How To Build a Featureless AR-15 (Using Only Legal Parts)

In 1989, the state of California signed a bill into law that made it illegal for gun shops to to sell firearms designated as “assault weapons.” Citizens who already possessed such firearms were forced to register them.

Since then, the laws have become even more restrictive. In 2016, House Democrats pushed a massive package of gun reforms which sought to come down hard on the “bullet button,” an industry innovation that circumvented the statute on detachable, swiftly reloadable ammo magazines.

As a result, gun owners in possession of assault weapons had until the end of the year to register any firearms that featured the bullet button.

Suffice it to say, AR-15s were in danger of becoming extinct. They became increasingly harder to find and harder to buy.

Fortunately for avid gun enthusiasts, innovation didn’t stop with the bullet button and today, people are buying and selling featureless AR-15 rifles.

A “featureless” rifle is a rifle that lacks any of the following: thumbhole stock, pistol grip, folding or telescoping stock, flash hider, grenade or flare launcher or forward pistol grip.

A featureless rifle permits the gun owner to utilize a detachable magazine and legally owned standard capacity magazines.

If all of this is a tad perplexing, I’ll help you to understand exactly what I’m talking about.

In the following article, we’ll explore the fundamentals of the featureless rifle and discuss where you can get your hands on a featureless AR-15 in California and New York State.


How Do You Make a Rifle Featureless?

Before we delve into the particulars of the laws against assault weapons, let’s take a look at what makes a rifle featureless.

Bear in mind that this works just as well for other semi-automatic centerfire weapons, but we’ll use the AR-15 as the example since it’s, by far, the most in-demand.

According to California State law, a rifle with a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds is considered an assault weapon. Likewise, if your rifle has a forward pistol grip or flash suppressor, it is categorized as an assault weapon under Penal Code 5469.

Magazine locks (bullet buttons, MAG-Lock, Raddlock, Prince50, Range-Maglok, etc.) are not legally considered detachable which is why many gun owners utilize this feature to get around the existing laws.

BUT, and that’s a big but (no pun intended), legislation is cracking down on the “bullet button” with bureaucrats recognizing it as a way of skirting the laws.

This works because a tool is required in order to remove the magazine. By adding a small protrusion to the bottom of your magazine, you are able to activate the bullet button.

But if you want to keep your rifle featureless in the long term, perhaps the most attractive option of all is the MA loader, a clever variation on the stripper clip which is fed into the ejection port to load your fixed magazine.

image of an MA loaderThe MA lock takes the place of your magazine release button and spring, replacing it with a shear bolt which breaks off after being tightened, making it a semi-permanent mod. It can be drilled out later should you decide to further modify your rifle or restore it to its original state.

If this all sounds at all confusing, keep in mind that it’s actually much simpler than it seems. It’s not so much what the featureless rifle has that makes it featureless so much as what it doesn’t have.


Things That a Featureless Rifle Cannot Have

In order for your AR-15 to qualify as a featureless rifle, it can’t have any of the following:

Pistol Grip

All standard built AR-15s have pistol grips which enable the gun owner to hold their rifle the way they would hold a pistol (with the web between their thumb and forefinger resting below the rifle’s trigger).

By replacing the pistol grip with a “shark fin” grip (semi-permanent Kydex wrap modification), you’ll outfit your AR-15 to be California legal.

Using a forward pistol grip is another faux-pas some people make so avoid forward grips at all costs.

Thumbhole Stock

The thumbhole stock is an ugly and arbitrary feature that serves very little purpose to begin with. It is primarily used so that the thumb of the shooter’s trigger hand can loop through the stock while firing the rifle.

You can easily replace an existing thumbhole stock with a regular fixed stock to avoid the need for registering your AR-15 as an AW (Assault Weapon). Personally, I use an A2 stock. Leapers UTG offers an affordable AR-15 fixed buttstock A2 for around fifty bucks.

It’s a complete kit that comes with a 4.8 oz buffer, an action spring, receiver extension, butt plate, stock spacer and stock screw. It takes all the headache out of the process so all you gotta do is install it on your rifle’s receiver.

Folding/Telescoping Stock

A folding stock enables you to fold the stock over so that your gun is smaller when it’s not in use. A telescoping stock is another name for a collapsible stock. Both are considered restricted under California law.

Again, if you replace one of these with a fixed stock, you should be clear of any legalities.

Grenade Launcher or Flare Launcher

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This is where things get to be a bit of a no-brainer. It should come as no surprise to the responsible gun owner that the powers that be do not want the average citizen to be casually hurling grenades.

These launchers consist of large tubes beneath the standard rifle barrel. If you look around, you won’t really find too many of these on the mainstream market, so it’s really not a concern. But steer clear of purchasing one if you want to remain within the bounds of the law.

Flash Hider/Suppressor

Any device that attaches to the front muzzle of your rifle to reduce flash when shooting falls into this category. Primarily used to prevent the shooter from being blinded by the flash of a projectile at night, it’s also utilized to conceal the flash from interlopers.

Both birdcage and multi-prong flash suppressors are a big no-no if you’re looking to make your rifle featureless. Better you stick with muzzle brakes or compensators.

The best thing you can do to make your rifle featureless is to swap out your flash hider with a brake or thread protector. Alternately, a target crown is a viable alternative to a muzzle device.


Why Would You Want a Featureless AR-15?

Most gun enthusiasts want to maintain the ability to use their rifle for rapid fire. High capacity magazines were previously allowed in featureless rifles, but the so-called Gunmageddon Laws went into effect in Cali as of July 1st, 2017.

For this reason and others, now is the time to get yourself a featureless AR-15 so that you aren’t forced to register your firearm as an AW.

The Gunmageddon Laws

I should be clear that this is not legal advice and I am by no means an expert on the legislation, but here’s the crux of the matter for those who are interested in learning more about the laws and loopholes.

General

  • As of January 1st, 2017, it is illegal to buy/sell/manufacture/import traditional bullet buttoned AR-15s. The definition of a fixed magazine has also been altered from requiring a tool to requiring disassembly of firearm action.
  • Registration is now just $20 and comes with all sorts of fun perks such as travel restrictions, inability to peddle firearms in the State of California and the inability to transfer your firearms to your family members in the event of your death. Essentially, it’s one step away from eminent domain.
  • The one plus side to the law is that, if you have a weapon registered as an assault weapon, and you take measures to make it featureless, you should be able to de-register it after the fact.
  • No less than seven gun laws went into effect on January 1st, 2017, including a bill that makes a non-violent misdemeanor a prohibiting offense, a ban on Constitutionally-protected firearms that feature magazine locking devices (Bullet Button, etc.) and a confiscatory ban (see: that eminent domain crap again) on all lawfully-possessed standard capacity ammo feeding devices.
  • Most unserialized firearms now have to be serialized.
  • “Emergency” large capacity magazine ban regulations have been pulled by the California Department of Justice, but additional regulations may be pushed beyond the extant statutes.
  • Help is out there. DO NOT BEND TO THE WILL OF AN UNCONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNMENT.
  • There are expert gun law attorneys available for consultation. Should you need specific legal counsel, we vouch for the attorney Adam Richards of Rothschild Wishek & Sands LLP at: arichards@rwslaw.com

The 80 Percenters

80% builds remain legal at the moment (be sure to check the laws in your area). 80% doesn’t refer to a rifle but to the lower receiver of your rifle.

Because it’s a lower receiver and not an actual overall rifle, it does not require a serial number.

Important Note: Effective January 1st, 2019, registration will be mandatory on all completed builds. So be sure to engrave your featureless rifle prior to July 1st, 2018 as you will not have to notify any government agencies.

 

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How to Build Your Featureless Rifle

Let’s do a quick recap here since I know how confusing this can all get. If you want to modify your AR-15 to keep it within the bounds of the law, here are the simple steps.

  • Remove Flash Hider/Suppressor
  • Replace Flash Hider with Muzzle Brake/Compensator
  • Remove Pistol Grip
  • Install Hammerhead or Shark Fin Grip
  • Get Yourself a Fixed Stock

To remove your flash hider, you’ll need a barrel block/clamp, a multi-tool or a wrench, and a new crush washer. You may also want to purchase a vice block so you don’t damage any part of your AR.

Some people try to save money by wrapping the upper in leather to prevent the vice jaws from doing damage, but accidents can happen. For the sake of contingency and practicality, it’s best to invest in a polymer vice block that is durable and long-lasting.

There are several helpful and informative YouTube tutorials that help break down the process of flash hider removal such as this one:

The next thing you want to do is replace the flash hider with a muzzle brake. Muzzle brakes, otherwise known as compensators or recoil reducers, can be removed by implementing a barrel wrench and barrel vice jaws.

If your AR is not pinned and you have at least five to six inches of barrel between your gas block and the end of your muzzle, you’ll need some basic tools to get the job done. As previously mentioned, you’ll need a sturdy bench vise, a barrel wrench, barrel vise jaws, a half-inch socket wrench, a half-inch socket extension (2” length minimum), two pieces of 6” wide by 2” tall pieces of cardboard, a bottle of rubbing alcohol and a brass bristled brush.

All of these tools are of high quality and low price. Most of them can be picked up at your local hardware store. The barrel wrench and vise jaws are available online.

Be sure to clear your rifle before starting the removal or replacement process.

Separate the upper from the lower and set the lower receiver aside.

Apply the vise jaws to your bench vise and make sure your vise is open enough to enable you to insert the barrel into the inside of the jaws.

Place the barrel in between the two pieces of cardboard (or, if you go the professional route, apply vice block).

Place the barrel and covering into your vise jaws and tighten the vise so that your barrel is secure. Once you’ve ensured that everything is aligned evenly and that your covering is protecting your barrel from the vise marring your finish, crank down tightly.

Insert the socket extension into your socket wrench, set the wrench to loosen insert the extension into the half-inch hole in your barrel wrench.

Locate the proper cut out on your barrel wrench (there are two to choose from) for your flash hider and insert the wrench on to the flash hider.

Remove the flash hider with your wrench/socket assembly, taking care to make sure that you are loosening. You will inevitably experience some resistance so apply torque.

Remove the flash hider and crush washer and set both aside. Save them for eventual reassembly.

Use the rubbing alcohol and bristle brush to gently clean the threads until they look good as new.

Make sure you don’t get any loctite in your barrel. As a preventative measure, you can run a bore brush through your barrel from chamber to muzzle end.

At this point, you’re ready to install your new muzzle brake. You want to insert a new crush washer on the threads of your barrel. Be sure that the concave end is facing outward in the direction of the muzzle brake. The convex should be pointing back in the direction of the upper.

Delicately thread on the new muzzle brake by hand. Be sure that you are not cross-threading.

When the muzzle brake has stopped turning easily, you’ll know that it has reached the cross washer.

To make sure that nothing comes loose during shooting, you want to crush the washer through a ninety degree turn of the muzzle brake until it’s indexed correctly.

Remove the upper from the vise and inspect the chamber end of the upper with a light. If everything looks ship shape, you’re good to go.

At this point, you want to reassemble and function check your AR. Test fire with the muzzle brake.

Next comes the removal of your pistol grip. This should be easy enough. With most AR models, you’ll need a 3/16” allen screw.

When it comes to installing a shark fin grip, you’ll want to follow the first steps of the muzzle brake installation—unload and safety check your AR-15. From there, you want to remove the magazine, clear the chamber and put your safety on.

Place your AR upside down so that your safety detent doesn’t fall out when removing the grip.

Shine a light inside the grip to locate the screw. Remove the screw and slowly lift the pistol grip up. This will expose the safety detent spring so make sure it doesn’t fall on the floor.

Carefully take out the spring and place it in a safe and secure place that you’ll remember. You’re going to need to put it in your new shark fin grip.

Wiggle your shark fin grip into place on the lower receiver of your AR and gently return the spring into the hole of your new grip, lining it up with the hole on your lower where the detent resides.

From here, you want to insert the screw and lock washer from the original grip into the bottom of your shark fin grip. Tighten the screw, but make sure you don’t overtighten it.

Function check your AR before reloading. If everything seems to be operational, you’re ready to reload and see how the AR shoots with the new grip.

Modifying your AR to have a fixed stock is fairly affordable with most fixed stocks selling for around $55. Cabelas.com has fixed stocks for sale prices starting from $29.99.


“I don’t have time for all that. Can I just buy one?”

The short answer is yes. The truth is, we’re entering into a legal gray area here. That being said, a lot of manufacturers are pouncing on the featureless trend and they’re chomping at the bit to get that volume of California and New York gun sales.

Here are some of the best featureless rifles and featureless rifle kits on the market:

 ProductPriceWhere To Buy
image of Stag Arms 2TF Featureless AR-15Stag Arms 2TF Featureless AR-15$$$
image of Calegalkit's CA Featureless AR15 KitCalegalkit's CA Featureless AR15 Kit$
image of Thordsen Customs' FRS-15 Enhanced Stock KitThordsen Customs' FRS-15 Enhanced Stock Kit$
image of Moriarti California Legal Conversion KitsMoriarti California Legal Conversion Kits$$

Stag Arms’ 2TF AR-15 eliminates the buttstock and the pistol grip right up front. Its removable plate also enables you to use your pistol grip when you’re in a state that permits pistol grip use on an AR-15.

Note: Featureless AR-15 rifles are no longer available from Stag Arms at this time, so you’ll have to seek out third party sellers to obtain one.

The next best thing is a kit or one of the new and approved bullet buttons such as the Partiot Mag which sells for just $45 or the ARMaglock which replaces the typical bullet button and complies with the laws of California, New York, Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey and so on.

If you’re on a tight budget, you can get the Lockdown 222818 AR-15 Mag Well Lock for just $19.99 from Midway USA.

Moriarti offers an array of options for those looking to trick out their rifle to make it featureless. They range from cheap as dirt to obscenely expensive, but all products/packages are top notch.

They include the AR-15 Rifle .22/5.56 Thread Protectors ($14.99) and the mid-range California Compliant AR Rifle Conversion Kit ($170.00) which comes with A2 butt stock assembly, buffer tube, buffer and spring muzzle brake or thread protector (your choice).

Moriarti also sells kydex wraps for your grip and a Magpul PRS GEN3 stock.

For those who don’t consider themselves to be all that handy, there are countless YouTube tutorials that show you how to install the new bullet buttons step by step.


Conclusion

There you have it. This is everything you need to know when outfitting your semi-automatic rifle to avoid those undesirable restrictions.

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