24 Aug 2016

Building the Essentially-Pointless Ghost Gun

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Not a very pretty lower receiver

Andy Greenburg tried making his own completely-unregistered AR-15 lower receiver (the part that the BATF counts as the gun) in a backroom of WIRED’s San Francisco offices.

He found that making one using a drill press and one of those 80% receiver kits out there was beyond his own slender mechanical abilities.

He also tried the 3-D Printing approach, winding up with another receiver rejected by his gunsmith as needing several more hours of clean-up work.

Defense Distributed‘s software and Ghost Gunner $1500 CNC mill worked much better. And with roughly $700 of added mail-order parts, Greenburg had a working unregistered AR-15.

Naturally, as soon as he assembled it, fired it to prove that it worked, and wrote up his feature, breathing heavily with excitement all the way, he went right over to a San Francisco police station and turned in all three (two duds, one working) lower receivers.

The moral? Unregistered AR-15s are awfully expensive. Greenburg’s three efforts cost: $1334 for the failed drill press kit version, $3604 for the 3-D printed version (including printer), and a mere $2272 for the Ghost Gunner version. You can go out and buy a more powerful, more accurate used bolt action sporter for $400-500. You can buy a Ruger Ranch Rifle semi-auto in the same .223 caliber for $650-750.

So why do you need an unregistered AR-15 anyway? Only goofy metrosexual libtards think that the crucial essence of firearms ownership and usage has to do with the ability of the authorities to identify some particular firearm and to trace its ownership.

In reality, after a crime has been committed, it is frequently perfectly obvious that the firearm that was used is that one there, the one lying on the ground. And the provenance of a particular firearm after it has already been used criminally is generally not all that interesting. Commonly, the perp just bought it legally.

Liberals all seem to be living in some odd old-fashioned Agatha Christie mystery in which the identity of the criminal and his motives are completely bound up with the chain of possession of the weapon he used. If Inspector Poirot can find out exactly which pistol was used to dispatch Colonel Mannering in the library, only thus can it be demonstrated that the butler did it, it being the butler’s gun!

Myself, I was over at my local gunsmith’s shop recently, and on the counter were several piles of AR-15 lower receivers. The prettier ones (much nicer than Greenberg’s) were selling for $49. There were less attractive ones for $39. (They would have been registered at the time of sale, of course.)

I thought of buying one, but reflected that I would then need to buy the better part of a thousand bucks worth of barrel, stock, upper receiver, sight, handguard, and trigger group, and came right back to my senses and concluded that I did not need any $49 paperweight.

12 Feedbacks on "Building the Essentially-Pointless Ghost Gun"

Daniel Lewis

The point of buying a lower and building yourself is not to avoid anyone knowing about it, its purely to allow you to build it how you want. There are so many options with an AR-15 that starting with a bare receiver really lets you customize and save while doing it since you are not throwing away the barrel etc of the one you started with.


Obviously Mr. Greenburg screwed up with the drill press. I used a 12 speed bench drill press from Harbor Freight and a cross-slide vise and did a polymer and aluminum 80% lower and they both turned out operational. Disclosure: I took Industrial Arts in High School (46 years ago) and know how to use shop tools. Yeah, I’m 65). I also did a polymer 80% lower with the drill press and a regular table vise and it turned out just fine. $200 + or – for the equipment.
So I have 2 AR-15s with no serial number that the Feds do not have a record of, and for awhile an AR-15 pistol, which has since had the 80% polymer lower replaced with a Spike’s Tactical Crusader Lower as it is due to be registered as a SBR after I submit the Form 1 and get it approved. (easier to use an already serialized lower than make up a bunch of numbers and stuff). I also have a registered 5.56 suppressor I built with only the drill press and a few purchased parts.
“And the provenance of a particular firearm after it has already been used criminally is generally not all that interesting. Commonly, the perp just bought it legally.”

The point is that if you know what you are doing and have experience with shop tools and machines, it is cheaper to build your own custom AR and nobody knows you have it.


Building a gun the government doesn’t know anything about is pointless to you?

“Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen.”


“… need to buy the better part of a thousand bucks worth of barrel, stock, upper receiver, sight, handguard, and trigger group …”

How about $400 with the upper, barrel etc already assembled and headspaced?

Your article lost relevance when you revealed your ignorance of market prices.


I’m in my 60s. I have lots of guns acquired before 1968, inherited from my father, or purchased from private parties and never registered.


It’s true that I’m not particularly expert on AR-15s, but I have occasionally priced all the bits needed when toying with the idea of building one, and they seem to approach the upper three figures when I add them up. I have seen very cheap ARs priced lower, but the reviews of those were very negative.


Where I live, finished lower receivers are very cheap.


Not sure what you mean by “registered” in this case. Registration of firearms is required in only a few US jurisdictions so the vast majority of guns in this country are “unregistered”. A pre-transfer background check is not the same as registration although it does indicate when and to wh a gun is transferred. I assume the point here is that you’ve created something entirely off the books.


The background check that is required to buy a gun is ‘probably’ a defacto registration. If I remember correctly the government told us that the paperwork to verify the buyers background would be destroyed within a few days of buying the gun. I don’t know if that was ever true, that is I believe they lied and always intended to ‘register’ every gun bought with a background check. But even assuming that they intended to destroy the records I now believe they do not and that if you purchased any gun that required a background check that your gun is ‘registered’ and so are you.


Suspect you’re right about that. Thus the push for “universal” background checks. They’ll always know where each gun is at any given time.


Cheap Harbor Freight Drill press that I already owned, a reusable jig, and $39 paperweights. They all work just fine.

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