This article deals with the laws surrounding the FN/FAL what's required to build one within the laws as they stand.
Primarily chambered in .308 Winchester (7.62 x 51 mm NATO) this outstanding rifle's acceptance by military organizations the world over is only one proof of its capability and ruggedness. Even though the FAL has now been replaced by lighter, more advanced battle rifles, it remains one of the pinnacles of automatic rifle design.
As a sporting rifle, the FAL was only imported into the U.S. for a very short time by Browning Arms. It was sold as a semi-automatic rifle but the BATF thought that it was too easily converted into a selective fire weapon so imports of complete, sporting rifles were halted.
But, because of the large and surplus availability of FAL rifles, there has been an ongoing supply of what is known as FAL Kits coming into the U.S. for the last, several years. The first kits to hit these shores were made up of Inch Pattern parts from Great Britain, Canada and Australia. The latest Kits are Metric Pattern parts that come here from all over the world. These kits contain everything you need to assemble a FAL except the upper receiver which is the serial numbered part.
Domestically produced upper receivers are now made by a number of manufacturers. Brownells carries domestically-produced semi-automatic receivers from D.S. Arms and a foreign-produced receiver from Pacific Armament that is made by Imbel of Brazil. Imbel made receivers for the SAR 4800 Rifle that was assembled and sold through Springfield Armory, Inc.
The Tech Department here at Brownells gets constant calls from many of our customers on what exactly you have to do to assemble a complete FAL rifle. In our opinion, the biggest thing you must remember is that there are two, very important sets of laws concerning how you must go about making your own FAL. These laws are not complicated but if you violate them you could be in for a real shock. We will try to familiarize you with the two sets of laws that govern how you must go about assembling a FAL and what you will want to do to keep on the safe side of the law.
|A typical FN/FAL assembled from parts
1989 Import Ban
In 1989, then President George signed an Executive Order halting the importation of semi-automatic rifles that could not meet certain "sporting" criteria into the U.S.
That ban was later made into law in on November 30, 1990 and later amended in 1993. The section is 18 USC Chapter 44, subsection 178.39 and is entitled Assembly of semiautomatic rifles and shotguns. This provision of the law was made to close a supposed loophole that allowed people to assemble a banned rifle or shotgun from parts. The law specifically stated it was illegal to assemble a rifle or shotgun from imported parts unless a certain percentage of parts that were manufactured here in the U.S. were included in the complete assembly.
Because the FN/FAL, along with all of its many variants, was specifically listed in the first Importation Ban, it meant that you could not assemble a FAL from one of the many kits that were then and now being legally imported unless you used the right number of domestically produced parts. This domestic parts exclusion allowed the continued production of the Springfield Armory SAR4800 and the many models of FALs from Entréprise Arms and D.S. Arms, Inc.
The 1989 Importation Ban listed 20 parts that were considered by our government to be essential in the making of a non-sporting rifle and those parts are listed below. An individual that wanted to assemble a banned firearm from a parts kit could NOT use more than 10 parts that were not produced here in the U.S. and included in this list.
If you study an exploded diagram of a FAL, you will notice that the FAL does not have all of the parts listed above. It does have 17 of them though and those parts are listed below.
- Frames, receivers, receiver castings, forging, or stampings
- Barrel extensions
- Mounting blocks
- Muzzle attachments
- Bolt carriers
- Operating rods
- Gas pistons
- Trigger housings
- Pistol grips
- Forearms, handguards
- Magazine bodies
- Magazine followers
- Magazine floorplates
So, since the FAL has only 17 of the banned, imported parts and you can only use 10 parts, you must substitute seven of those parts listed above with domestically produced parts if you want to assemble a FAL from an imported kit. Below is a listing of the U.S.-made parts that are most readily available and represent probably the lowest cost.
- Muzzle attachment
- Bolt carrier
- Gas piston
- Trigger housing
- Operating rod (in reality this is the charging handle and not an op rod but that’s how our government sees it.)
- Pistol grip
- Magazine body
- Magazine follower
- Magazine floorplate
- Muzzle Brake
- Gas Piston
- Pistol Grip
There is another way to comply with the law that is a little less expensive but it has one drawback. You can assemble the rifle using the first five parts listed and substitute a U.S.-made magazine floorplate and magazine follower instead of using the U.S.-made hammer and sear. This will be less expensive but technically, the rifle would only be legal as long as the magazine remained inserted into the magazine well. For some folks, this does not present a problem.
There is one other thing that you need to remember. If you are building a FAL and using a foreign-made receiver, like the FN-licensed receivers from Imbel of Brazil, you will need to substitute one, additional U.S.-made part.
Our suggestion is to use a U.S.-made pistol grip because that will be the least expensive additional part. If money is not a criteria for your FAL-building project, by all means substitute domestically-produced parts as your funds might allow.
So far, this equation is quite simple but you must add the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban to the 1989 Importation Ban to get the complete picture.
1994 Assault Weapons Ban
The September 13, 1994 Assault Weapons Manufacture Ban listed the FN/FAL and all of its variants as an Assault rifle that could not be manufactured because it was capable of accepting a detachable magazine and it contained at least two of the following items or "points":
- A folding stock
- A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action
- A bayonet mount
- A flash suppressor or barrel that is threaded to accommodate a flash suppressor
- A grenade launcher
Since the FAL has a pistol grip that is quite conspicuous the easiest way to stay within the letter of the Assault Weapons Ban is to remove the combination flash hider/bayonet mount from the barrel, cut off the threaded portion of the barrel and then, either silver-solder on a muzzle brake or use a set-screw-mounted muzzle brake in its place. Of course, if you don't like the look or the concept of a muzzle brake you can cut off the threads, forget the muzzle brake and simply chamfer and crown the muzzle.
If you feel you must keep the threaded portion of the barrel, then you must also install a threaded muzzle brake and then silver-solder or weld the brake permanently to the barrel. The type of muzzle brake you install will all depend on which model of FAL you intend to build. The vast majority of the Metric FALs use 9/16" - 24 tpi left-hand thread except for the Israeli Heavy Barrel variants that use an 11/16"- 24 tpi right-hand thread. The British Commonwealth FALs us a right-hand, 9/16"-24 tpi.
If you don't have access to an oxyacetylene torch or a TIG welder, then a muzzle brake that's secured with set screws is really the best, and easiest way to go. Brownells carries a model from Smith Enterprises that will fit barrels with diameters from .580" to .590". It is important to accurately measure the outside diameter of your barrel when using a set-screw muzzle brake. Do not use a brake that has an inside diameter more than .010" in difference than the O.D. of your barrel.
For those of you that have a torch or TIG welder, we have two models of brakes from D.S. Arms that work well. But remember, they must be silver-soldered or welded onto the threaded portion of the muzzle to make it a legal installation. Don't even be tempted to skip this very important, final step.
To be fair, any muzzle brake that closely matches the barrel diameter you are working with and is threaded 9/16"- 24 tpi would work but you want to make sure it's sold as a muzzle brake and not a flash hider in any respect. Remember, the law specifically says the rifle cannot have a flash hider. That's any flash hider, not just the original.
That's a quick, basic look at the laws surrounding assembly of FN/FAL rifles.