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11,913 Posts
Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
AK build and modification legalities

Considering many frequently asked questions, how about making this a sticky?

First, the requisite disclaimers that are necessary in today's world:
This should not be construed as professional legal advice. This is the result of years of accumulating knowledge on the subject. Legal advice will confirm these laws but here they are all in a straightforward form so you know what to confirm should you require professional legal counsel.

Here's a basic summary of the four major federal gun laws:

1934: National Firearms Act (NFA) - Forces rifles, shotguns, and pistols into narrow categories based on length of barrel and overall, and the presense of a stock.
If built as a rifle it must have a barrel length of at least 16" (including any permament attachment to the barrel) measured from the bolt face with the bolt closed. Stick a rod down the barrel and measure how deep it goes, and then add a bit for good measure, that's how the BATF measures it.
If built as a pistol, it must never have ever had a buttstock attached ever, and the receiver must have been built as a handgun or undefined before being built into a handgun. It may not have a vertical foregrip, otherwise it's in another NFA category called an AOW (a rifle may have one with no problem).
The NFA also restricts silencers. Shortening the barrel beneath 16" or owning any silencer requires a $200 tax be paid to the ATF and registration submitted BEFORE the fact. There is no way to legally make an AK fully automatic, though the parts are out there in abundance. It is also restricted under the NFA but has been illegal period since 1986. It is also frequently unsafe as some full auto mods to the AK involve disabling mechanisms that prevent it from firing out of battery (a very dangerous thing).
In summary: Keep your AK barrel at 16", overall length 26", or build as a pistol on a "virgin" receiver, and leave full auto to the licensed manufacturers and government agencies. If you must have a sub 16" barrel or a silencer, do it the legal way with NFA paperwork before the fact.

1968: Gun Control Act (GCA) - Places requirements on firearms ownership and creates authority for importation restriction. No specific restrictiosn based on features but it creates the powers later used to make subsequent abusive restrictions based on features.

1989: Import Ban - Creates a blank check for the executive to ban any imported guns not considered "sporting". Reasons for banning dramatically increased during the Clinton Administration. Every couple years they added something on, so you'll find plenty of grandfathered guns that predate one redefinition or another, from banning pistol grips, bayonets (not lugs), folding stocks, then later to military magazines. Examples of these include the SKS-M (AK magazine model), the Norinco MAK-90, several Romanian AK models, certain variants of the FAL and G3, and SKSs placed into aftermarket thumbhole stocks with their bayonets removed. If you get one you cannot change its features and still comply with this law.
The good news is that this law can be avoided by making your gun count as US made. At one point, a person could assemble a banned rifle from imported parts without trouble. At another point, any imported part made a rifle count as imported and subject to restrictions. In order to prevent easy assembly from parts but not criminalize a German screw in your AR-15, they came up with a list of 20 parts that count. Of these 20 parts, one may have ten or less for it to count as US made. If the gun never had it to begin with, you're basically one part ahead. This list consists of:
1. Barrels (not commercially available, but can be custom made)
2. Receivers (US receivers available)
3. Muzzle attachments (present on some, US made available)
4. Barrel extensions (only US available, usually not present)
5. Bolts
6. Bolt carriers
7. Gas pistons (US available in many varieties)
8. Operating rods (Doesn't count on AK)
9. Trunions (only on stamped AKs, not milled)
10. Triggers (US available, many varieties, usually in set with hammer and disconnector)
11. Trigger housings (not counted on AK)
12. Sears (not on semi-auto AK)
13. Disconnectors (US available, many varieties)
14. Hammers (US available, many varieties)
15. Buttstocks (US available, many varieties)
16. Pistol grips (US available, many varieties)
17. Handguards (US available, many varieties)
18. Magazine bodies (US available)
19. Magazine floorplates (US available)
20. Magazine followers (US available)
You can see that a plethora of US parts are available for AKs. A stamped AK with a muzzle attachment needs 6 parts replaced. Shave off one for a milled receiver and one for lacking a muzzle attachment. Also remember that if using magazine parts for compliance, each mag you put in the rifle must have those same US parts. Choosing other parts to replace allows you to use any foreign mag. Also note that pistols are not addressed by features under that import law, so a pistol build does not require US parts (though I recommend them due to their quality.)

1994: The Assault Weapon Ban (AWB) - Regardless of the claims of the media, this has nothing to do with full automatics. This banned semi-automatics not by features, but by combinations of features. It affected shotguns, pistols, and rifles differently.
For a rifle, it said that:
Any semi-automatic rifle with a detachable magazine could legally have only one of the following features:
1. Pistol grip (thumbhole stocks were found to be p-grips in 1996, but accepted still as "sporting" pistol grips for import. Thus MAK-90s made it into the country but still had their one banned feature used up.)
2. Folding stock
3. Bayonet lug
4. Flash hider or threads for one
5. Grenade launcher
For a handgun it said that:
Any semi-automatic pistol with a detachable magazine could have only one of the following features:
1. Magazine outside the grip
2. Forend/handguard (horizontal only, vertical would make in an NFA AOW)
3. Threaded barrel
4. Weight over 50oz unloaded
5. Being a semi-auto version of a full auto gun (I think this may have been struck down in court.)
It also banned new manufacture of magazines over 10 rounds. Rifles, pistols and magazines that existed before that law that would otherwise be in violation were grandfathered, but resultantly went up in value due to their numbers being limited by the ban. It effectively banned folding stocks because having one is practically impossible without a pistol grip as well. It also effectively banned AK pistols due to their weight, magazine location, and forend (a lightweight version like the OA-93 and Carbon 15 was not developed). The only exceptions had peculiar fixed magazine setups. The AWB expired in September 2004, but some states adopted it as their own before then. NY is an example.

So there it is. All but a rare few current production AKs must have 10 or less listed imported parts. The options are plentiful for a customized AK, but make sure you do it correctly.

Be advised that many states have laws on top of the federal ones, so be aware of possible complications they cause before thinking you're good to go.

Keep your guns legal, your shooting responsible, and your homes safe!

And if anything I've written is in error please correct me and I'll edit.

11,913 Posts
Discussion Starter #2
And as my first act as mod of this section, I declare this a sticky.

11,913 Posts
Discussion Starter #4
Thanks, GR, whoever you may be. ;)

On many forums, FAQ threads get filled with complicated, confusing, and even hijacking replies. To keep the info clear and concise, I think it's a good idea to lock this thread. If you have information you believe should be included, I would be more than happy to reopen the thread for that purpose. For more specific questions and ideas, post new and exciting threads! :)

11,913 Posts
Discussion Starter #5
Recently, ATF has reinterpreted the '89 import ban to extend to importation of all receivers and barrels generally used for "non-sporting" guns. They were until recently imported as "repair and replacement" parts for their importation, but the end use was up to you. They have now rescinded that allowance and one can no longer import any barrels of a non-sporting AK.

What this means:
Complete AK based rifles currently imported still can be, because as complete rifles they had to be imported in a "sporting" configuration. This means the WASR-10 rifles come in with single stack mags and Saigas come in with sporter stocks and proprietary mags. It is US companies that then modify them with requisite US parts as US rifles, using the foreign gun basis basically as a donor gun for their end product.

Parts kits that are here still can be. Existing import permits will be valid to a certain date. No new permits for importation will be approved. This means that by now, the barrels that are here are all there is, and you may build any legal gun that you could before.

Now this does NOT ban all parts kits, only the barrels. Receivers, which would originally be full auto anyway, come cut. Future kits would have to have barrels cut in the same manner. We could concievably continue to make AKs using US made barrels. But in order for this to happen, importers would have to arrange for this to be done. This means investing with less of a market. This on the one hand would make available more kits with bad bores, on the other hand would make more work per kit to make US legal. This would only appear economical to importers if there were US made barrels available to build with.
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