California: Home to great food, beaches and beautiful views, and some of the most restrictive gun control laws in the United States. It seems every year there is a new, draconian and ridiculous gun control scheme coming out of the California legislature. The latest curveball thrown against the 2nd Amendment is another means to attempt to restrict the law-abiding ownership of AR 15 rifles. The bullet button was effectively banned for new rifle builds, and those with bullet button-equipped rifles were forced to register them as assault rifles, or convert them to newly compliant AR 15s. This involves the use of the AR Maglock, or other such conversion devices. The biggest fear of gun owners, however, is the registration requirements.
Do I have to register my 80 Lower in California?
This is an interesting question with many different answers. First and foremost, if you simply buy an 80 lower, you do not need to register it - it’s not considered a firearm, no matter how much California would like label it so (if they did, you may as well call aluminum foil a 5.56 slinger). If your order an 80 lower and toss it in a bin you never have to register or serialize it. It’s not regulated any more than a paper weight is, thankfully.
However, the moment you begin milling the lower it becomes a firearm and things change. At this junction in the minefield that is California’s gun laws you can still build a “scary” black rifle, be it an AR Maglock rifle, or a featureless build. The bullet button ban and registration deadline has already passed so that’s a no-go. If you decide to build a California-compliant rifle you do not have to register it, but you do have to serialize your 80 lower after machining it.
New builders have until July 2018 to serialize their lower receivers. You only have to follow the ATF guidelines for serializing a firearm. You can choose your own serial number and this process is easy. The two primary guidelines are spelled out below:
1. (The serial number) Must be conspicuously engraved, cast or stamped (impressed) on the firearm frame or receiver.
2. The engraving, casting or stamping (impressing) of the serial number must be to a minimum depth of .003 inch and in a print size no smaller than 1/16 inch.
A professional engraver won’t have issues meeting these requirements. Just make sure you use an actual firearm engraver with an FFL. It’s best to have the serial number engraved prior to milling and assembling your rifle kit just to avoid any legal gray areas, if possible.
After July 2018 you will have to pay a fee and you’ll receive a serial number from the state to build a rifle. This would seem to be a de facto registry, unless the state erases the data after they issue the serial number. Let’s be real, it’s California, so that data isn’t going anywhere. This de facto registry scheme is likely to provide new builders with a headache and it’ll hit the wallet hard.
However, at the time of this writing there is a little more than a year's worth of time to serialize your lowers privately without the government sticking their nose in your business. If you are a California resident then now is the time to buy, mill, and build. Get your 80 lowers now and get those serial numbers engraved, don’t wait until it's too late.