun makers, it all comes down to uniformity. When it comes to customizing guns, it is best to ensure that all the working parts are as well made and ‘basic’ as possible. Any cosmetic or performance enhancing additions can be added later – in order to get the best working firearm a flawless basic construction is essential. It is for this reason, I prefer the smaller, more universal convenience of forged receivers. Without the natural fluctuations in shape and size that come with a handmade product, you can be assured that when you order a forged receiver or a certain size or shape, that is exactly what you receive.
There is nothing more satisfying than a good ‘DIY’ project. Those addicted to the art of weaponry will tell you that it can become a consuming obsession. Passion aside however, it’s important to remember to put your safety and that of others first. The last thing you want is a prison sentence because you didn’t know the law properly or even worse, a poorly constructed weapon resulting in an accident. Knowing the rules and playing it safe are crucial when it comes to firearms, as any experienced expert will tell you.