ATF 80% Lower Receiver Dilemma Recalls Stalin-Era Axiom on ‘Crime’

Stalin (L) and Beria (R): Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime. (USSR photo)

U.S.A. – -( “A California man sold illegal AR-15s,” CNN Wire Service reported Saturday. “Feds agreed to let him go free to avoid hurting gun control efforts.”

“For more than a year, Joseph Roh illegally manufactured AR-15-style rifles in a warehouse south of Los Angeles,” the report explains. “But five years after raiding his business and indicting him, federal authorities quietly cut a deal with Roh earlier this year and agreed to drop the charges.”

It’s fair to wonder what in the world is going on, especially considering all the players involved. It’s also fair to say that after reading the entire article that what is considered “lawful” and “unlawful” becomes damn near impossible to determine once deviation from the simple elegance of “shall not be infringed” is allowed.  It’s easy to get lost in all the twists and turns involving so-called “80-percent receivers” and “build parties” and upper and lower receivers. It’s easier still to get lost in the “law,” and that term is used ironically—the risks and penalties are there, but the rules that can invoke them are really nothing more than regulation without representation.

Arcane determinations about what “legally” constitutes a “firearm” via ATF “classifications” make even the government question how some prosecutions can be conducted without jeopardizing others.

If fed enforcers, with near-unlimited resources and armies of lawyers, can’t proceed with certainty, how the hell are citizens supposed to know what they can do vs. what will result in their lives being destroyed?

The thing is, this isn’t the first time this issue has come up. Back in 2008, ATF ruled:

“ATF has reconsidered its classification of the lower assembly of the FNC rifle as the receiver. The upper assembly of the FNC rifle is more properly classified as the receiver.”

And in an “our bad” moment, ATF added”

“To the extent this ruling is inconsistent with any previous ATF classifications, they are hereby superseded.”

Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella character comes to mind.

That ruling prompted firearm designer Len Savage to ask:

“According to the criteria that ATF applied to figure out the ‘upper” is the ‘receiver’ according to the law for an FNC, If the same criteria were applied to the AR-15 / M-16 the ‘upper’ must be the ‘receiver’ not the lower. Would this impact the NFRTR if the ATF ever does apply the same criteria at some point to the AR-15/M-16?”

It’s hardly just this issue where ATF’s inability to pick a story and stick to it has caused cluster-****s of epic proportions. Cases  in point:

A 2009 interpretation that pistol grip shotguns are not shotguns created an unforeseen legal concern for owners of such firearms. As NFA Owner’s Association observed, “it is difficult to understand how current law would not classify such as firearm as a Destructive Device.”

Which means registration on the NFRTR would be required. But there’s no way to do that retroactively.

And then there’s ATF Ruling 82-8, which held that “SM10 and SM11A1 pistols and SAC carbines are machine guns as defined in Section 5845(b) of the Act” except that it would only apply to those manufactured after June 21, 1982. My source tells me “Approximately 50,000 were manufactured prior to the cut-off.”

Then again, how is that any more absurd than machineguns manufactured after May 19, 1986, being banned from “civilian” possession and transfer?

Since we’re talking offensive absurdities, who remembers, in addition to declaring a shoestring to be a machinegun, the time ATF ruled Chore Boy pot scrubber pads were NFA firearms? Or Airsoft guns being seized because the agent who tried to insert a magazine backward insisted “With minimal work, it could be converted to a machine gun”?

And don’t get me started on my legal, then illegal, then legal again and now illegal Akins Accelerator bump stock.

“There’s no way to rule innocent men,” novelist and Objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand wrote. “The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.”

Lavrentiy Beria, Stalin’s head of secret police, chillingly put that into practice:

“Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime.”

That sure is a far cry from the government’s mandate to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

About David Codrea:David Codrea

David Codrea is the winner of multiple journalist awards for investigating/defending the RKBA and a long-time gun owner rights advocate who defiantly challenges the folly of citizen disarmament. He blogs at “The War on Guns: Notes from the Resistance,” is a regularly featured contributor to Firearms News, and posts on Twitter: @dcodrea and Facebook.

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Nice informative article about 80% lowers. As one begins to read down, a political troller throws out a treble hook and lands 3 large mouths. I wonder how many of those who weigh in or respond actually do vote for political offices or just sit back and let their electoral college do the voting for them. How many get involved in helping all the animals who inhabit this planet. Even on a small scale. So easy to talk the talk. Having been on the internet from it’s inception, I can read through the best BS out there. I’m here for… Read more »


Well, Glad to have you here regardless. Honestly, Guns and gun Types can generate as much bad politics as political views themselves. Shoot what you enjoy, I’ll do the same.

Anytime you want to talk firearms or handloading, I for one will be more than happy to do so. Best wishes to you.


“..shall not be infringed.” is the LAW and a COMMAND. NO other article or Right in the Constitution has that command. Any variation of this command and law is null and void, as the U.S. Constitution states: Article 6, U.S. Constitution “The Constitution…shall be the supreme law of the land”. Therefore, no federal or state legislative law, Executive Order or local decree may limit, deny, change or modify the Constitution. THAT is called the ‘Supremacy Clause’. Article 6 continues “All laws must conform to and be made pursuant to the Constitution”. Therefore, any federal or state legislative law, Executive Order… Read more »


The problem with lawmakers in this country, or those who pass laws because their livelihood depends on it, is that it’s full of ever-more useless laws!


They have to justify their existence somehow. By passing some inane law they can say ‘look at me I did something, vote for me!’


Unfortunately, the job of a legislator anywhere is to figure out what new laws can be made. Thank God that they spend so much time on vacation, or campaigning. If government were efficient, we would be in even worse trouble than we are.

Wild Bill

, Yes, and thank God that we do not get all the “government” that we pay for!


The BATF should be done away with, all they are is another expense we have to pay for them to rule against us. Sounds redundant to me. However, they are congress scapegoat and congress doesn’t have to have the people mad at them for the stupid rules forced on us. History is coming back to haunt us.


Is it time to repeal the 1934, 1968, and 1986 laws altogether? I think so. Under close scrutiny, and in light of several SCOTUS decisions dating back to 1939, all three should be unconstitutional.


Exactly, Trump got elected by the Russians, turned on our allies to protect his Towers in Turkey. Begs China for political help, inflicts corporate communism with his insane tax plan…now bump stocks and going after more guns as this is his administration…


@BAM Pow – even if you are right. He is not building a structure to maintain changes he makes to our government. His rule by chaos will not create a lasting legacy in our government and any damage he manages to inflict will likely be “repaired” within the next administration. On the other hand, any of the democrat party candidates I’ve heard – are presenting fairly detailed plans as to how they will destroy our country as a nation. If forced to pick between two devils – pick the incompetent one. My view of trump is not as negative as… Read more »


Is that shit the best you can come up with? You need to get your head out of your ass.


Lol you talk Stalin and look who’s in office, a Russian puppet! Trump’s corporate communism is destroying our country!


Can’t you even keep up with your own party’s lies to try to undo a legally elected president because they don’t like the result? They dropped the Russian collusion B.S. story after Special Counsel Muellor’s report showed that there was no collusion. We’re still waiting for the democrats’ lead SCHIFF-head to produce the -irrefutable evidence- that he claimed to have. So you can drop the “Russian puppet” B.S. since your party has already given up on that one.


He’s working from an old “comments” cheat sheet. He’ll need to get a new one from his handler or he won’t get paid for posting discredited comments.


BAM Pow…I’m pretty sure there are some socialist democrat cities where you could be in big trouble with a user name like that. That’s almost as threatening as a finger gun.

Ryben Flynn

Technically the ATF ruling .50 Caliber AR upper receiver with a bolt and barrel as a firearm is NOT a firearm as there is no firing mechanism. Split receivers just like the AR. Under the US Code of Federal Regulations, a firearm frame or receiver is defined as: “That part of a firearm which provides housing for the hammer, bolt or breechblock, and firing mechanism, and which is usually threaded at its forward portion to receive the barrel.” The ATF arbitrarily keeps changing the rules. So a complete upper receiver is NOT a firearm (no hammer, trigger or firing mechanism)… Read more »


Because we have let bureaucratic regulations become “law”, we have let Congress shirk their duty to actually write the laws. Without the regulatory bureaucratic power, we would not have the multitude of regulations that stifles our very existence as Americans.


Legislating is being passed off to agencies like the BATFE, EPA, even SCOTUS. That way legislators can just shrug their shoulders and say it wasn’t me, it was them, and I sure need your vote.


You can thank Woodrow Wilson for that one…


BATFE has always created their own regulations through the use of Administrative Law, which have the full effect of law, and changed, altered or amended them to suit their mood, current administration policies, and when it is advantageous for them to do so. Their actions are unconstitutional and the organization is unconstitutional.


Is there a better example of that than the bumpstock ban? “We supported it before we opposed it.”


Look up Lavrentiy Beria. After Stalin’s death, he as convicted of over 350 rapes. A serial rapist and murderer, after Beria’s execution, they found bodies of those he abducted and raped buried in the garden of his home. Today’s Dems and their Antifa foot soldiers take great pride in being the ideological descendants of Stalin and Beria. Pay your taxes.


My grandad was the first generation of antifa, he killed lots of fascists in WW2! If you’re against Antifa you must be a Nazi!


You can call a pile of pig feces a rose, but it still won’t make it smell any better.


If you can’t make sense, you must be a troll……… and you don’t so you are…….


The problem with you and your “grandpa” as ANTIFA members is that that group has gone so far off the rails that only another ignoramus can identify with it. By “off the rails,” I mean: if all you got in your toolbox is hate, then everything begins to look like a “basket of deplorables.”


@BAM Pow – Antifa is a name which an organization gave themselves. As is common in today’s world – organizations misname themselves in order to portray themselves in a favorable manner or sell their product. In this case the organization which calls themselves “anti-fascist” is in fact a fascist organization fighting to take freedoms from “the people”. Your granddad who fought the Nazis would be offended that you equate him with such an immoral group. Before WWII, the people of Germany were blind to what was happening within their government. After the Nazis took over, to a large extent the… Read more »

Wild Bill

Now, Bambam, you are not a patch on your grandfather’s pants. If he were still alive, he would put you over his knee for putting words in his mouth nor would he support antifa.


If you have been listening to the Democrat debates you are hearing the voices of Stalin and Beria at work. Driving fear in to the population is how you eliminate natural rights. Make natural rights a thing to be feared and scorned by those who are inclined to be law abiding.


David, I would think you would remember Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen reclassifying USAS-12, Striker 12 and Street Sweeper as destructive devices.

That was in 1994.

So this has been going on for a long time.


Destructive device… that’s what she called me.



Since Hollywood has decided to showcase a few “Unique” firearms in their movies, it will be interesting to see some calling for nonsensical redefinitions to “Destructive devices”. Oh say, after some idiot watches a new Terminator movie as an example.


You mean da gummit gonna ban those cyberweapons made entirely of high grade pixels generated by computer code?

How da Feds gonna collect any real evidence when civilians have those same Character Generation “weapons”? Like the little girl made her fingers into a “gun” and began “shooting” others, and got herself arrested last week?
Loooney tooones were never so fantastical or farcical.


Back in the day I used to watch “Hunter” and I remember Rick Hunter using, to great effect, a SPAS-12.

That was an awesome shotgun.

And I think James Caan used a Striker-12 in the movie “Thief” although I wish someone could confirm that.


@Tionico and Mack So sorry I missed your comments!! Yes, Hunter was an awesome show. I grew up seeing that, Airwold, and Blacksheep Squadron, all of which were before I was born. @Tionico. The new film has two shotguns which were picked out for “Cool Factor”. We are not talking about fictional weapons. We are talking real world weapons the weak and fragile liberal movie goers will see and say “Ooooo scary!” as they wet themselves and write letters demanding bans to the democrat party when they get home. Remember what happened to the USAS-12 and Jackhammer shotguns? It’s great… Read more »