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Thread: short barreled rifle legality questions

  1. #1
    Boolit Master






    Lloyd Smale's Avatar
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    short barreled rifle legality questions

    I'm thinking of building a 10 inch ar. To be legal can I first buy a lower and register it as a handgun and then buy the upper and convert it to a short barreled rifle or would that then be putting a stock on a handgun? Can I be in possession of a stripped RIFLE lower and a short barreled upper that I intend on using or would I have to first buy the lower get approval and then buy the upper?
    Soldier of God, sixgun junky, Retired electrical lineman. My office was a 100 feet in the air, closer to God the better

  2. #2
    Boolit Master

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    I think in order to buy the lower as a handgun it has to have the upper attached at the time you buy the lower.

    If you buy an 80% you can build it at your leisure.

    I would put a serial # on it and register with the ATF just to cover all the bases.
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    Boolit Master Electric88's Avatar
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    When I discussed this with a dealer who had experience with SBRs and other NFA type things, he had told me that when you buy an AR lower you can register it as a pistol, then convert to SBR or full rifle at your leisure. The only thing he indicated you could not do was register it as a pistol once it had been been registered as either an SBR or rifle. Take that with a grain of salt, as that was a dealer speaking and not someone from the ATF or whatnot.

    Regarding the possession of an upper, I've not heard of the ATF going after people for having uppers sitting around. Technically I suppose they could view it as "intent" to have all of it, but as long as you aren't joining the lower and upper, it would be hard to prove that you would. I've had full rifles sitting in the cabinet beside a short upper, but I also had a pistol brace on order. Again, take it with a grain of salt, but as long as you aren't broadcasting you have everything to make an SBR and aren't putting them together and shooting, you should be fine.

  4. #4
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    My understanding is register as a pistol first, apply for tax stamp then when the stamp comes in, convert to SBR.

    There's debate on shouldering the Sig brace and Shockwave brace as well. Last I heard it was legal. You research and be the judge. I'd never advocate for knowingly breaking any state local or federal law.

    Shooting an 8" AR pistol in 300 BLK is a ton of fun.

  5. #5
    Boolit Master
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hickory View Post
    I think in order to buy the lower as a handgun it has to have the upper attached at the time you buy the lower.

    If you buy an 80% you can build it at your leisure.

    I would put a serial # on it and register with the ATF just to cover all the bases.
    Not exactly. A lower is neither a handgun nor a rifle when you buy it. It's just a lower. What determines whether it is a pistol or rifle is how it is FIRST assembled. If it is first a rifle then henceforth and forever it shall be a rifle and you can't make it a pistol. If you first make it a pistol you can switch back and forth between pistol and rifle configurations as you please. This hasn't always been the case, but there was a lawsuit by T/C regarding the Encore or Contender pistols and this was the eventual outcome.

    My advice is to buy yourself a pistol buffer tube and install it first onto every receiver you ever buy. That way you won't ever have to worry about having assembled an illegal SBR unless you have a rifle stock and a <16" barrel on it at the same time.

    In the case of my 9mm AR, I bought it as an assembled lower in pistol configuration because the uppers were out of stock. When the 16" uppers came back in stock I bought one and swapped in a A2 buttock. But if I ever buy a 10" 9mm upper I can put the pistol tube back on that lower and make it a pistol without any legal worries.

    To answer Lloyd's question: buy a lower and actually physically assemble it as a pistol. Shoot it all you like, then when your stamp comes in just swap out the stock and you're ready to go. Are you planning on engraving your info on the receiver or on the barrel? If you're having the receiver engraved then I recommend you have that done before the stamp is approved. That way you are just having an ordinary gun engraved and you don't have to worry about the transfer of an NFA item. If you wait until after the stamp comes back then it's an SBR and only a SOT can do the work. It's a moot point if you are going to do the engraving yourself.

    My SBR is a somewhat valuable Colt, so I engraved my trust info on the barrel.

    Edit to add: regardless of if you start with an 80% lower, it MUST have a serial number for ATF to approve a stamp and put it into the registry. You can't file a Form 1 and put "none" in the box for serial number.
    Last edited by Elkins45; 01-08-2018 at 09:08 AM.
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    This is a snip from the current 4473 form. When you buy your lower make sure they check the "other" box.
    Last edited by Elkins45; 01-10-2018 at 10:08 AM. Reason: fix image
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    Elkins45 is right. There is NO federal registry of handguns, NFA items such as an SBR has the stamp. Now MICHIGAN where you are located might have and you must follow STATE law also.
    BTW, when I have someone bring in an lower to engrave for NFA info, (trust name, and city, state plus serial number if 80%) they wait in my house till it is done. THEY are in possession of their weapon.

    Do a Pistol and just use the buffer if you are going with 300BO. No need for a brace IMO. (other calibers do)

  8. #8
    Boolit Master popper's Avatar
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    Register the lower as 'other' on the form when you get the lower. Rifle can't be made a pistol. If you intend a pistol, pistol buffer tube only!! No attachment point for stock ( I've heard of OPs welding the screw hole to insure tube cannot have a stock)! Also NO handgrip on the handguard ( there is a small 'rest' some put on theirs). I use a carbine buffer & spring in mine but had to cut a couple coils off the spring to get it to cycle right. You shoot it by cheeking the buffer tube - make sure it has a soft covering. You could get the 'blade' but who knows how long that can be used. It takes a special tube. I've seen lots of 'questionable' builds. You don't really need the handguard.
    Whatever!

  9. #9
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    Ok two points here, #1 first. When you apply for a Form 4, the firearm (or lower) you start from must have the serial number added to the paper form. If you go from an 80%, you have to make up your own identification number. But the configuration of the gun or bare receiver before the build is a non issue. If you wish to use it BEFORE your form 4 is approved, build it as a 10" pistol, with a pistol tube instead of a stock to be legal. I just remove the stock attachment rib from a standard carbine tube if a pistol tube isnt handy. Then, when you get your form 4 back approved, make sure to engrave your form 4 info on the gun by the batfe rules before you install the stock. That does it.

    Issue #2 is the one of intent. Having a short barrel and a assembled rifle lower without a full length barrel may be dicey at times, but with a pending form 4 your "intent" is documented and legal. The batfe doesn't regularly kick down doors looking for intent, so to pursue both the letter and spirit of the law, just wait till the form is filed to build or buy the upper. Or throw a rifle upper on the lower if it has the rifle stošk installed.

    As always though, check with your state laws to make sure they are ok with this. Where I am at in Washington, we can have ar pistols, and legal approved SBR's, but no SBS...
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  10. #10
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    Just put a pistol brace on it and then there is no SBR paperwork. Legal way around the Tax Stamp.

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    Boolit Master
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    What does “register it as a handgun” mean? A MI thing?

  12. #12
    Everytime I've bought a stripped lower, the various dealers recorded it as a pistol IIRC, but maybe that is a Texas thing. Asked once and was told that was so I could keep it as a pistol or use it for a rifle depending on what I wanted to build. Going from pistol to rifle hasn't been an issue for ATF as far as I know, at least there is precedent established with the Thompson Contender. Starting with a rifle and changing to a pistol type configuration (or SBR) requires NFA actions and approval prior to doing so.

  13. #13
    Boolit Master

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    We have an SBR on our NFA trust. We built it as a pistol while we waited for the tax stamp to get approved. Simple as that. When purchased, the lower was listed as "other".

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    that was my understanding of the law. Just wanted to make sure
    Quote Originally Posted by Electric88 View Post
    When I discussed this with a dealer who had experience with SBRs and other NFA type things, he had told me that when you buy an AR lower you can register it as a pistol, then convert to SBR or full rifle at your leisure. The only thing he indicated you could not do was register it as a pistol once it had been been registered as either an SBR or rifle. Take that with a grain of salt, as that was a dealer speaking and not someone from the ATF or whatnot.

    Regarding the possession of an upper, I've not heard of the ATF going after people for having uppers sitting around. Technically I suppose they could view it as "intent" to have all of it, but as long as you aren't joining the lower and upper, it would be hard to prove that you would. I've had full rifles sitting in the cabinet beside a short upper, but I also had a pistol brace on order. Again, take it with a grain of salt, but as long as you aren't broadcasting you have everything to make an SBR and aren't putting them together and shooting, you should be fine.
    Soldier of God, sixgun junky, Retired electrical lineman. My office was a 100 feet in the air, closer to God the better

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    Boolit Master






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    I'm giving more thought to that. It would avoid all the paper work. I would need to spend 30 bucks on a pistol buffer and a 120 for a sig brace. By the way a pistol buffer is not mandatory on an AR pistol. A rilfe buffer tube does not make a gun a rifle. But to use the brace you need a pistol buffer. Wouldn't be a heck of a lot of difference in price but it is a tad cheaper and without having to engrave the lower I could allways use it as a rifle lower down the road if I got bored with the project. Plus I just detest giving the batf money for something that should be free and going through the hastle of getting a passport photo and paying to get fingerprinted when the batf already has both from me when I bought suppressors.
    Quote Originally Posted by tomme boy View Post
    Just put a pistol brace on it and then there is no SBR paperwork. Legal way around the Tax Stamp.
    Soldier of God, sixgun junky, Retired electrical lineman. My office was a 100 feet in the air, closer to God the better

  16. #16
    Boolit Master
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    Just call the ATF and have them explain just exactly what you can and cannot have and the way to do it. This way you can steer away from the "know it alls" that may or may not be up on all the laws. Do it wrong and they will tell you ignorance of the law is no excuse when your being taken off to prison.

  17. #17
    Boolit Master






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    yup but if you "believe" some who have posted on other forms you can call them and talk to two different people and get two different answers. Its why bump fire stocks and the sig brace come with letters from the batf saying there legal. I wouldn't want to rely on the defense that I called the batf and I was told its legal. I doubt your going to find the guy you talked to and I seriously doubt he would remember your call or even tell the truth.
    Soldier of God, sixgun junky, Retired electrical lineman. My office was a 100 feet in the air, closer to God the better

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by 6bg6ga View Post
    Just call the ATF and have them explain just exactly what you can and cannot have and the way to do it. This way you can steer away from the "know it alls" that may or may not be up on all the laws. Do it wrong and they will tell you ignorance of the law is no excuse when your being taken off to prison.
    I would rather trust someone who has a vested interest in knowing the law than trusting the unresearched opinion of whatever random employee gets handed the phone at the ATF. NFA owners can tell you all sorts of stuff where someone from ATF told them it was OK to do something blatantly illegal. Why do they care, they aren’t the ones who suffer the consequences? Spend some time on one of the various NFA forums and you won’t lack for horror stories of bad advice from ATF.

    I know what is/isn’t OK because I have read the regs. I have 10 NFA stamps so it is in my best interest to know exactly what the law allows.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lloyd Smale View Post
    I'm giving more thought to that. It would avoid all the paper work. I would need to spend 30 bucks on a pistol buffer and a 120 for a sig brace. By the way a pistol buffer is not mandatory on an AR pistol. A rilfe buffer tube does not make a gun a rifle. But to use the brace you need a pistol buffer. Wouldn't be a heck of a lot of difference in price but it is a tad cheaper and without having to engrave the lower I could allways use it as a rifle lower down the road if I got bored with the project. Plus I just detest giving the batf money for something that should be free and going through the hastle of getting a passport photo and paying to get fingerprinted when the batf already has both from me when I bought suppressors.
    I’m thinking of putting one of my SBR uppers on a pistol lower for similar reasons. I had to make a serious PITA detour because I remembered I had my SBR in my trunk and was about to drive across the State line into Ohio. You can’t do that without ATF approval, but if it were a pistol it would be no problem.

    Yes, it’s a stupid rule.
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  19. #19
    Boolit Master
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    As a group, owners of NFA items that post on the internet tend to be obsessive about the law and interpretations thereof. I often wonder if these folks always drive the speed limit, ever jay walk, and report and pay sales taxes on out-of-state purchases.

    As pointed out above, that they tend to be obsessive, or maybe just that they like being in a special club with extensive rules and a high barrier to entry, doesn’t make them either well informed or correct.

    I built a pistol with a brace and suppressor, may sbr it some day, but not today.

  20. #20
    Boolit Master Electric88's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elkins45 View Post
    I would rather trust someone who has a vested interest in knowing the law than trusting the unresearched opinion of whatever random employee gets handed the phone at the ATF. NFA owners can tell you all sorts of stuff where someone from ATF told them it was OK to do something blatantly illegal. Why do they care, they aren’t the ones who suffer the consequences? Spend some time on one of the various NFA forums and you won’t lack for horror stories of bad advice from ATF.

    I know what is/isn’t OK because I have read the regs. I have 10 NFA stamps so it is in my best interest to know exactly what the law allows.



    I’m thinking of putting one of my SBR uppers on a pistol lower for similar reasons. I had to make a serious PITA detour because I remembered I had my SBR in my trunk and was about to drive across the State line into Ohio. You can’t do that without ATF approval, but if it were a pistol it would be no problem.

    Yes, it’s a stupid rule.
    Yeah, that's one of the reasons I have held off from building an SBR. I live right on the border of Ohio, and shoot just as much in each state. I don't really care for the annoyance of getting a letter every time I want to shoot somewhere other than in Michigan. Maybe it's laziness, maybe it's playing with fire by using a "brace". Either way, I'm content not going SBR for now.

    At least there is no letter necessary when transporting suppressors. That would really be irritating.

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