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80 lower california legal guide

80% Lower California Legal Guide

Are you a California resident thinking of buying an 80% lower receiver for your AR-15? 

As a state, California is well known for having some of the most restrictive firearms laws in the nation, and it’s been that way for decades. AR rifles in particular (along with other similar kinds of semi-automatic rifles) have long been tightly regulated in the state, with most ARs being outright banned. 

Complicating things is the fact that 80% lowers are technically not considered firearms. Therefore, you may think that building your own DIY AR-15 in California with an 80% lower would be a legal way to work around the laws. 

That would have been true up until July 1st, 2022, when AB 1621 took effect and legally defined 80% as firearms (despite ATF policies at the Federal level to the contrary). 

In this article, we’ll explain the nitty gritty details of what 80% lowers are (and what they are not), and how current California laws apply to them. We’ll also briefly go over some additional related California gun laws that are important for you to know about in an FAQ at the end as well. 

What is an 80% Lower?

ar 15 lower receiver kit

The lower receiver is the lower part of an AR-15 that includes the magazine well, buffer tube (where the stock fits onto), and the fire control group. 

An 80% lower is – you guessed it – a lower receiver that is 80% completed. It’s up to the owner of an 80% lower (or a gunsmith) to complete the lower by milling and drilling the remaining components into place. 

So why buy an 80% lower when you could just buy a lower receiver that’s already complete? 

Buying a complete lower receiver is undoubtedly more convenient. But the difference is that an 80% lower is not considered a legal firearm under current Federal law. As a result, it is not required for an FFL (Federal Firearms License) holder to complete and record the transfer of an 80% lower for you, nor do you need to serialize an 80% lower. 

The ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives) does, however, not allow an individual to purchase an 80% lower with the intention to sell it to another individual. Doing so could get you into a lot of trouble if you do not have an FFL license yourself or otherwise transfer it through one. So there is a fine red line in the sand that you need to abide by. 

A complete lower receiver is considered a legal firearm, however, because it includes the fire control group and the magazine well that are required for an AR-15 function. Without a lower complete receiver, an AR-15 is inoperable. That’s why the lower receiver is actually considered to be the only part of an AR that’s a firearm. 

And contrary to what some people think. a lower receiver is still considered a firearm even if the trigger is not yet installed. All complete lower receivers are required to be serialized as well. 

How Do You Make an 80% Lower Into A Complete Lower?

ar15

Like we mentioned above, an 80% lower comes 80% complete. To that end, the following are finished on an 80% lower:

  • Hole for the pistol grip 
  • Bolt catch 
  • Threads and housing for the buffer tube 
  • Takedown holes 
  • Rear lug pocket for the upper receiver 
  • Magazine well
  • Magazine release 
  • Hole for the buffer detent 

Turning an 80% lower receiver into a complete lower receiver requires you to to go through the following process:

  1. Drilling a pinhole for the hammer 
  2. Drilling a pinhole for the trigger
  3. Drilling holes for the safety lever switch
  4. Machining a cavity for the fire control group 

In short, a complete lower receiver is considered a firearm and is also the only part of an AR-15 that is legally considered a firearm. To buy a complete lower receiver it must be serialized (as with any firearm) and the transfer must be handled through an FFL before you can take possession of it.

An 80% lower receiver is not considered a firearm, and it can legally be shipped directly to your doorstep without having to go through an FFL as a result.

Except, unfortunately, if you live in California.  

Are 80% Lowers Legal in California?

ar 15 california

Long story short, 80% lowers are no longer legal in California the way they are Federally or in the rest of the country. 

On June 30th, 2022, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 1621 into law, and it took effect on July 1st of that year. 

Colloquially known as the “Ghost Gun” law, the act was designed on a broad scale to more tightly regulate the sale, transfer, and possession of so-called ‘ghost gun’ kits and components within California. 

In a nutshell, the law reclassified 80% lowers and other unfinished firearm frames and receivers as ‘firearm precursor parts.’ It also forbids the sale, transfer, or possession of these precursor parts that are not deemed to be firearms under Federal law and that are not imprinted with a serial number. 

Specifically, in regards to lower receivers, the law forbids the following:

“Sell, purchase, or transfer of any forging, casting, printing, extrusion, machined body or similar article that has reached a stage in manufacture where it may readily be completed, assembled or converted to be used as the frame or receiver of a functional firearm, or that is marketed or sold to the public to become or be used as the frame or receiver of a functional firearm once completed, assembled or converted.”

This means that all 80% lower receivers are no longer legal in California. It’s for this reason that manufacturers of 80% lower receivers now simply refuse to sell them to California residents. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

ar 15 wood background

California is well known for having some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. Here are the key laws that you should be aware of if you are a California resident:

What is An 80% Lower Receiver? 

A lower receiver is the lower part of an AR-15 and is the part of the weapon that is considered a firearm under Federal law.

An 80% lower receiver is a lower receiver that is 80% finished and is not serialized. It is not regarded as a firearm under Federal law. 

Why Is An 80% Lower Not Considered A Firearm?

An 80% lower is not legally considered a firearm at the Federal level because it requires further modifications in the form of drilling and machining to be converted into one. 

Are 80% Lowers Legal in California?

No. 80% lower receivers are now classified as ‘precursor parts’ under AB 1621. ‘Precursor parts’ refers to any unfinished firearm frames and receivers. Any precursor parts that are not considered to be firearms under Federal laws are generally prohibited in California. 

Are AR-15s Banned in California?

Yes and no.

California currently has an ‘Assault Weapons Ban’ in place that prohibits semi-automatic rifles that can accept detachable box magazines and any one of the following: 

  1. Pistol grip
  2. Thumbhole stock
  3. Folding or telescoping stock
  4. Grenade launcher or flare launcher
  5. Flash suppressor

It is legal for California residents to own an AR-15 so long as it comes without the above features. These ARs are colloquially known as “Featureless AR-15s.”

What is a Featureless AR-15?

featureless ar 15

A featureless AR-15 is a California legal AR-15 that does not come with any features that are prohibited under the state’s Assault Weapons Ban. In other words, an AR-15 without these features is not considered an Assault Weapon. 

To be California legal, an AR-15 must meet the following requirements:

  • It cannot have a pistol grip or thumbhole stock 
  • It must only accept 10-round magazines
  • The rifle must be designed to be disassembled (meaning the upper receiver is separated from the lower receiver) before the magazine can be removed (this is called the ‘fixed magazine model)
  • It cannot have a flash suppressor
  • It cannot have a grenade or flare launcher attached 

Ownership of a featureless AR-15 in California is still pursuant to additional laws as you must meet the requirements for firearm ownership, as you’ll see below.  

What Are The Requirements For Firearm Ownership in California?

To be eligible to purchase a firearm in California you must:

  • Be 18 years of age to purchase a long gun and 21 years of age to purchase a handgun 
  • Obtain a Firearms Safety Card by taking a firearms safety knowledge test 
  • Pass a background check
  • Provide proof of state residency via at least two documents 
  • Wait ten days before picking up the firearm

Additionally, you can only purchase one handgun or long gun per thirty days.

Conclusion

In short, 80% lowers (along with unserialized and unfinished firearm frames and receivers) are no longer legal in California, so this is no longer an option for legally being able to own an AR-15 rifle or carbine. 

If you live in California and want to own an AR-15, you can do so by purchasing a featureless AR while also making sure that you are eligible to own a firearm.

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