As the title says, you're probably wondering if you need an FFL to buy an 80% lower receiver. The good news is: No, you do not need an FFL to purchase an 80% lower receiver. That applies to all 50 states. You can order one online and have it shipped directly to your door, no questions asked.
If you're a seasoned gun owner this may seem self-explanatory. An unfinished 80% lower is not considered a firearm (according to the ATF) and cannot fire. A traditional stripped lower receiver, one that is ready for a parts kit, requires an FFL, even though by itself it is just a chunk of metal.
What is an FFL?
Excellent question! An FFL is a Federal Firearms License. There are several types of FFLs, but the most common type can be found in any gun store. Anyone in the business of manufacturing, receiving, and selling firearms needs to have a Federal Firearms License. If you buy a gun online it needs to go through an FFL. It can't be shipped straight to your door like an 80% lower (unless it's an antique firearm, though some laws still apply).
Why the 80% lower is not a firearm
An 80% lower does not need to be shipped to an FFL is because it is considered a chunk of aluminum in the eyes of the ATF. The Gun Control Act defines a firearm as, (A) any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive; (B) the frame or receiver of any such weapon.
An 80% lower does not meet either criteria since the fire control cavity is not milled. It cannot be readily converted to expel a projectile. The most an 80% lower can do is hold a magazine in place. This means you can receive an 80% lower in the regular mail. You can also mail one out yourself to another non-FFL holder.
When is an FFL required?
An FFL is required to ship and receive any firearm receiver, including a completed (functional) 80% lower. Specifically, an FFL is required if you've done any work to an 80% lower receiver but you plan to ship, transfer or sell it. For example, if you drill a single hole into the fire control cavity it is now considered a firearm. An FFL would be required if you wish to ship, transfer or sell that lower. It seems silly, but the ATF takes this quite seriously. You can view pictures of what they consider "not a firearm" or "a firearm" right here.
So, buying, selling, or shipping an un-touched 80% lower? No FFL is required. Did any amount of work to it? You need an FFL.
Do I need an FFL to buy a stripped lower receiver?
Yes. An AR-15 stripped lower receiver is considered a firearm. Even though it can't actually fire a live round, the stripped receiver is the component of the AR-15 weapon platform that is engraved by manufacturer's and governed by the ATF. It is also the part of the weapon that's substantially responsible for making the weapon function: It houses the trigger and lower parts kit, it acts as the mounting location for the upper receiver, and the buffer tube and buffer need the stripped lower receiver to be installed.
The 80% Lower California Conundrum
To our customers and AR lovers in the great State of California, we feel for you most. If you want to know about all 80% lower laws (including California) you can read our guide here.
You can purchase an 80% lower in California and have it shipped right to your front door. It's only when you complete the lower that any state gun laws take effect.
Right now, you need to submit an application to California's Department of Justice for a "unique serial number" before you machine your lower (you can still buy it and own it). What's government when its not taking your money after all? That's why we recommend not only buying an 80% lower, but buying your 80 percent lowers in bulk. You don't even have to finish them all right away.
Simply store them up for a rainy day and complete them with one of our quality 80 lower jigs when you need them most. Again, we feel for you, California shooters.
Getting from 80% to 100%
To turn an 80% lower receiver into a real AR-15 stripped lower receiver, you have to go through some steps: You'll need to mill out the fire control group with a handheld router and 80 lower jig. You'll also need to drill holes into the receiver to fit the fire control group and safety selector. After that, you'll install a lower parts kit, buffer assembly, stock, and complete AR-15 upper. Then you'll finally have your own black rifle or pistol, built from scratch - legally!