Parts Is Parts

I am not talking about a 1980’s advertising campaign lamenting composition chicken in fast food. Guns are made out of (you guessed it) parts. Gun parts, to be precise—and a lack thereof is affecting the unmet surge in demand for semi-automatic AR-style rifles.


The AR is a pretty complicated rifle. Making use of “modern” materials, the original Colt AR-15 had 122 parts, ranging from the magazine box (1) all the way to handguard snap ring (122). Much of the total comes from little bitty pins, springs, snap rings and lock washers.


Large components, such as the upper and lower receivers, are what many think of as the firearm, and those are often made by the company whose name is on the side of the lower receiver. Just about any company (with the right programming and proper manufacturer’s license, of course) with a CNC machine can produce an AR receiver. The major stumbling block for many gunmakers today in upping or maintaining AR production capacity is the bolt carrier. Regardless of how many upper and lower receivers a firm can churn out, without a bolt carrier an AR, to paraphrase, “Is Parts.” An AR cannot function without one.


The bolt carrier is a fairly complicated part to manufacture. So much so that there are few firms in the country that specialize in making them. Those companies are running at full capacity, with three shifts, but are not producing enough to meet demand. Woe to the smaller AR maker that does not have its own machines or a tight business relationship with a machine shop that turns out bolt carriers.


So why don’t smaller makers just make their own? That is a matter of cost and time. To my knowledge, no AR company in the United States makes 100 percent of its parts; there is no reason for a gunmaker to manufacturer its own detent springs. It would be folly. Especially when a spring-making company can supply a better part at a much better price than a company could itself. A company with dedicated machines and large capacity can make and sell a bolt carrier for, say, $20. If an AR firm had to make the same part itself, it would likely cost more than three times as much. And that company’s machines could not make other parts. It would also have to write new programs to the machine to make the carrier, which also incurs cost. It does not make sense to buy new CNC machines to dedicate to bolt carriers as no one knows when demand will return to “normal” levels, and then they will cost $20 again.


Also, at least one maker of ARs went out of business during the last surge in demand because he could not get critical parts (including bolt carriers and barrels) during the height of demand. He was left with a pile of parts he had paid for, but no rifles he could sell. By the time he had the parts to assemble rifles, demand had receded and no one wanted to buy them.


There are only two kinds of AR makers right now: Haves and have nots—those that have bolt carriers and those that don’t. “Parts Is Parts” only when you have all the ones you need.


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31 Responses to Parts Is Parts

clevpat wrote:
June 03, 2013

@Cymond, BCG's are not just a drop in item. A bolt carrier needs to be check for headspace when installed for safety reasons. Manufacturers would not be able to warranty that it would be safe to fire without doing this. For the folks that think you can just "drop in" a BCG you latterly may be taking you life in you hands.

Scottshad wrote:
May 03, 2013

When Obama was elected people should have known that was going to happen. I started hoarding myself and bought a progressive reloaded in 2008 and started reloading but now I can't find primers. When Walmart put 22s on sale I would buy 5 bricks and now people are offering $70 for a brick. I could not sell them like that so I sold at the price I bought plus 10[%]....

Beamish wrote:
April 30, 2013

The ones crying about ammo hoarders are the ones who weren't prepared for what, the third time this is happened. Think ahead

DHConner wrote:
April 13, 2013

I talked with one of the Rich at Sierra Bullets this past week, and he said that running 24/7 it would be at least a YEAR before they got caught up on their orders. I also talked with an gunsmith at an AR maker: he said he is working 90 to 100 HOURS A WEEK! And he really didn't see an end to it for at least a year. So Ovomit has done one good thing in his idiotic attempts at gun control: he's ensured huge paychecks for a lot of new employees in the gun business at all levels, ammo makers, bullet makers, primer makers, case makers, gunsmiths, gun makers, and all the auxillary and ancillary services and products that go with the AR. And he's only going to get one thing: background checks at gun shows. Now how that's gonna work out is that there will have to be more FBI people to keep up with investigations, which they can't do now-in the last 2 years I bought 3 guns and got them by default. But it will give some good people a job, which ain't bad. What bugs me, as a convicted and pardoned felon (no violence, just a simple B&E) is that what they won't do is make a separate mandatory minimum served before any associated crimes is a 10 year no pardon no parole no good time sinker for using a firearm in a crime against a human being (cats and dogs don't count). I've known a lot of not so good people and few really and truly bad people, and they all said if they had t do 10 years before they started the time for the class of crime they committed, they'd have gone to sleep instead. Sound harsh? It's meant to be. It teaches that the price you'll pay is very high, so your cut had better be in the many millions. Because who wants to do 10 for $1,000? This nation made it through Nixon and Clinton, and we'll get past this critter in the White House now too. Survival is a mindset, one that refuses to quit even when things seem to be or actually hopeless. As long as free men are armed, America will stand. Thanks to you parts makers-damned good job. Carry on. Sem

Cymond wrote:
April 13, 2013

If bolt-carriers are the only problem, then why not ship rifles with a coupon redeemable for a BCG at a later date? @Landon: "The price increase comes mainly from dealers needing more money per rifle since they sell less" The gun shops are not selling less. Gun shops are literally selling as fast as guns come in. The mark-up helps slow down the frenzy while adding some profit. Besides, if the gun shops don't sell for the market equilibrium price, then a significant number of customers will "flip" the rifles for a quick profit.

Bill wrote:
April 12, 2013

I'm hoping that people who are hoarding will finally get their fill and eventually the panic buying will slow down. Mean while I have invested in a reloading press so I will not be purchasing any factory ammo again.

Jogn wrote:
April 11, 2013

I live in Arizona and a local company Edward Arms Co has all the parts in stock that you will ever need. Just saying !!!

DaveOh wrote:
April 11, 2013

I make bolt carrier keys myself and our other cnc's make several other gun parts, there are not enough hours in a day to keep up to the demand. We run 24/7 with no end in sight.

Landon wrote:
April 11, 2013

Some of you seem to think that manufacturers are limiting supply to drive up the price. That couldn't be more wrong. Most manufacturers have NOT increased their prices except for in some cases minor changes to adjust for increased cost if goods or inflation. Most wholesalers have not increased prices either. The price increase comes mainly from dealers needing more money per rifle since they sell less (thereby maintaining their profit overall to pay the bills). But yes, there are lots of dealers (and some wholesalers) that are jacking up prices to crazy levels.

Drew wrote:
April 11, 2013

I have watched this whole "lack of everything" go on for years now. I reload, and have been doing so since 2007. Good luck trying to find primers/powder/bullets. I have driven from TN to PA trying to find ammo/supplies, with 12g ammo being the only thing on the shelves. It takes knowing the local sporting goods guys to get a heads up when the truck with ammo arrives. Even then, there are 5-6 guys in line as soon as the box is opened. I saw more ammo arriving lately in each shipment, but it still all disappears in minutes. I do not "hoard", but in trying to pickup an extra 100 rounds of .22lr, it's nearly impossible to find any. And online I saw one outfit selling 50 rounds of .22lr for $20! And they were the only place that even had any. Until Obama is out of office, I foresee this shortage going on. Either more ammo makers get in the game (doubtful, no way to know it will last) or suddenly Obama goes Pro-gun (HA, yeah right) before you see ammo staying on the shelves.

Jeff wrote:
April 11, 2013

This won't be a solution to all your needs BUT talk with fellows at your local range & keep an eye on the on line classifieds. A fair bit of people are already turning loose their extra stash& are willing to trade. They're are deals to be had but it's an investment in time.

alex wrote:
April 11, 2013

Crybabies the whole lot of you. Buy your parts, ammo and stock pile it when its cheap. Boo hoo. Learn something from all this so you're not caught with your pants down next time it happens.

Spike wrote:
April 11, 2013

I've had my Colt AR-15 since 1964. Mail order from Klein Sporting Goods in Chicago's Loop. Yruth is, my Dad bought it.

Jake wrote:
April 11, 2013

I agree with Joshua, if people didn't go out and stock up on ammo for whatever reason there would not be a need for people to frantically purchase all the ammo the can find. There would be no chain reaction of hoarding ammo if no one would have went out and stock piled ammo in the first place. QUIT STOCK PILLING AMMO AND AMMO SUPPLIES WILL RETURN TO NORMAL!!! It's sad that the average citizens can't even purchase ammo to practice shooting with their families.

wilson wrote:
April 11, 2013

So Everyone thinks people that plan ahead and have the money to stockpile Ammo.are hoarders. I do not think that is wrong I do not have the money to buy as much Ammo. as I would like to have but what right do I have to complain about the person that can afford it. Get over it you people,one of these (hoarders) might just have enough Ammo.. to help save our country ou your butt someday.

James Withrow wrote:
April 11, 2013

The 'hoarders' should be ashamed of themselves. Do they really need to stockpile 5000 rds of .45 or .223. Chances are most of them will still have that ammo stored away 10 years from now, disallowing the casual enthusiast from enjoying a day at the range. And don't be telling me to reload; I already do. Been able to find powder? Good luck with that!

Walt wrote:
April 10, 2013

Where were all these buyers before the "panic"? I really haven't noticed it much because of my ongoing purchases of components and spares...not to mention rifles. The time to invest in what at one time or another become a scarce commodity is when its plentiful; then you can ride out the drought. The real victims are the manufacturers and dealers with no product to sell but with families to support. Can't get an AR? Get a Ruger Gunsite Scout, or Mossberg MVP, or a really nice defence shotgun.

Me in Texas wrote:
April 10, 2013

Bolt carriers were hard to come by way back in mid-2012. Uncommon caliber bolts (like 6.8 SPC) were even more scarce, so this is not a new phenomenon. Stripped uppers are still relatively plentiful (try Palmetto State Armory). You just won't find a BCG to go with them.

Mike wrote:
April 10, 2013

Joshua, yes some of us did hoard ammo. Back in September 2012 I predicted that this current situation would happen after the election. The club I belong to invested in ammo for our youth rifle teams so the programs could go on unabated by ammo shortages. I am sure others did the same thing! Most of the NRA instructors I know did the same! When you need to be sure to have ammo you plan ahead for the worst! So yes hoarding did happen but only to further the shooting sports. Perhaps this will help your dislike for those of that did hoard ammo.

Dave in PA wrote:
April 10, 2013

If any manufacturer can make receivers, why can't I find one of those. I don't need a complete rifle or a bolt carrier. I need a stripped upper for a project and no one has a normal one. While we're on the topic of price, what's with Cheaper than dirt charging $400 for a stripped upper. Talk about price-gouging. At least midway tries to couter this demand by limiting the number you can buy, not limiting sales to the wealthy.

WoodChuck in NH wrote:
April 10, 2013

You guys complaining about ammo shortages should save your brass, along with the once fired brass you can find at the range, and learn to reload. I have thousands of .223 cases already sized, trimmed, cleaned and ready to be primed and loaded, and almost the same quantity loaded. It may take some time and planning, but you can stay ahead of the curve if you try.

WoodChuck in NH wrote:
April 10, 2013

ARs are only about 5% over what they were last year, but have you noticed the price of milk, eggs, bread, and mayonnaise lately? ARs can’t be put in a smaller can such as tuna, but the cost of running a business costs more because of the cost of materials and labor. An AR in standard configuration should cost about $750, and that has been the same for years. Naturally, one with a heavy match or varmint barrel is going to be more. Any price that seems outrageous is probably due to price gouging. And don’t forget that your gun store needs to make a living, too.

Meastwood wrote:
April 10, 2013

Good intro to market and supply chair issues.

Joshua wrote:
April 10, 2013

you know what really sucks about this....people who just like to go shooting at the range on the weekend cant find ammo b/c its been hoarded away by people who think the governments gonna stop the sale of ammo...i think i remember this same thing happening about 4yrs ago for some reason and to my knowledge up until the last election I could still buy ammo......STOP HOARDING!!

Terry Miller wrote:
April 10, 2013

I totally agree with Tim in Ohio. This always happens.

Tim in Ohio wrote:
April 09, 2013

This is just total hog wash!! The reason AR rifles are scarce is because the manufacturers are making them scarce to drive up the price and keep the price artificially inflated due to demand. Why would manufacturers be able to foresee and correct any other supply deficiency other than just the bolt? We've seen it multiple times before with all gun related items.

Dwain Waldron wrote:
April 09, 2013

I was just informed that the 'product arrival notification' for 22 longs shells has been moved from 4/9/13 to 11/5/13 from Midway USA. How can that be?

SDFreeman wrote:
April 09, 2013

Thats why over the years when we go to gun shows, always buy spare parts for your guns. That will be the next supply the government will want to cut off

jimmyjet wrote:
April 09, 2013

Every major mnftr has jumped into the AR game. When 'normal' returns, some of these outfits are going to learn an ugly lesson.

Robert Miller wrote:
April 09, 2013

I went to a couple of gun shows in south Florida last month and there were plenty of ARs for sale,just cost a little more.

David wrote:
April 09, 2013

So that's why I haven't gotten my AR yet. It's been on order for 3 months now.