Featureless vs. Evil
****WARNING - LAWS HAVE CHANGED FOR THE WORSE SO THIS ARTICLE IS CURRENTLY A LITTLE OUT OF DATE IN ITS SPECIFICS. USE THE CALGUNS CHART THAT (LINK BELOW IN ARTICLE) FOR THE LATEST INFORMATION****
The "Golden State" has some pretty strict gun laws. To educate California AK owners (and prospective AK owners), we decided to team up with Solar Tactical to write an article about some of the options available to make owning an AK in California legal – without taking all the fun out of it.
California's Assault Weapon Ban
California has a slew of gun laws. To keep our scope somewhat narrow, this article will focus on California's Assault Weapon ban and the "compliance parts" that combine legal compliance with maximum usability. To read more about the broader picture of AK's in California check out our article on the legality of WASR's in California. For a detailed FAQ on California's gun laws, we recommend you check out the Calguns Foundation Wiki, one of the most up-to-date and complete resources on this subject.
Figure 1: Cool. But is it legal in California? The answer might surprise you...
Long story short – California's AWCA ’89 or “Roberti-Roos” law has banned "Assault Weapons" in California. In order to ban "Assault Weapons" without banning ALL rifles, the law had to specify the criteria a rifle had to be considered an "Assault Weapon" by the law. The law does this in two ways: The first part of the law is pretty straight forward. It consists of a list of rifles banned by specific make and model of the receiver.
The second part of the law seems to be intended as a "catch-all" and it bans rifles based on certain criteria – regardless of make and model. These are California's three criteria for an "Assault Weapon"
#1 - A semiautomatic centerfire rifle with overall length less than 30 inches
#2 - A semiautomatic centerfire rifle capable of accepting detachable magazines and any of:
▪ a pistol grip protruding conspicuously below the weapon’s action
▪ a thumbhole stock or folding or telescopic stock
▪ a flash suppressor, grenade launcher or flare launcher
▪ a forward pistol grip.
#3 - A semiautomatic centerfire rifle with a fixed magazine holding over 10 rounds.
Looking at it from the bright side, this means that in California you can own an AK as long as it is not mentioned by make and model on the "Roberti-Roos" list and is not shorter than 30" provided that you either:
A.) Make the magazine "non-detachable" and use only 10 round mags.
B.) Remove all listed "Evil Features" in which case you can use detachable mags and even high-capacity pre-ban magazines.
Removing "Evil Features" from your Black Rifle in order to get rid of the magazine lock and 10-round mag restriction is commonly referred to as "Going Featureless". Solar Tactical, one of California's best known "Compliance Part" manufacturers, provided us with the compliance parts needed to review both the "Featureless" and the "Evil" (featured) setup.
The "Evil" Setup (Muahahaha!!)
The "Evil", or "Featured" option allows the AK aficionado to retain all the classic cool features. Pistol grip, front grip, flash suppressor, collapsible stock - no problem. The trade-off is twofold: Once seated, the magazine must be "non-detachable" and secondly, high-capacity (more than 10-rounds) mags are illegal in this setup.:-(.
So what does "non-detachable" really mean? To this law, it means, "removable without the use of a tool". The next question of course is, what defines a "tool"? That one is simple: Anything that is NOT a body part and NOT attached to the gun. In other words, if you cannot remove a magazine using just your fingers, this law considers it a "fixed" magazine. The "tool" however can not be attached to the gun, not even with a magnet.
When people started retrofitting "Assault Weapons" to comply with the law they looked for methods that would make the mag legally "non-removable" without making it too hard to take out. This is how the "bullet button" (or "magazine lock") got invented. It got it's name because anything with a narrow tip (like the tip of a 7.62 bullet) can be used to work the button and release the magazine.
Figure 2: The Solar Tactical "AK Magazine Lock" and 3 "tools" :-).
Solar Tactical's AK "magazine lock" is a small cover that mounts to the trigger guard and shields the AK's original magazine release latch from being operated by non-compliant fingers. It has a groove on its bottom through which the operator can stick any narrow tipped "tool" to work the mag latch. When you see an AK for sale at your local California Gun Store, pay close attention to the magazine latch. Nine out of ten times you will see one of these mag lock's in place.
As you can see in the picture below, it's a pretty discrete solution. No permanent modifications to the rifle are needed. The lock can be mounted within minutes using only a small socket wrench. Once mounted you hardly notice it. Untill you try to change the mag of course...:-)
Figure 3: Solar Tactical's "AK Magazine Lock"" mounted on the WASR-10. Pretty discreet huh?.
After inventing the "AK Magazine Lock", Solar Tactical kept looking for a quicker and more convenient way for Californians to quickly change mags without provoking the wrath of the 31st state. This is how they came up with the "Rapid Reload Tool". This "tool " is sold as a kit and attaches to any magazine. Once mounted it allows the user to pop one mag out the with next, just as you'd do if you did not have a magazine lock.
Figure 4: Solar Tactical's "Rapid Reload Tool" kit contains parts for 3 magazines.
Since this tool is mounted with Velcro it is easy to "install" and does not require any permanent modifications to the mag.
Figure 5: Mounting the "Rapid Reload Tool" requires tools nor skills.
Figure 6: Solar Tactical "Rapid Reload Tool" and "AK Magazine Lock".
Unfortunately "non-detachable" magazines require a maximum capacity of 10 rounds. Fortunately for those who want that sweet "evil-as-heck, 30-round magazine look" to complement their evil features, there is some good news: Although the capacity of the magazine in an evil setup is limited to 10 rounds, there are magazine inserts on the market that allow you to reduce the capacity of a standard body magazine down to 10 rounds, allowing the AK to retain that cool original 30-round look and still be compliant. Now before you begin to castrate your valuable pre-bad 30 round magazines... Please note that it is legal to buy 30 round mag "Rebuild Kit" online. These kits contain all the parts you need for a 30 round magazine, but are not assembled. You can legally buy one of these kits and rebuilt that into your own 10/30 magazine. This could be cheaper than buying a pre made 10/30 online.
After some experimentation with different insert designs, Solar Tactical decided to take a minimalist approach that would make Mikhail Kalashnikov proud. Their current offering, the 10/30 magazine insert, is simply put a plastic strip that is inserted in the magazine behind the follower to reduce the capacity of the magazine. This strip, which is sold in sets of 3, is the simplest lightest and cheapest 10/30 solution that we came across.
Figure 7: The 10/30 magazine insert strip. Simple. Functional. We love it.
Fitting the strip is simple. Disassemble the 30 round magazine, but leave the follower in. Then put 10 rounds in the magazine and push the follower all the way up. Then insert the strip with the curved side first, facing inwards, until you hit the follower. Score the part of the strip that sticks out with a sharp knife and break the access part off. Then reassemble the magazine.
Finally, to be safe you want to make your modification "permanent". One way of doing this is to drill a hole through the floor plate and insert, and then putting a rivet through it.
The "Featureless" Setup
Unlike the "Evil" setup, the "Featureless" configuration allows the AK owner to use detachable magazines. It also allows you to use the high-capacity magazines that you legally owned before the ban went into effect. In order to obtain these "privileges" all "Evil Features" will need to be removed.
So lets get started! This is what we will need to get rid of:
▪ Pistol grip protruding conspicuously below the weapon’s action
▪ Forward pistol grip.
▪ Thumbhole stock or folding or telescopic stock
▪ Flash suppressor, grenade launcher or flare launcher
Going Featureless: Pistol Grip
Let's start off with the most invasive of all modifications, the pistol grip. The law prohibits pistol grips "protruding conspicuously below the weapon’s action". One way to comply with this "featureless" requirement would be to remove the pistol grip altogether...
Fortunately there are better ways available to meet the pistol grip requirement. To understand these we first need to understand the legal definition of a "pistol grip". The law defines a "pistol grip" as: " A grip that allows for a pistol style grasp in which the web of the trigger hand (between the thumb and index finger) can be placed below the top of the exposed portion of the trigger while firing." That's a mouth full but basically it means that if you can get your firing hand's thumb around it while shooting, it's a "pistol grip".
Following this logic, Solar Tactical came up with a solution that prevents your thumb from going around the pistol grip while leaving the original grip in place. The "Kydex Slip on Grip" fits over the original AK grip, and changes the original pistol grip into a compliant "non wrap-around hold".
Figure 8: "Right Hand" Kydex "Slip On Grip" for collapsible stock and SAW pistol grip.
The AK-47 Kydex Grip is available in different versions - one for the original "factory" AK pistol grip and another for the larger "SAW style" grip. Both of these are available in a version to use with a "collapsible style" stock or a "classic" stock. Finally as the grip is not symmetrical, the shooter has a choice between the right, or left handed variant.
Figure 9: As the name implies, the Kydex "Slip On" grip, slips over the original grip.
A short word on performance: Let's be clear, the Kydex grip is not something you would mount if you were not required by law. And naturally, you do miss being able to get your thumb around the grip. While it takes some getting use to, it's the best "pistol grip" compliance solution we could find for the AK.
Going Featureless: Front Grip
Front grips are not allowed in the featureless setup. Not much we can say about this one, so get out your screw driver, take that front grip off and deal with it...
Figure 10: VERBOTEN! :-). Shorty can't come out a play anymore... Boooh hooo hooo!
Going Featureless: Fancy Stocks
Folding Stocks, thumb-hole stocks and collapsible stocks are not allowed on featureless rifles either. Folding stocks are not common in California even on featured rifles because, unless you mount a ridiculously long compensator, folding stocks break the 30" minimum length requirement, that outlaws any rifles that can be fired in a shorter configuration. On thumb-hole stocks we can be brief, since these are so butt-ugly that they should be outlawed anyway. Not much lost there. But what if you want to retain your tacticool "collapsible" stock? Rivet it. Just "fix" it in your favorite position. We set out to work and after some drilling and riveting our Tapco T6 collapsed no more:-(.
Figure 11: This unsuspecting Tapco T6 collapsible stock is soon to be a T6 fixed stock...
Going Featureless: Grenade Launcher?
Most AK's do not come with a grenade or flare launcher, so no problems there. And while flash suppressors are "out", the classic (or boring?) slant muzzle break is definitely "in". Compensators (which often actually enhance the flash!) are fortunately "in" as well. This means that this good looking "F.A.S.T series" compensator, also designed and sold by Solar Tactical, can stay!
Figure 12: Its ok! It's OK!! The F.A.S.T. is just a friendly "compensator"...
Figure 13: Kydex Grip and F.A.S.T. compensator in rapid fire action!
Figure 14: Featureless, not dull...
Disclaimer & Referral
Guess what? We are not lawyers. You on the other hand, are an adult and therefore responsible for your own actions. You are also expected to know the law. As a starting point to learn more about gun law in California we recommend you try the Calguns Foundation Wiki and the very easy to use Calguns California Rifle Identification Flowchart. Still have questions? Try the legal forum at Calguns.netwhere you'll find some very knowledgeable people some of which actually are lawyers and all of which will be more than happy to point to in the right direction.
And if you liked what you saw and want to buy any of the gear we reviewed, Solar Tactical's web store is always open!