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How to Legally Finish an 80% Lower in CA

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In keeping with our theme of helping legislation-embattled black rifle owners (or prospective builders) on the west coast, we’re going to detail how to legally finish an 80% lower in CA. Thankfully, yes, you can still buy, ship to your front door, and own an 80% lower in California. It is not considered a firearm, whatsoever. It is no different than a piece of rather high-quality, crumpled up tin foil.

Easy Jig Gen 2 with Tooling - (AR-15 / AR-9)

The Easy Jig Gen 2 is our most popular 80% lower jig. It's 100% legal to own and use in CA, and in every other state - no FFL or paperwork required.

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However, (if you live in California) the moment you finish that trigger housing and complete the extra 20% of machining required to make your 80% lower into a fully functional, legally-defined-as-a-firearm AR 15 lower receiver, you become subject to state laws. What exactly are those laws? Let’s find out:

What it Takes to Finish an 80% Lower in CA:

First thing’s first, all 80% lowers built and owned in the state of CA must be serialized. This is not the case in other states, mind you, so ignore any online research claiming otherwise. You must have a serial number on your 80% lower. This relatively new requirement is contained in California legislation passed in July of 2016 (AB 857). It states all home-built lowers need to have a serial number by January 1, 2019.

Engraving Requirements of 80% Lowers Built in CA:

Here’s what you need to have engraved on your finish 80% lower to make it CA-legal:

  1. Markings must be at least .003” deep
  2. Font size must be at least 1/16”
  3. Markings must use Roman letters and Arabic numbers
  4. Markings must include the serial number
  5. Markings must include the weapon model
  6. Markings must include the caliber
  7. Markings must include the maker’s name
  8. Markings must include the city and state of manufacture

Engrave your 80% Lower BEFORE Building!

Engraving at home can be messy and expensive, and if you walk into a CNC shop or a gun store and ask anyone to engrave your unmarked lower – well, they may not even want to touch it. It’ll technically be an illegal weapon. Engrave your lower before you machine it, before it is considered a firearm.

Premium 80% Lower Fire/Safe Marked Billet (1-pack)

Our Premium 80% lower is easy to machine. It's also 100% legal to own and build in CA with no paperwork. It ships straight to your front door, too!

You Can Make Your Own Serial # Until July 1, 2018

If you want to build your own 80% lower and not register it with the California Department of Justice, start building now. Once July 1, 2018 hits, you won’t be able to pick your own serial number – you’ll need to apply for one through the CA DOJ. That means registering your lower in their serial number database. That also means paying a fee and going through the legal hoops before building your lower.

Now, here’s the deal. Can the CA DOJ actually prove you built your 80% lower after July 1, 2018, and that it is therefore subject to the requirements of this legislation? We’ll leave you to decide that. Keep it in mind.

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Once a Rifle, Always a Rifle

80% lowers are not considered pistols or rifles by any legal definition once they’re finished. They’re simply “firearms”. However, the second you configure that firearm into a weapon defined by CA law, you get into sticky situations. In California, an AR 15 rifle is always a rifle. That means if you take a finished 80% lower that was once a rifle, and turn it into an AR pistol, it is illegal. By definition, it is considered an SBR or assault weapon.

Decide what you want to use your 80% lower for first, and stick with that choice. If you want to build an AR pistol in CA, we detail those steps here. Otherwise, stick with a rifle upper and CA-compliant rifle parts kit. Never convert it back to a pistol or anything else. Can you get away with it? Maybe. We don't think it's worth the risk.

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