Prohibited Possessor Plea Bargain in 80% Receiver/Machine Shop Case

By Dean Weingarten

Dean Weingarten
Dean Weingarten

Arizona – -(Ammoland.com)-A machine shop/80% receiver case has resulted in a 3 1/2  year sentence for a California man, Daniel Crowninshield, of Sacramento. Crowninshield is 54 years old.

Crowninshield plead guilty. He did not insist on a jury trial. It is easy to see why.  Here is the plea agreement.  The agreement was signed on April 14, 2016.

Crowninshield is a prohibited possessor. He was convicted of domestic violence in 2000 and again in 2001.  The indictment shows that he possessed three pistols, two M-16 type receivers, and an AK type receiver.  The receivers were characterized as machine guns.

He was indicted on six counts.

1. Unlawful dealing in firearms – based on the manufacturing of receivers without a license, I would presume.

2.  Possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.

3.  Possession of a machinegun.

4-6 Possession of an unregistered firearm ( U.S.C. Section 5861(d)). Probably 80% receivers that were completed and did not have serial numbers.

Those are the six crimes (counts) mentioned in the indictment.

Potential jail time was up to 55 years in federal prison.

All the charges against Crowninshield were federal charges.

Crowninshield advertised on firearms forums under the name of Dr. Death.  He operated in the “open” and did not attempt to conceal his operation. It was an undercover agent from the California Department of Justice that gave critical testimony about Crowninshield's operation: From justice.gov.com:

51. UC#1 then asked if CROWNINSHIELD had AR-15 blanks for sale. CROWNINSHIELD led UC#1 to the office where CROWNINSHIELD showed UC#1 AR-15 blanks and AR-10 blanks that were available. UC#1 asked CROWNINSHIELD how long it would take to mill the blanks into completed lower receivers. CROWNINSHIELD responded that the process could be completed in under 20 minutes. UC#1 told CROWNINSHIELD that UC#1 would buy two AR-15 blanks and one AR-10 blank. UC#1 paid $920, covering the cost of the AR-15 and AR-10 blanks, as well as the machine work on all three blanks to convert them into lower receivers.

52. CROWNINSHIELD directed UC#1 to a large table near one of the CNC machines 10.CROWNINSHIELD took the AR-15 blank purchased by UC#1 and placed it into a jig that fit around the AR-15 blank. UC#1 informed CROWNINSHIELD that UC#1 has not done this before. CROWNINSHIELD responded if he went too fast just tell him to start over. CROWNINSHIELD then guided UC#1 to load the AR-15 blank into the CNC machine, close the door, and hit a specific button to start the machine. UC#1 asked CROWNINSHIELD how much the CNC machines cost and CROWNINSHIELD said a couple hundred thousand. CROWNINSHIELD added that the CNC machines were paid off.

53. Once the CNC machine process was completed, CROWNINSHIELD then instructed UC#1 on how to drill the first AR-15 blank; UC#1 then completed some of the drilling on a drill press. With the assistance of CROWNINSHIELD, UC#1 completed the drilling on all three blanks. Upon completion of the drilling, UC#1 left C&G with two completed AR-15 lower receivers and oneAR-10 lower receiver.

A participant at calguns.net had a different experience.   From a discussion in 2014 on calguns.net:

I watched one happen at his facility. Dr. Death didn't touch the machine once. He pointed to things and explained what to do. That's it. Mind you… not the best done receiver… but regardless, he did none of the lifting himself. It's all programmed. I doubt he even wrote the program. You can download this stuff.

Another participant at calguns.net had a similar experience:

I saw the same thing, and he was very careful not to touch anything in the process. You positioned it, clamped it, he took a look and ok'ed it, and you hit the button.
I watched the process with a half dozen different customers, same way every time.
After reading the documents, I'm still trying to figure out “exactly” what the charges are, and what he did wrong, to be charged.
“He” wasn't manufacturing anything, and the lowers were machined to prevent any F/A parts from being used.

Here is yet a third participant from calguns.net:

I know someone that used his shop, hehe and it was on the up and up. The guy had to even clamp the lower in the CNC. No one touched it but the builder. Then it was on to the drill press to finish.

During the discussion above, on calguns.net, no one mentioned, or apparently knew, that Crowninshield was a prohibited possessor or that he illegally possessed firearms.

Crowninshield plead guilty to one count of unlawful manufacture of a firearm, and one count of dealing firearms. He got a 3 1/2 year sentence.  Two CNC machines and two drill presses, as well as all firearms and ammunition mentioned in the indictment were forfeited.  He also paid a $200 fee.

There has been much discussion of how machine shops might rent equipment, such as CNC machines to individuals to machine 80% receivers into completed receivers.  There has been discussion of what constitutes instruction, and what constitutes machining. Freedom of speech covers instruction on how to operate machines.

Obvious lessons from the Crowninshield case are:

1. Do not be a prohibited possessor of other firearms while running such an operation.

2. Be able to document that you never touched an 80% receiver that was machined at your shop. A simple way to do this would be to require that participants wear red gloves, and you wear no gloves, then video the machine operations showing the hands doing the operation.

3. Do not sell the 80% receivers yourself.

4. Assume that everything you say will be recorded. Perhaps a sign in the shop, to that effect, would be useful. Much was made of Crowninshield asking an agent about why he wanted to machine four receivers. Was he equipping a private army, Crowninshield joked.  The agent replied “of course” “isn't that what this is all about”.

5. Have a good lawyer on retainer.

Individual manufacture of guns has always been done.  It is even done in prison. Technology is making the process easier than ever before.

©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.

Link to Gun Watch

About Dean Weingarten;

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of constitutional carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and recently retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

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    Steve WJohn Dunlap Recent comment authors
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    Steve W
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    Steve W

    ( U.S.C. Section 5861(d)) deals with NFA firearms. It is not illegal to make a standard firearm from 80% and never serialize it, if you make it for personal consumption. It is not illegal to possess standard firearms that are not serialized. You are probably aware that many firearms were made and sold in older days without any serial number, as they were not even required by manufacturers. Those firearms are still in circulation, lawfully. What is illegal, and what ( U.S.C. Section 5861(d)) speaks to – is possession of unserialized NFA firearms (SBR, SBS, AOW, Machineguns, Suppressors). So he… Read more »

    John Dunlap
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    John Dunlap

    The press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office, Eastern District of California, can be read here: https://www.justice.gov/usao-edca/pr/sacramento-gun-manufacturer-sentenced-prison-manufacturing-and-assisting-others This case has opened a huge can of worms for anyone who enjoys gunsmithing or machining as a hobby. It’s apparent from the press release that prosecutors weren’t particularly interested in the fact that Crowninshield couldn’t legally possess a firearm, though I’m sure it made it much easier for them to push a plea deal. No, it appears that their focus was on establishing a precedent expanding the definition of “manufacture or transfer.” While it is legal to make a firearm for personal… Read more »