I was recently asked whether an FFL is required to manufacture and sell AR-15 uppers.
The answer is ‘no‘ but I want to caution readers that this would not necessarily be the case if the upper in question was for a different firearm.
In the AR platform, the lower is the serialized item (the actual firearm), whereas uppers are considered merely accessories and are not serialized. Therefore, manufacturing and selling only the upper would not require an FFL (Federal Firearms License) since you are not dealing with an item considered to be a ‘firearm’ or ammunition.
This analysis would not be the same on certain other platforms. For example, in the FN-FAL and Bushmaster ACR designs (to name just a few) the upper is the serialized ‘firearm’ and therefore an FFL would be required to manufacture or sell uppers for those designs.
Disclaimer: Please note that this analysis is specifically focused on whether an FFL is required. Individual states may place additional restrictions or requirements upon the manufacture of firearms components.