Featureless rifles: Why all the buzz?

One of the most noted features of a featureless rifle is the fixed stock, as noted on this Thordsen Custom package. (Photo: Jerking the Trigger)

Notable cosmetic differences on a featureless rifle include non-threaded barrel, fixed stock, lack of a forward pistol grip and 10-round magazine as demonstrated on this Thordsen Custom featureless rifle. (Photo: Jerking the Trigger)

From ma and pa shops to major industry players, gun manufacturers across the board are expanding rifle options to now include featureless rifle designs. While it might seem that this is just another trend, doomed to run its course and subside like most fads do, featureless connoisseurs say that’s not the case — at least while there are prohibitive states.

“The featureless rifle thing is gaining in popularity, not because it’s the new trendy thing but because law abiding persons are being forced to convert their rifles due to ridiculous legislative action,” president of Thordsen Customs, Alan Thordsen, told Guns.com.

Innovation is the mother of invention and featureless rifles perfectly illustrate that notion. Born out of a need to give gun owners in restrictive states a means to continue shooting, featureless rifles gain their name due to the lack of “features” that qualify as restricted under state assault weapons bans. What constitutes a so-called assault weapon varies by state, however, restricted features often include folding/telescoping stock, flash suppressor, forward pistol grip and detachable magazine over 10 rounds. In states like New York and California, rifles that meet the criteria as assault weapons must be registered with their respective states.

Gun owners can skirt registration; however, by either modifying their existing platform or purchasing a featureless rifle that is compliant.

The flow of featureless parts and rifles didn’t come over night. In fact, featureless components have been around for a few years, according to Thordsen Customs, who was selling its FRS-15 featureless stock way before it was trendy.

“The FRS-15 was introduced to the market before theses laws were enacted,” Thordsen said. “The FRS-15 was originally designed as another alternative for, what was at the time, a small niche market for featureless rifles here in California. … It was selling at a steady pace and was slowly gaining acceptance in California.”

Then came the New York Safe Act enacted in 2013. The Act broadened the definition of “assault weapons” by including specific features that would be banned under the new provision. As the reins tightened on gun owners, manufacturers began stepping in to fill the void.

“We felt our company should do something for those that have run out of options due to political and legislative circumstances that they do not agree with, nor can control,” Justin Harvel, president of Black Rifle Ordnance, said in a 2014 statement shortly after the Safe Act was instituted. “We realized that our company could not change this legislation, but we could design and fabricate a well-made, compliant rifle so that our New York brothers in arms could lawfully protect themselves.”

Thordsen said the Safe Act was a game changer and Thordsen Custom sales reflected that.

“Suddenly we had an entire state that was forced by their government to either change the configuration of their perfectly legal firearms in order to comply, or register them as ‘assault weapons.’” Thordsen told Guns.com. “Sales of the (FRS-15) stock really took off when the New York Safe Act was enacted in 2013.”

Popularity steadily increased as featureless became a sort-of tentative compromise between gun owners and legislators.

That compromise though, at least in California, swiftly came under the knife in 2016 when the Golden State instituted sweeping changes in gun legislation with what would become known as “Gunmegeddon.” The changes altered current provisions, causing panic in California gun owners looking to keep their guns; but just like in New York, gun makers weren’t backing down. 

“Hopefully challenges to the laws and citizens demanding their freedoms back can prove successful. In the mean time, however, those unwilling to register their firearms must seek alternative solutions,” Black Rain Ordnance said in a statement issued on its site in October 2016. “While we recognize that this option is not the most attractive to many California gun owners the fact is we at Black Rain Ordnance do not have a vote. And if we want to keep doing business in the Golden State we must provide an option to people who have to put up with the current situation. And the same way we supported gun owners in New York, we’ll provide an option for those in California.”

While it’s easy to just point to gun ownership demand as the driving factor behind why these featureless designs keep popping up, Thordsen says the innovation isn’t limited to just aiding consumers. He emphasized that featureless configurations also ensure small gun businesses thrive in these restrictive environments.

“The industry has rallied, not only to help gun owners retain their Constitutional rights, but in some cases to insure their own survival,” Thordsen told Guns.com. “Small manufacturers, within the restricted states especially, could go out of business if their most popular product is suddenly taken away from them. Even with all of the restrictions and regulations in California, it is arguably the largest firearms market in the country. No manufacturer, distributor, or dealer (big or small) wants to lose their biggest market.”

The industry insists that so long as there are prohibitive states there will be gun manufactures ready to take on the challenge of arming its residents.

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