There are plenty of reasons shooters are looking for pistol frames. Thinking about making your own pistol from scratch with a jig and a build kit? Going to buy the frame finished and assemble it with a parts kit? Thinking about swapping out a heavier steel frame with a compatible polymer pistol frame? All of these concerns apply.
Do you know what else applies? Whether or not you need to buy the pistol frame through an FFL, submit the proper paperwork, and for a background check through the NICS system.
It’s a valid question. Let’s peel back some of the layers.
Is It Finished? Or Is It an “80% Frame”?
This is the most important question you should ask, but it’s not the only question you should ask.
First off, let’s get one thing clear right out of the gate. The ATF is responsible at the federal level for defining what is and is not a firearm. For pistols that are constructed around frames and have their frames serialized, the pistol frame itself is the part that the ATF considers the firearm.
If you take apart the gun, it’s the frame that’s the “gun,” and federal law regulates the frame as a firearm. If the frame is finished, then yes, you need to buy it through an FFL. It’s considered a firearm, much like an AR’s lower receiver, or the receiver of nearly any other firearm.
However, some producers sell pistol frames that are known as 80% frames. These are not fully machined and cannot be used to assemble a functional firearm. Therefore, the ATF does not regulate them as firearms and you do not need to buy one through an FFL.
In fact, you can’t really buy one through an FFL because FFLs don’t consider them to be firearms. It would just be a regular transaction and not the purchase of a gun.
However, you need to keep reading because you need to know more about this: some states impose strict regulations, and others outright ban on 80% frames.
Where Do You Live?
At the current time (2021) there are several states that have imposed strict regulations on “pistol frame blanks,” making it illegal to possess, buy, transfer, manufacture, or alter them.
Legislation is in a constant state of flux, but at this time, 80% frames are illegal or heavily regulated in the following states:
– New Jersey
– California (with some exceptions)
– Rhode Island
– Washington D.C.
– Washington State
– New York State
That means that in these states, you can not only not buy an 80% frame through an FFL but you cannot buy one at all and possession may be punishable by harsh criminal penalties.
It should also be noted that the above list is not complete and that laws and legal precedents are changing all of the time. Nothing in this post may be construed as legal advice. ALWAYS do your own research and consult a lawyer before attempting to take possession of a pistol frame or 80% frame to be completely sure you are in compliance with all applicable laws.
Remember also that there may be other state and local laws that restrict the purchase of pistol frames or frame blanks – always seek legal counsel beforehand.
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can create a custom build with a pistol frame, or how to know whether a frame is compatible or not with your platform, check out what’s in stock at Sarco, Inc. at SarcoInc.com or by contacting them at 610-250-3960.