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The AR 15 Pistol Buyer's Guide
The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only. This content is not intended as legal advice and should not be taken as such. Those wishing to obtain more information about the construction of an AR 15 Pistol should contact the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives directly.
What is an AR Pistol
An AR 15 Pistol is a “pistol” based on the AR-15 rifle platform with a barrel shorter than 16”. It uses a pistol brace in place of a rifle stock and can’t have a vertical foregrip. AR-15 parts work on an AR pistol with a few exceptions.
Depending on the caliber of pistol you choose, you may simply need a different barrel and BCG, all the way through to needing a dedicated upper and lower receiver, magazine adapter, buffer tube and so on.
To qualify as a pistol, you must have a barrel length under 16”, no vertical foregrip and a pistol brace is a must. That last two are where AR 15 pistols stick out from the group. If you use a rifle stock or vertical foregrip, you have a Short Barreled Rifle (SBR) and those require extra steps with the government in order to own.
AR Pistol Vs. SBR
There is a lot of misinformation out there what an SBR is. So lets break it down. SBR’s, like rifle style pistols, have barrels under 16”; the minimum length set forth by the ATF to be a rifle.
In many, many, states, you CAN own an SBR. What seperates them, is that on an SBR you can have a regular stock, and a vertical foregrip.
BUT, to own an SBR you MUST have in your hands, and with you where you bring your SBR, a tax stamp from the government which says you’re allowed to have an SBR. To get a tax stamp, you’ll have to do some paperwork, pay a $200 fee, and wait 6-8 months for the FBI background check to clear.
This is because the federal government and ATF has labeled SBR’s as an NFA item; just like suppressors. It’s the same process, same forms, and same wait time.
Legalities of an AR 15 Pistol
In most of the great States of the Union, you can own an AR 15 Pistol. Even in some states where you can’t own an SBR. Always check with your state laws and local law enforcement before purchasing. No need to go to Jail because you bought something that an article on the internet said you could buy.
The laws as they stand at the time of writing are that an AR 15 pistol is a firearm that has a barrel length under 16”, has no vertical foregrip and has a pistol brace in place of a rifle stock.
There is also a Law on overall length of the firearm. The ATF says that any firearm OVER 26 inches in length with a barrel UNDER 16" in length, not including a removable muzzle device, CAN have a vertical foregrip but NOT a rifle stock.
It’s a weird grey area where the firearm isn’t a pistol because it’s too long to be “concealable” in the eyes of the ATF and it is too short to be a rifle.
None of the AR 15 pistols we carry fall into this category and if you want to avoid it entirely, just stick to having a pistol brace and no vertical foregrip on your less than 16” barreled firearm.
A Foregrip can be placed on a pistol so long as it is a handstop, or similar form of angled foregrip; nothing “vertical”. Some great examples of handstops and angled foregrips include Magpul AFG-2, Magpul M-LOK AFG, BCM Gunfighter KAG, Leapers UTG Super Slim, Strike Industries LINK, Arisaka Defense Finger Stop and many more!
AR 15 Pistol Braces
Pistol braces can look quite a lot like regular rifle stocks. However, their intended use is to be mounted on your forearm as you fire the “pistol” with one hand.
Thanks to modern American engineering, pistol braces are comfortable enough to be shoulder mounted, and fired like a rifle without breaking any laws. Although shoulder firing is not their “intended” use, the end users tend to do so. You can find fantastically comfortable options from SB Tactical, Foxtrot Mike, Shockwave, Strike Idustries, Sig Sauer, and CMMG.
Why Choose an AR 15 Pistol
With all the legal mumbo jumbo out of the way, let’s get to why you would want a lovely AR style pistol.
Some of the best use cases for an AR style pistol include home defense situations, truck gun use, competition shooting, and backpack guns for hiking or hunting.
This is due to their, compact size, lightweight nature, AR-15 durability, and ease of use. Let’s break this down so we can see just how enticing an AR pistol can be for these cases.
Barrel Length and Caliber
Barrel length plays a huge roll in weight, maneuverability and concealability. Depending on caliber, you can have a barrel as short as 3” all the way up to 15.9999999”. Go shorter for a backpack and longer for a truck gun or home defense option. Pistol calibers included, the most common barrel lengths will be 5”, 7”, 9”, 10.5” and 11.5”.
Caliber is a whole other story and being able to match the caliber you want with the barrel length you need will be the challenge. AR style pistols come in calibers down to .22lr up through .308.
Pistol Caliber Carbine
The smaller calibers such as .22lr, 9mm, 40 S&W, and .45 ACP, are commonly known as Pistol Caliber Carbine’s (PCC’s) no matter what length of barrel you choose. These still fall under the name AR pistol, and follow the same laws, so we’ll go over them here. Just know they go by more than one name.
Some of the most fun you can have at the range is with a sweet 9mm AR PCC with a 5” or 7” barrel. You have ultimate movement speed and the fastest target acquisition. The range on a 9mm AR is good out to 50 plus yards and they’re generally under 5 pounds so you can carry all day long. The ammo is cheap, you can conceal in a backpack, lots of the parts are interchangeable and most of your AR-15s accessories can be swapped over. Just remember not to put a vertical foregrip or rifle stock on it without your tax stamp.
Beyond PCC’s, 300 Blackout and 5.56 are the most popular rifle calibers for an AR Pistol. There are a few distinctions between the 2 and You’ll want to be very picky when deciding on a barrel length.
300 Blackout Pistol
300 Blackout is a much heavier bullet, between 110 to 220 grain, vs the 5.56 at 55 to 77 grain. This means 300 Blackout has a shorter effective range, about 300 yards. 300 Blackout is much more expensive to shoot, the ammo is harder to find, and it kicks about 3 times as hard as 5.56.
Here’s the upside. With a heavier bullet, you get more stopping power and for a home defense or a hunting gun, that’s kind of the whole point.
You can have a 5” barrel without over-gassing or reliability issues. You can use the same magazines as 5.56 (just don’t stick 300 BLK ammo in a 5.56 barrel. With subsonic ammo and a suppressor, you can get into the 127 db range, and the list goes on.
5.56 AR 15 Pistol
As for 5.56, having a barrel under 16” means you won’t get 5.56’s pinpoint accuracy at 600 yards plus. The ballistics are all off, so you get a lot of gas blowback to your face, that also dirties up your pistol. Worst of all, 5.56 with a short barrel in a home defense situation is L.O.U.D! For a 10.5” barrel you’re looking at 168 db! That’s twice as loud as a 16” barrel’s 165 db!
To go with 5.56, you want an 11.5” barrel. With it, you get acceptable accuracy out to 500 yards, you get cheap(ish) ammo, you get acceptable over-gassing, you can have all standard and interchangeable AR-15 parts(not rifle stocks or vertical foregrips), and you get to use the same tried and true 5.56 ammo that the army does.
For a shorter than 11.5” barrel, you’ll want to go with 300 Blackout. Or a PCC…
All things considered, if you don’t want to give the government any more of your money or you don’t want to wait around for 6-8 months, and they’re legal where you live*, then an AR Pistol will be a fantastic choice for your next firearm. We carry a great selection of calibers and barrel lengths. From Brands like Foxtrot Mike, Radical firearms, Ruger, LMT, H&K, BCM, CMMG, and more.
Just remember, a pistol brace and a handstop a day keeps the ATF away.