do 80 % frames need an ffl transfer

Do 80% Frames Need an FFL Transfer?

Are you thinking of buying an 80% pistol frame but aren’t sure if you need to transfer it through an FFL? 

We’re here to help you out. 

80% pistol frames have become very popular on the American firearms market because they allow people to fully customize their pistols from the ground up with components of their choice. 

At the same time, there is a significant amount of confusion in regards to whether the same process for transferring firearms applies to 80% frames and what 80% frames are in the first place. 

In this guide, we’ll define how the United States government defines 80% pistol frames and then walk you through the process of transferring one legally. 

What is an 80% Pistol Frame?

geisler defence 80 frame

An 80% pistol frame is a partially completed firearm component that is not considered a firearm under Federal law because it has not yet been fully manufactured. 

The term “80%” refers to the level of completion of the frame, meaning that approximately 80% of the frame is complete. Most 80% frames are made out of polymer, aluminum, or steel. 

80% pistol frames require additional drilling and installation of components before they are considered to be complete. They also lack serial numbers and other gun markings that would normally classify them as firearms under Federal law. 

That being said, all it takes is a partial drilling of an 80% frame for it to be considered a firearm under Federal law.

Additionally, the drilling work is required to be performed by the individual who purchased the 80% frame. 

80% pistol frames essentially allow civilians who are not barred from owning firearms to manufacture firearms at home, which has been legal for as long as the United States has existed.

The 1911 and Glock pistols are currently the most popular pistol designs that 80% frames are made for.

The Process For Buying and Transferring an 80% Pistol Frame

p80 frames

Every gun dealer in the United States is required to possess an FFL (Federal Firearms License) license. 

For the most part, any individual who wants to buy a firearm in the United States needs to purchase the firearm from or otherwise handle the transaction through an FFL holder, who is also responsible for conducting a background check on the individual to confirm that they are not legally barred from owning a firearm. 

There are some exceptions for private party transfers between individuals depending on the state or jurisdiction, but that’s a discussion for another day. 

Previously, people could purchase 80% pistol frames without needing to transfer the frame through an FFL. 

In other words, you could order an 80% frame and the jig, drilling equipment, and components to complete the frame and have everything delivered directly to your doorstep. 

Rule Change

However, in 2022, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) issued a new rule that reclassified 80% pistol frames (such as those made by companies like Lone Wolf and Polymer80) as firearms. 

atf policies

As a result, it was then required for anyone buying an 80% frame to purchase and transfer the frame via an FFL holder the same way as they would a normal firearm. 

In a statement at the time, the director of the ATF, Steven Dettelbach, stated, “This means that they must have serial numbers so that law enforcement can trace if they are used in crimes like other guns, and also that those engaged in the business of selling them must be licensed dealers and run background checks.”

The rule change came as part of a larger effort to enact tighter regulations on so-calle ghost guns, or firearms that can be privately made at home and lack a serial number. 

The rule, however, is currently being challenged in the United States Supreme Court.

This is because the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled at the end of 2023 that the ATF overstepped its authority in enacting the rule change. 

The Biden administration then petitioned the Supreme Court to review the lower court’s decision.

So as of the time of this writing, the case is being argued in the Supreme Court. 

Therefore, it remains yet to be determined if an FFL will be needed to transfer an 80% pistol frame in the future, but for now it is required. 

State Laws

Additionally, several states have enacted laws pertaining to 80% pistol frames as well. 

As of now, most manufacturers of 80% pistol frames will NOT ship their frames to the following states and jurisdictions that have enacted laws against so-called ghost guns:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts 
  • New Jersey
  • New York 
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode eIsland
  • Washington 

It’s ultimately your responsibility to research and confirm whether or not 80% pistol frames are legal in your state, city, or jurisdiction


As of now, you are required to go through an FFL transfer if you want to own an 80% pistol frame.

But the rule that requires this is currently being challenged in the Supreme Court, so we’ll want to keep an eye on things to see if the rule changes. 

If you have any more questions about 80% pistol frames, don’t hesitate to ask us down below!

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