Homemade Guns: Legal, Unregistered and Can Kill

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This morning, this gun didn't exist. It was just a pile of metal parts.

This AR-15 was built from a kit you can buy online. It can shoot 45 rounds a minute. It has no record of sale and no serial number. The government has no clue it exists. And that's just how Dimitri Karras wants it.

“Our goal was to get as many of these onto the streets as humanly possible,” he said. “In my opinion, an armed society is a just society and every time someone builds one of these guns, our society gets a little more justice inside of it.”

In Oceanside, Calif., Karras has made a big business out of selling kits that are easily turned into guns. And because of the way the gun laws work, no background check is required.

He sells gun parts to people like Perry Williams.

“I do assemble my own rifles, it's my right,” said Williams. “Basically, we're entitled to create our own firearms.”

It's true. You can legally build a gun as long as you don't sell it or give it away. And now, with ready-to-order gun kits and instructional videos online, it's easier than assembling an IKEA dresser.

It all goes back to the Gun Control Act of 1968, which defines what a firearm is. A rifle, as far as the government is concerned, is this. It's called the receiver, which connects the mechanical parts and makes the gun go boom.

Receivers are tightly regulated. They're stamped with serial numbers and registered with the Feds. You need to pass a background check to buy one. Unless you buy one that's not quite finished. One that needs just a couple more holes drilled in it. That's called an unfinished, or 80 percent, receiver. And the law says, it's not a gun. It takes about 45 minutes at a drill press to do the job.

While Karras sells everything you need to make a gun at his shop, he is not a licensed firearms dealer. And he says he doesn't need to be. He says he'll sell 75,000 unfinished receivers this year, mostly online. No background checks necessary, meaning anybody can buy one.

But a joint Fusion/Univision investigation shows that weapons like the one we shot are going to criminals.

They're arming gang members in L.A., cartels in Mexico, even a mass murderer. Last June in Santa Monica, Calif., John Zawahri killed five people with this weapon. Zawahri tried to buy a gun, but failed the background check. So he bought the parts online, and built his own assault rifle.

The ATF says these guns are popping up at crimes scenes. So it's turning its attention to the trade in unfinished receivers. Last year the ATF raided gun parts stores across California. Two men were charged with illegally manufacturing and selling AR-15s built with unfinished receivers. The ATF confiscated 345 guns.

In March, just two weeks after Fusion/Univision interviewed him, the ATF raided Karras’ stores. He says they seized about 6,000 unfinished plastic receivers, just like the ones he showed us. He told us that the government considers the plastic ones are too close to being a finished receiver. But he's still in business, and, he believes, he's already succeeded.

“I would be willing to bet that there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of these receivers that are actually in this country right now,” he said. “And so it's one of those things that they could pass whatever laws they want, these things are out there and like I said, an armed society is a just society.”