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Despite some public perception to the contrary, the United States does have some very strict laws in regards to the manufacture and sale of firearms. And the state has just sentenced one man for violating those laws and, in doing so, has sent a message about where they stand on so-called “ghost guns.”

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The term ghost gun is used to describe a gun that is manufactured by an individual. It is perfectly legal to make a gun yourself, and you don’t have to give it a serial number or register it with law enforcement.

Making functional firearms is somewhat complicated. Yet there are companies that will supply you with tools, materials, and instructions. And they will complete up-to 80% of the work on the piece of the gun considered (by the ATF) to be a “firearm.”

For most pistols, this would be the lower portion–the one piece that the grip is built into. For AR-15s and other rifles, it is what’s referred to as the “lower.”

Everything else can be bought and sold at any store. So barrels, magazines, triggers, pieces and parts…, as long as you make (or finish making) the part that ATF classifies as a firearm, you can build a gun for your personal use. Just don’t plan on selling it.

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This is where we come back to California. A Sacramento man is facing three years in prison for “unlawful manufacture of a firearm” and “one count of dealing firearms.”

As Ars Technica reports

“Last year, Daniel Crowninshield pleaded guilty to those counts in exchange for federal prosecutors dropping other charges. According to investigators, Crowninshield, known online as “Dr. Death,” would sell unfinished AR-15 lower receivers, which customers would then pay for him to transform into fully machined lower receivers using a computer numerically controlled (CNC) mill. (In October 2014, Cody Wilson, of Austin, Texas, who has pioneered 3D-printed guns, began selling a CNC mill called “Ghost Gunner,” designed to work specifically on the AR-15 lower.)”

It isn’t illegal to sell unfinished lowers. It is illegal to finish them, then sell them, unless you go through the process of being licensed by the federal government.

Yet there’s another element here that is causing controversy.

According to a Department of Justice press release:

Generally, the manufacturing at C&G Tool would proceed as follows: prospective gun buyers would purchase an AR-15 blank and take it to C&G Tool where a skilled machinist would mill the blank into an AR-15 lower receiver. According to federal law, a person may manufacture a firearm for personal use without including a serial number on the firearm, provided that the firearm is not sold or transferred to another person. Otherwise, to manufacture a firearm requires a license from ATF, and a firearm that is transferred to another person must bear a serial number.

According to court documents, in order to create the pretext that C&G customers were building their own firearms, the skilled machinist would have the customer press a button or put his or her hands on a piece of machinery so that the customer could claim that the customer, rather than the machinist, made the firearm.

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Crowninshield advertised his services on at least one online firearm enthusiast forum. This website mainly consists of forums where people ask and answer questions related to firearms. Using the moniker “Dr-Death,” he was a prolific poster on the website. Additionally, other members frequently posted about Dr-Death, including review of service provided and recommending that other users visit his shop.

Special Agent in Charge Jill A. Snyder, of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, wrote in the ATF’s statement last week that Crowninshield “owned and operated a machine shop where he allowed customers with unknown backgrounds to use his machinery to unlawfully manufacture firearms for profit. That activity posed a very dangerous threat to the safety of our communities.”

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