To the average homebrew DIY’er, building an AR-15 in your garage has an unescapable appeal as a master maker’s project. But sifting through other people’s accounts of their experience can leave an individual with more than a few misconceptions about the process and the legality of the project.
So let’s get down to it and clear the air of a few myths and misunderstandings:
Is it legal?
Short answer is yes. On the federal level, there is no restriction against a private individual manufacturing a firearm for personal use. Just understand that you cannot gift, sell, trade or hand down a firearm manufactured this way. It is yours for life and when you die the gun, by law, must be destroyed. Now, we would strongly recommend that you look into any state or local laws that may potentially supersede the federal law and make the process illegal.
Is it difficult?
Not to any modern American who has ever used a power tool at least once in their life. There are basically three readily available methods to finish a blank receiver: Mill, drill press and router. A mill is WAY more expensive than the other two options and does require a bit of experience with said piece of machinery. A drill press is the middle road, but is much less precise when it comes to the fire control pocket as the head on a drill press has much more slop than a mill. This brings us to the router. The least expensive option, by far, and hands down the easiest. It literally consists of no more than using a drill, and drawing little circles (think playing with an Ouija board). If that sounds tough, you probably should learn how to tie your shoes first.
Does it require experience in machining?
A mill does, a drill press sorta does and a router doesn’t at all. My wife finished a polymer80 lower just this last weekend using a router and she still doesn’t know the difference between a Phillips and a flat. If you know how to chuck a bit and can color inside the lines, then an 80% lower will be a fun side project that only takes a couple hours at most.
It is expensive.
Not really. Whether you buy it all at once as an AR-15 build kit or piece-by-piece for the ultimate in customization, an AR-15 can be had for less than $800 including the AR-15 80% lower jig and bits. Consider that the cheapest you can buy a production gun for is right around the $700 mark and then you still face the task of adding your custom parts.
You can’t take it out to the range.
I still don’t know where this one came from, but I hear it all the time. Do you ever remember going to the range and having an employee record your serial number? A few highly selective private ranges do, but it is usually in conjunction with international shooting competitions. There is nothing different about firing or transporting a firearm you made versus a mass manufactured firearm. If your AR-15 meets all state and local laws (bullet buttons, anyone?) treat it just like any other.
I can have a friend help?
Sure you can; if you both want to end up in federal prison. In order to remain compliant with the GCA and the NFA and not piss off the ATF you have to complete the lower 100% on your own. I would go as far as to say that if your buddy is giving you advice, pointers, or walking you through the process; he/she should do it from the other side of the garage and never come in contact with your lower the entire time you are working on it. Better safe than sorry on this one.
I hope you have fewer questions than before you read this, but if you are still looking for a place to start, check out the complete AR-15 build kits and the 80% Lowers Heavy Duty Jig. It really doesn’t get any simpler than this.