The Journey To An SBR: Getting Started With The NFA

Gun News

Short-barreled rifles are restricted under the NFA, but here’s how to get started with the eForm process so you can legally build an SBR.

I love AKs, particularly those chambered for 7.62x39mm. One of the greatest advantages of this cartridge is how well it performs out of shorter barrels when compared to lighter rounds such as the 5.56 NATO or 5.45x39mm.

This fact is what originally spurred my desire for a short-barreled AK, but for years I was hesitant about going through with registering one as a short-barreled rifle (SBR). Thanks to the proliferation of pistol braces, millions of Americans have been able to enjoy short-barreled firearms without the pain of dealing with the National Firearms Act (NFA). For a while, I was tempted to follow suit, but none of the AK pistol braces on the market appealed to me. After eventually concluding that my short-barreled AK would need a real buttstock, I begrudgingly began to learn about the NFA process.

AK-SBR-angle
Dealing with the NFA is never fun, but the satisfaction of having a real buttstock makes it all worth it.

While the ordeal was time-consuming, confusing and philosophically frustrating, in the end it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Like most Second Amendment advocates, I believe that the NFA infringes upon basic constitutional rights; however, as of 2022, the law is still in effect and must be abided by if one would like to own any of these restricted items without breaking the law.

For the project, I purchased a Romanian WASR Paratrooper and converted it to an SBR on a Form 1 using the ATF’s eForm system. I won’t be walking you through each step of the process, as National Gun Trusts already has an excellent online guide for that, but I will share my experiences with the system and what I had wished I had known before diving into it.

Form 1: To eFile, Or Not To eFile

If you’re interested in manufacturing your own SBR, the process starts with submitting a Form 1 to the ATF. This form is known as the “Application To Make And Register A Firearm.” The word “make” is used here because, in the eyes of the ATF, the conversion of an existing gun into an NFA item constitutes the manufacturing of a new firearm.

Your Form 1 can be submitted either the old-fashioned way via snail mail, or by using the ATF’s online eForm system. I chose the latter, and it streamlined the process more than I was expecting. While some might argue that filing a paper form is the safer way to transmit sensitive personal data, the eForm website is secure and offers several advantages over the traditional method.

In short, eForms not only eliminate shipping times from the equation, but they leave less room for clerical errors as well. If you make a mistake on a paper Form 1, you won’t find out about it until the ATF physically reviews it, denies it and sends it back to you. With eForms, however, most possible mistakes are automatically flagged by the system, and you’re forced to correct them before being allowed to submit. Unless you don’t have internet access, I see no reason to not file via eForm in 2022.

SBR-AK-final-stock-folded

Picking A Project

While it’s possible to sell one’s NFA items, the process is about as complicated as acquiring them. For this reason, when deciding on the base firearm to use for your SBR conversion, you should pick one of relative quality and longevity. This is why, for my own project, I chose to use a Romanian AK.

Romanian AKs have received plenty of valid criticisms over the years over things such as their utilitarian finishes, but nobody would deny that Cugir guns are built like tanks. I had already loved my Cugir WASR-10 for years when I started this project, so I decided to stick with the Romanians for my SBR. In particular, I went with a WASR Paratrooper.

WASR-10-Paratrooper-1
The pre-conversion WASR Paratrooper.

For similar endeavors, many people use a Draco pistol as the base firearm. These are a great choice as well, but I opted to use a WASR Paratrooper instead. The WASR Paratrooper is essentially a Draco that’s imported as a rifle rather than a pistol, and their features suggest that they were designed with Form 1 SBR projects in mind. As rifles, they come from the factory with 16-inch barrels, side-scope rails and standard rear trunnions capable of accepting normal buttstocks.

To convert a WASR Paratrooper into an SBR, one must only chop and thread the barrel. This is a far less arduous task than the rear trunnion conversion required to convert Dracos.

Regardless of whether you’re planning to SBR an AK, an AR or any other style of firearm, just make sure it’s one that’s built to last.

SBR-AK-stock-folded

Taking The Plunge

Once you’ve decided on your base firearm for your SBR project, you’re almost ready to get started filling out your Form 1. I say almost, because there are a few things one should be aware of before starting the process. Without prior knowledge of these details, you’ll likely be forced to pause your application halfway through to straighten things out. If prepared ahead of time, however, filing your Form 1 will be smooth sailing.

Photo: If you’re filing an eForm 1 as an individual, you’ll need to digitally upload a passport-style photo of yourself before submitting the application. This picture can be taken at home as long as it complies with the ATF’s outlined requirements.

Fingerprints: You’ll need to physically mail your fingerprints to the ATF’s NFA division within 10 days of submitting your eForm. The ATF’s guidelines about fingerprint cards are quite particular, so make sure you follow them carefully. There’s more than one way to obtain your fingerprints in the correct format; I used a local gun shop that I knew was familiar with the NFA process. If no such store exists near you, you can also have them taken at your local police station. Because these need to be ready to be mailed off soon after submitting your eForm, it’s a good idea to have your prints ready ahead of time.

Gun Details: Another important note is that part of the Form 1 process includes submitting information specific to the firearm you plan on converting. Because you’ll need to input the gun’s make, model, country of origin, caliber and serial number, you’ll need to have the firearm (or at least its receiver) in hand before completing the Form 1. You’re also required to provide what the weapon’s barrel length and overall length will be post-conversion.

Tax Stamp Fee: The last point worth discussing is the $200 tax stamp fee. This upcharge is the bane of all NFA guns and devices. And, with the eForm, proves a bit tricky as well. One of the first pages of the eForm asks you to select a button that says “Tax Paid ($200)”, despite you not having paid anything yet. Confusingly, this is the correct option. Once you certify the eForm, a new window will appear, allowing you to pay via credit card. Know that if your application is denied, this fee can be refunded.

Soon after successfully submitting your eForm 1, you should receive an email from the ATF with the relevant pages you’ll need to print and mail off. This includes a copy of your Form 1 application for your CLEO (chief law enforcement officer), as well as a cover sheet to be sent to the ATF, along with your fingerprint cards.

Once this is done, it’s time to hurry up and wait.

If you’re lucky, you might get your approval email in less than a month, but be prepared to wait much longer. My application unfortunately got caught in background check purgatory and took a whopping 116 days before it was approved. Sitting at home for this long with a half-completed SBR project is frustrating, but keep in mind that you can’t legally finish the conversion until you’ve received your approved tax stamp.

SBR-AK-stock-extended
Before the installation of extra accessories, this WASR Paratrooper SBR is very similar to a Romanian military PM md 90 carbine.

The Final Steps

Once you see your approved application from the ATF in your inbox, you’re legally allowed to finish the SBR conversion process. Unfortunately for AR owners eager to replace their brace, they’ll still likely need to visit their friendly neighborhood gunsmith. That’s because as the new legal manufacturer of your SBR, its receiver will need to be permanently etched with your name, city and state before you’re technically allowed to “manufacture” it. Anyone with an engraving machine can complete this step, but make sure they abide by the ATF’s technical guidelines about placement and depth.

Get all this behind you, and the true SBR conversion can finally begin. If SBR-ing an AR, the process may be as simple as replacing the pistol brace with a buttstock or swapping the upper for one with a shorter barrel. If converting a gun like an AK, however, more work needs to be done.

SBR-AK-final-stock-extended
The SBR in its near-final form. It’s sporting a BelOMO PK-A Venezuela red-dot sight, Hogue rubber pistol grip, Blue Force Gear Vickers AK sling and a Khyber Customs AKM light mount with a SureFire G2X.

For my WASR Paratrooper, I could’ve chopped the barrel and threaded it at home with a hacksaw and thread die. Because I planned on eventually suppressing it, however, it was best to leave that job to a professional. After finding an AK-centric gunsmith in my area, I paid him to pull the barrel from the receiver and cut it on a lathe to ensure concentricity. I also had him thread the barrel, engrave the required information and install an enlarged magazine catch.

AK-Mag-Catch
AK mag catches can be a pain to replace, so the author had the smith install an FB Radom extended mag release while the gun was already in the shop. This little upgrade makes reloading much easier.

A quick word of advice if you’re thinking about using a Romanian AK to build your own SBR: Cugir’s AKs are known for having issues with barrel concentricity. While not enough of a problem to affect the installation of a standard muzzle device, it’s often enough to cause problems with suppression. In my case, the WASR would support a suppressor when threaded 1/2×28, but not with the standard 14x1LH pitch that I had originally wanted. Shout out to Dave Ruble at the 2nd Amendment gun shop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who caught the issue when he was working on my conversion.

AK-barrel-thread
This barrel wasn’t concentric enough to be threaded 14x1LH and still be suppressed, but the smith managed to make everything properly aligned by going with a 1/2×28 pitch instead.

Claiming Your Prize

After such a long and convoluted process, it almost didn’t feel real when I first brought my SBR home without a 16-inch barrel. What I could feel was how short, light and handy my AK had become. All I had left to do to finish my build was install the accessories I had planned on attaching to it.

Now, the only piece of the puzzle left for my SBR is the addition of a suppressor. That, of course, requires yet another foray into the NFA process. Having done it once already makes the thought of doing it again far less intimidating.

The paperwork, fees and wait times are certainly painful, but it all pays off once you get to take your gun home. This is one endeavor where the destination is far better than the journey.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine (before the ATF’s recent unconstitutional decree regarding pistol braces).


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