Christopher Cook, of Bakersfield, agreed to forfeit to the United States approximately 3,804 polymer AR-15 lower receivers manufactured in violation of federal firearms laws, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced. AR-15 lower receivers are classified as firearms under federal law.
The AR-15 style rifle is composed of both an upper and lower receiver. The lower receiver contains the trigger control group, hammer and firing mechanism, and contains mounting points for the upper receiver. Federal law classifies AR-15 lower receivers as firearms and, thus, requires that they must be manufactured with serial numbers by a licensed manufacturer, and that they can only be sold by a licensed firearms dealer. In addition, dealers must perform background check on prospective buyers before they can be sold. The unregulated sale of unserialized AR-15 style firearms assembled using similar lower receivers has been a focus of several recent criminal prosecutions in the Eastern District of California.
According to documents filed by the Government in the civil forfeiture case, Christopher Cook manufactured and sold unserialized polymer AR-15 lower receivers online and from his retail store in Bakersfield. Cook also distributed his product to other dealers who sold them at gun shows. Cook’s lower receivers were made of polymer and contained cavities with different color polymer, making it easier for purchasers to mill out the cavities and convert the lower receiver to an operational firearm. Cook holds a dealer’s license and was trained on the laws governing the manufacture and sale of firearms. Cook does not, however, have a manufacturer’s license.
Starting in January 2014, undercover federal agents purchased approximately 33 lower receivers directly from Cook’s retail store, through his company’s online store, or from one of his distributors. Not one of the lower receivers purchased by undercover agents were serialized for later identification, nor did Cook or his distributors initiate background checks. In April 2014, federal agents executed warrants at Cook’s business and personal residence, seizing the 3,804 lower receivers. According to the Government’s complaint, Cook contracted with a Southern California plastics company to manufacture approximately 40,000 of the multi-colored polymer lower receivers. In the stipulation in which he agreed to the forfeiture of the lower receivers, Cook did not admit to the allegations in the Government’s complaint.
“The construction of high-powered firearms with no serial numbers, and the sale of such firearms with no background checks or other regulatory oversight, has become a serious threat to public safety in this area,” said U.S. Attorney Wagner. “As a result of this agreement, over 3,800 unserialized lower receivers will never hit the streets as components in illegally sold firearms.”
“Targeting the illegal manufacturing and distribution of unfinished lower receivers continues to be a priority for ATF. Keeping these untraceable firearms out of the hands of criminals is paramount to protecting the public,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge Jill A. Snyder.
This case was the product of an investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Assistant United States Attorney Kevin C. Khasigian prosecuted the case.