Letter Re: What is The Big Deal About Pre-1899s and 80% Complete Receivers?

Jim –
I guess I am thickheaded and missing something here. What difference does a pre-1899 or a 80% finished firearm make? Are you trying to tell me that the jackbooted thugs of the ATF will stop, examine the rifle, determine that it is legally not a firearm, and not steal/confiscate it from you? Got it, no 4473/record of it, but neither is there one between private individuals either, so why pay $120 for a pre ’98 barreled receiver, when I can get a complete working Mauser for that? I’m not trying to be ugly here – just really don’t get it – got any crayons to draw me pictures? – B.

JWR Replies: I wasn’t talking about immunity from seizure. Jackbooted thugs exercising arbitrary enforcement power under color of law could (and do) seize BB guns and kitchen knives if they feel like it. Seizures still happen even when licenses and accurate legal cites are waved right in the faces of  ATF agents. Rather, I’m talking about avoiding PRISON. Let me explain: The biggest advantage of pre-1899s comes someday in the future, when possessing any unregistered “firearm” becomes a felony. Owning a pre-1899 “antique” (such as those sold by The Pre-1899 Specialist) could mean the difference between going to prison for five years, or not. You will have NO adequate defense in court if the”unregistered firearm” that is seized is modern–and hence inside Federal jurisdiction. In contrast, you will have a nearly perfect defense if the gun is a Federally exempt antique–and hence can be easily proven to be outside of Federal jurisdiction. Unless our system of law totally fails, the court will apologize and send you home, and you will get you gun back. Case dismissed. That is a huge difference.

Even if there is just the outside chance that nationwide (Federal) gun registration will be enacted in our lifetimes, isn’t it worth $100 to $200 dollars difference in purchase price for the opportunity to own one or two guns that you won’t have to register or bury in PVC pipe, along with all of the rest?  I consider that cheap insurance, when the alternative is a felony conviction, prison time, (and the stigma attached–including job hiring diminution), and forfeiture of your right to vote. Read through my Pre-1899 FAQ and ponder the possibilities.

Similarly, doing “home builds” with 80% complete receivers (such as those made by KT Ordnance) also has its advantages. Consider those readers in states (such as California and New Jersey) where mandatory registration of nearly all firearms is required, and private party transactions have been outlawed. They don’t have a handy time machine to jump in and go buy a battery of modern firearms, back before their state laws changed. But they still have the chance, under current law, to legally obtain some modern firearms without any paperwork. Again, the advantage is staying within the law, and therefore creating immunity from prosecution. If your alternative is filling out a Form 4473, then build it yourself. Avoid the paperwork. Stay legal. And BTW, you will learn a lot about gunsmithing in the process. That is a valuable skill.

As I often say, there are three kinds of people in the world: The people that make things happen, the people that watch things happen, and the people that wonder “what the heck happened?”  It is no wonder that the price of shootable pre-1899 cartridge guns is starting to ratchet upward. People that are “in the know” are gobbling them up, whenever they hit the market. (For example: Dennis Kroh, who operates Empire Arms has found that guns immediately sell out, every time that he catalogs anything pre-1899 that is chambered in a caliber that is still factory made.) By doing your homework, and not hesitating to stock up now, on things that are legal, and while they are sill affordable, you will be proactive rather than reactive. It is analogous to someone consulting a tax specialist and taking advantage of perfectly legal tax loopholes. There is a big difference between that and simply just “not filing” The later approach lands folks in prison.

Disclaimers: I’m not an attorney. Laws change frequently. They also vary widely from state to state. So do your research before purchasing a pre-1899 antique or before completing an 80% receiver. Also, keep in mind that none of the preceding applies to short barreled rifles (less than 16″), short barreled shotguns (less than 18″), machineguns, or so-called “destructive devices.” These all fall under Federal taxing jurisdiction under current law, regardless of their origin or date of manufacture. (Yes, I know, there are a few exceptions such as short-barreled C&R Winchester “Trapper” short barreled rifles, but that requires scrupulous research and keeping documentation.)