Confused by all these new laws and what makes an AR-15 “featureless” so you might not have to register it as an assault weapon (AW)?
A featureless rifle is one that does not have any of the following: pistol grip, thumbhole stock, telescoping or folding stock, flash hider, grenade or flare launcher, or forward pistol grip. A featureless rifle allows the use of detachable magazines and lawfully owned standard-capacity magazines.
*UPDATE* Jan 9, 2017 with a TLDR section on the new California Assault Weapon laws.
A little confused? We’ve got you covered.
Learn exactly what makes an AR-15 “featureless,” how it allows the use of the magazine release and larger magazines, and how to build one with recommendations for appropriate grips, stocks, and muzzle devices.
Disclaimer that this is not legal advice and you should double-check everything, especially since the laws surrounding this always seem to be in flux. I’m also writing this mostly towards residents in California, but New York residents can also benefit.
What Makes an AR-15 “Featureless”
First, let’s go over what makes an AR “featureless” before diving into the laws.
This works for other semi-auto centerfire rifles but I’m using the example of the AR-15 since it’s the most popular.
Please download the flowchart as well as following along with my emphasis edits (in poop brown) below:
- Start: Begin here and if you bought your rifle at a legit FFL, it should pass everything with flying colors as you move down with the brown line.
- Section A: Here is where it gets interesting for rifles…whether or not it can have a detachable magazine. Most FFL bought new rifles take the “No” detachable magazine path to Section B.
- Section B: You might have heard of the term “bullet button” which is just a branded name for magazine locks that require a tool (and a bullet is considered a “tool”) to remove the magazine. When you just use your finger…you cannot release the magazine like normal. The .gif shows some ingenuity in adding a little protrusion to the bottom of a magazine to active the bullet button.
- Section C+D: This is where “featureless” comes into play since we will not have the features dictated in CCR 11 § 5469 and Penal Code § 30515.
- Pistol Grip
- Thumbhole Stock
- Folding/Telescoping Stock
- Grenade Launcher or Flare Launcher
- Flash Suppressor
- Forward Pistol Grip
Still with me?
Things You Can’t Have on a Featureless Rifle
What you see on all normal AR-15’s. It allows you to hold it in a pistol fashion where the web between the thumb and the finger rests below the exposed trigger when firing. Yea…I had to think about that for a minute too.
This monstrosity below is an example of a thumbhole stock where the thumb of the trigger hand can go through the stock when firing.
The folding stock allows you to fold the stock over to the side so the overall gun is much smaller when not in use. While the telescoping stock is very standard and more often known as a collapsible stock.
Grenade Launcher or Flare Launcher
The big tubes underneath the standard barrel. Not seeing a whole lot out there, so yea…
Device attached to the front muzzle that reduces the flash from shooting. They are mostly for preventing the user being blinded by the flash at night, rather than hiding the flash from spectators, although that happens too.
There’s a lot of muzzle devices, and the big difference is that flash suppressors have a bigger cavity at the exit end than the bullet caliber when compared to muzzle breaks or compensators.
Flash suppressors usually come in two flavors…birdcage and multi-prong.
Forward Pistol Grip
Commonly known as the vertical foregrip since they can be grasped in a pistol-like fashion.
Why Would I Want a Featureless Rifle?
Seems like you miss out on a lot of cool stuff, so why would you want a featureless AR-15?
The big reason was hidden above in Section A…the ability to not have a bullet button and use your magazine release as it was intended.
And for those who have standard/high-capacity magazines, you are only allowed to use them in “featureless” builds. Bullet-button rifles have a maximum of 10 round magazines.
However, this is set to change in California with the new Gunmageddon Laws. Now the primary bonus of making a featureless rifle is so you do not have to register it as an assault weapon.
Those standard/high-cap magazines I talked about above…they are illegal in CA as of July 1, 2017.
California Assault Weapon Laws (2017)
Again, I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. Also, this doesn’t cover all the “Gunmageddon Laws,” just the main ones that deal with AR-15’s and featureless rifles.
- As of January 1, 2017, you can no longer buy/make/import the standard bullet-buttoned AR-15 as we know it since it is now an assault rifle. The definition of a “fixed magazine” was changed from having to use a tool to something that requires disassembly of the firearm action.
- For those of you who got one before…you have until January 1, 2018 to either register it as an assault weapon or make it featureless. Or you can also surrender it, sell it outside of CA, etc…basically stuff you probably don’t want to do.
- Registration is here (currently not up) and costs around $20.
- If you register, there’s all sorts of fun things that come along with it…travel restrictions, inability to sell in CA, inability to lend, inability to transfer to family even if you die, etc. Essentially it will die with you.
- However, if you make a registered assault weapon (RAW) into a featureless one, you should be able to “de-register” it later.
- More info here and here.
Featureless & New Bullet Buttons
- You can avoid registering as an assault weapon if it no longer meets the requirements…aka a “featureless” build. Find out how to do that after this law section.
- You should also be able to keep the evil features and not register if you adhere to the new definition of “fixed magazine”…aka use one of the new bullet buttons that require disassembly of the action such as the Patriot Mag Release and the ARMagLock.
- I haven’t tried them out yet but I’d like to wait and see what happens to the laws near the end of 2017. Since you have until Jan 1, 2018 to register or put on the new kind of bullet button.
AR Pistols & 80%-ers
- AR pistols must follow the new laws PLUS not have a threaded barrel nor handguards. So you’ll have to pin/weld an approved muzzle device and somehow not have handguards. Basically…you’ll have to register or use the new type of bullet button.
- 80% builds are still legal. But you have to stay afloat the new laws. Any new builds cannot be made into an AW. AB 857 requires that by Jan 1, 2019 all completed firearms have a serial number. If you engrave prior to July 1, 2018, you do not need to notify any government entity. But if you do it after, you’ll have to apply to the state (pay fees, get a serial number, etc). More info here.
Ready to build or upgrade (or rather…downgrade) to one?
How Do I Build a Featureless AR-15 Rifle?
Let’s go through each of the features again with our suggestions of how to make them compliant.
A. Flash Hider/Suppressor
On the easier side to fix…just don’t have one.
Opt for a muzzle brake/compensator instead.
If it talks about flash hiding or suppressing in the description, just err on the safe side and don’t get it. Here are three of our favorites that did really well in this muzzle device shootout.
Precision Armament M4-72 Severe Duty: #1 in reducing recoil. ($90)
Competition Muzzle Brake: Based off the venerable Miculek brake. Probably the best bang for the buck. And boy, is it going to bang the eardrums of anyone caught to the side of you. ($18)
I also really like the Strike Industries J-Comp ($26) compensator since it did very well in TTAG’s test…plus it’s affordable.
B. Pistol Grip
The biggest aesthetic and functional change you’ll do in your quest to go featureless.
It might look really odd/ugly, but I’ve found that I quickly adapted to the different grip (almost like a hunting rifle grip) and I don’t find myself at a disadvantage during a match.
Exile Machine Hammerhead Stock: What I use in my featureless builds since it lets you have a hunting rifle grip. Looks funky, but less funky than the other examples. ($30)
Thordsen FRS-15 Stock: Complete kit to solve the issues of the pistol grip and a telescopic buttstock. Pretty much out of stock in most places. ($140)
Solar Tactical Grip Wrap: Kydex wraps for a variety of guns that go around your existing grip. Makes it easier to swap out if you are going out of state. ($40)
Ambidextrous Safety: Highly recommended since all your fingers will be on the right side of the gun so it will be more difficult to engage and disengage the safety. ($18). More models and upgrades in our Best AR-15 Upgrades section.
Many internet people say you can blind pin and epoxy your current collapsible stock so that it can no longer move, but again, I like to err on the safe side with a fixed stock.
A2 Buttstock: Very standard A2 buttstock for a more retro look and with storage compartments. ($60)
Ace Skeleton Stock: One of the lightest stocks out there but still with tons of strength. What I plan on using in my next competition build. ($90)
Blind Pinning and Epoxying: If you really love your current buttstock or really want to save money, you can go ahead with blind pinning and epoxying your buttstock. All it takes is drilling through the buttstock and some of the buffer tube, putting in a roll pin, and epoxying it over. Some people even do it on both sides as an extra measure.
I detail what I did for a new build here: How to Blind Pin an Adjustable Stock
Thumbhole Stock, Grenade/Flare Launcher, Forward Pistol Grip
These last three are easy to take care of…just don’t have them! There’s some debate on whether or not the Magpul AFG is considered a forward pistol grip, but again…I’d just be safe and not have it.
Magpul AFG: Probably not a forward pistol grip since it’s more angeled…but why risk it. ($33)
So there you have it, how to make a “featureless” AR-15 or other rifle in California.