When it comes to firearms, there are so many things you can do to customize them and truly make them your own. From a Tiffany blue color to a lighter trigger pull for a self-defense handgun, the options are nearly endless. But with all the options available, you may be thinking, “What can I legally do to customize my gun in Pennsylvania?”
Cosmetic Customization in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, most gun customization is perfectly legal, meaning your firearm can be any color or design you want. You can add state-of-the-art optics to your .338 Lapua to perfect long-distance shooting. You can even modify the trigger, making the pull lighter or heavier, depending on your preference.
Government Approval and The National Firearms Act
There are some modifications you cannot make without approval from the federal government. You cannot modify your weapon to make it a weapon covered by the National Firearms Act (“NFA”). Weapons covered by the NFA include suppressors or silencers, short-barreled shotguns, short-barreled rifles, and fully automatic weapons (sometimes called machineguns), just to name a few. Only after filling out proper government documentation and paying $200 for your NFA stamp can you saw off a shotgun barrel or add a suppressor.
Stabilizing Arm Brace
The legality of some modifications is dependent upon your intended use. A prime example is a stabilizing arm brace for the AR pistol. The ATF issued a notice stating stabilizing arm braces can be added to an AR pistol.
The brace does not automatically render the item an NFA short-barreled rifle if, and only if, you intend to use the brace as a stabilizing arm brace. This is important because stabilizing braces can be used as stocks, allowing you to fire the weapon from your shoulder. The definition of “rifle” includes a weapon “designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder.” If you add a brace intending to use it as a shoulder stock, which would be fired from the shoulder, you have created an NFA item without the proper tax stamp or authority. It is now an illegal weapon and you could get in big trouble.
You may be wondering, “How can they possibly determine my intent?” The answer is usually based upon how you actually use the weapon. While sporadic or incidental firing from the shoulder might not constitute a “redesign,” you could certainly modify your stabilizing brace in such a way that clearly constitutes a redesign, like plugging it with wood or Styrofoam. More importantly, the answer could be based on what you tell the officer who may question you. If you put a stabilizing brace on an AR pistol, not intending to ever use the brace to fire the weapon from your shoulder, you should still think about playing it safe and getting the tax stamp to avoid issues in the future.
There are also some illegal modifications. For example, you cannot modify a modern, semi-automatic weapon in such a way as to make it fully automatic. Fully automatic weapons are only legal with an NFA tax stamp if they were manufactured and registered prior to 1986. Further, you cannot add a bump stock to your weapon. Bump stocks have recently been banned by the federal government. Yes, it’s under litigation, but that doesn’t mean you can legally have it.
If you have any questions about gun customization or if you’re wondering if a specific customization is legal here in Pennsylvania, please call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.