What is an 80% Lower Receiver?
While “80% lower” is an industry term, there is legal literature describing its function. An 80% lower is a lower of a firearm that has not been milled out. Because the legal jargon that covers the parameters of what is and what is not a firearm, 80% lowers do not federally fall into the criteria set by the NFA of 1934. That means 80% lowers are not considered firearms legally, but receiver blanks. These are different stripped lowers, as stripped lowers are complete firearms without any internal parts. On 80% lowers, it is impossible to install the fire control group because it must be milled out first. This is the caveat to 80% lowers.
What types of 80% lowers are out there?
The 80% lower market began with the AR-15 in 2004 when they were made legal after a ten year ban. Companies were flooded with high demand for AR-15 lowers especially so that consumers could take advantage of the numerous aftermarket products coming out. Among these came 80% lowers, as they were generally seen as cheaper, if a little more hands on than their complete counterparts. However, the AR-15 catalyzed the 80 percent lower and is responsible for the evolution of the market today.
80% handgun frames have also hit the market. Polymer 80, began reinventing the Glock wheel, enabling a plethora of aftermarket parts to be compatible with a frame that was designed to the same spec of many of Glocks platforms. This essentially put out Glocks for people to buy for cheaper than they would be able to find an OEM Glock anywhere. Palmetto State Armory, Shadow Systems, and Polymer 80 are currently the heads of the 80% glock market. There are many kinds of 80% handgun frames, although they have varying difficulties, especially the ones with steel frames.
There are also 80% AKs, although the initial investment may ask a lot if you aren’t already equipped. That is because the AK requires specific tools to build that will end up costing a lot of money. Factor in about $2,000 to a $600 – $800 kit.
Why Buy an 80% Lower?
Because 80% lowers are not considered firearms, they do not require FFL background checks in order to buy. This has made them very popular online because they can be ordered and delivered right to the recipients house. There are no extra fees for background checks or transfers, so you typically come out of these transactions spending a lot less sometimes.
The tools required to mill AR-15 80% lowers out is minimal, because the aluminum or polymer material is relatively easy to work with using common household power tools.
Are 80% Lowers Legal everywhere?
The short answer is yes, but the long answer is no. 80% lowers are legal on the federal level, but the states are also permitted, federally, to govern the transactions of firearms sales within their jurisdictions. That means, on a state level, it may be illegal, regulated, or completely legal to purchase a firearm. Here is a list of states where 80% lowers are either regulated or illegal to purchase.
States where 80% Lowers are illegal or regulated:
- New Jersey
- New York
- Washington DC
- Washington State
- Rhode Island
What do you need to complete an 80% Lower?
While it is relatively easy to complete an 80% lower, there are some tools that will either make it easier, or possible to complete effectively. There is still a certain level of skill required to complete 80% lowers, and the level of skill and margin of error is dependent on the tools you are using. Here is a list of all the items needed to complete an 80% lower. Note: this does not cover installing any parts, merely creating a legal firearm from an 80% receiver blank.
- 80% Lower
- Drill press or router
- Dremel tool (mainly for polymer handgun frames)
- A deburring tool
- Machining oil
- Proper drill bits
Where to buy 80% Lowers?
There are many places from which consumers can purchase 80% lowers. They are almost exclusively online gun stores that specialize in 80% lowers. While this is true, there are some on this list that also sell complete lowers which can be used to build firearms from a list of parts. Keep in mind that many of the lowers sold by these companies are not manufactured, and because of this prices between them may vary.
- Steel Fox Firearms
- 80% arms
- 80 lower.com
- 5D Tactical
- Anderson Manufacturing
- Polymer 80
- Rainier Arms
- Matrix Aerospace
- Davidsons Defense
Do I have to serialize my 80% lower?
For those who live in the states where 80% lowers are not heavily regulated, there might be a concern whether newly bought 80% lowers have to be serialized once they are turned into complete firearms. Fortunately there is no law or rule that forces 80% lower builders to serialize them. In some states as well, it is even illegal for there to be a registry of recorded serial numbers within the state legislature. These laws are always subject to change within your specific state, so referring to your state’s DOJ is the best option to get up to date information on how to legally own 80% lower built firearms.
Final Thoughts on 80% lowers
80% lowers are great for those who want to put the time and investment into them. People can generally walk out of a 80% lower build kit having spent less than what they might have paid for a complete rifle or handgun. For people who prefer to have a little more privacy with their firearms transactions, 80% lowers are a great outlet. However, it is illegal to build 80% lower firearms and sell them without an FFL license. While it is great to take advantage of 80% lowers, it is also important to do so in a responsible way.