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AR-15 Rifle Buyers Guide

Buying an AR-15 is like riding on the back of a bald eagle, waving the stars and stripes, and landing on Mount Rushmore as fireworks explode behind you. Okay, maybe not exactly like that. But, the AR 15 has become almost as synonymous with America as all of those culturally iconic things are. What may be most exciting of all is the story behind what AR-15 stands for.

Eugene Stoner is the mind behind the genius mechanical creation we enjoy today.

In the mid-1950s, Stoner worked as the chief design engineer for ArmaLite to create the Armalite Rifle - AR-15.

The US Military was on the hunt for a new, semi-automatic battle rifle that would bring our Army out of WWII.

Stoner’s prototype AR-10 was up for consideration to replace the old, heavy, and capacity-deficient M1 Garand as the military’s rifle of choice..

The AR-10 didn’t hold up.

Against the will of Eugene Stoner, ArmaLite presented the military with a version of the AR-10 that had an aluminum and steel composite barrel, intended to impress the testers with its light weight.

That decrease in weight came at the expense of the rifle’s ability to stand up to the demands of the tests, bursting both the barrel and any hopes the AR-10 had of winning the hearts and dollars of the U.S. Military.

It was not long until battlefield requirements in Vietnam called for more innovation. General Willard G. Wyman saw an opportunity to outfit soldiers with an even lighter weight rifle, using a smaller caliber of ammunition. One Soldiers could carry more of.

Stoner went back to the drawing board, scaling down his AR-10 design. This birthed the AR-15!

When he finished, the patent for the AR-15 design was sold to Colt, who sold the rifle under the co-branded name Colt ArmaLite AR-15 Model 01 and would market it to military services around the world.

The real magic for the civilian markets began when Colt’s patent on the design expired in the 1970s, opening the door for other manufacturers to begin creating AR-15 pattern rifles, parts, and accessories.

The fact that the platform had a MIL SPEC designation meant all companies had to do to ensure their parts could all be interchangeable was follow the specifications set forth by the military. The rest is history.

So… Want to get your hands on one of your own?

The AR in AR-15 stands for ‘ArmaLite Rifle’. ArmaLite was the original manufacturer of the rifle, though they sold the design to Colt in 1959 following financial and production limitations. Colt maintained the rifle’s original name though, giving us today’s most recognizable rifle in America.

Depending on the manufacturer and configurations, AR15s can cost anywhere from $400 to over $2000. The price of a rifle comes from factors like machining quality, material quality, customization, fitment, and included upgrades.

Before purchasing an AR 15, it’s important to do your research to find the best configuration to fit your budget. There are dozens of quality AR15 manufacturers, and each will incorporate their own technology and parts to make a truly unique rifle.

We recommend you search reviews of AR15s in your price point to find how they compare with your competitors and also read our AR-15 Cost Guide. Our site also gives you the ability to search based on budget and feature set, allowing you to quickly identify rifles or pistols that best meet your needs.

Buying a complete AR-15 from a well known brand can be a perfect way to get a high-performance rifle, tuned and assembled by the experts, ready for action right out of the box.

Here’s a list of AR 15 manufacturers we carry that sell complete rifle configurations, organized by price point:

Budget-Friendly AR-15 Rifles for sale:

Moderately Priced AR-15 Rifles for sale:

High-End AR-15 Rifles for sale:

Beyond choosing a manufacturer or price point that fits your budget when buying your new AR-15, there are a few configuration options that you will want to consider. The purpose of your rifle is largely going to dictate your feature choices.

There are numerous factors to consider when purchasing a new AR-15 in order to get the most out of your rifle, but sometimes all those different options can get overwhelming especially if this is your first ever rifle purchase.

Don’t get bogged down, let us simplify it for you and break down how to choose the best AR-15 for you.

The AR 15 is America’s rifle, and for good reason. It’s a simple, elegant and efficient design – versatile in its capacity to perform across a wide array of applications. The inherent modularity of the platform lends itself to customization, personalization, and fine-tuned performance.

Some applications favor a shorter barrel size for your AR, like home defense rifles. For home defense, you may have your best luck with an AR 9 Pistol (PCC). These can be chambered in 9mm, 40, or 45. This way, you can have all the features of an AR 15 AND a barrel as short as 4 inches. perfect for hallways.

They can fit in your backpack, they're lightweight, are very durable And it will still be accurate at 100 yards.

The drawbacks are the fact you have to use a pistol buffer tube, not a stock, and you won’t be hitting 12-inch groupings beyond 100 yards

5.56 NATO's biggest advantage is its velocity, but short barrels can reduce velocity and compromise on terminal ballistics. If you want an intermediate caliber with a barrel under 10 inches, consider using purpose-made cartridges like .300 AAC Blackout.

To stick with 5.56 and .223, the most common barrel legth for a rifle is 16 inches. You don't need a tax stamp, you're accurate out to 500 yards, and you still can be lightweight enough for home defense.

If you only want one AR 15, a 16 inch barrel is for you.

The AR-15 is most commonly available in 5.56x45mm NATO or .223 Remington, but with the rise in the platform’s popularity has come the demand for different calibers. Below you can find a summary of what calibers are available for the AR-15 platform and you can also check out our article, Explaining the Different Calibers of an AR-15.

Complete AR rifles feature manufacturer-tuned set-ups in popular new calibers like 300 BLK --which is a suppressor-friendly loading popular for home defense and short-range hunting.

Many precision marksmen will use a dedicated long-range cartridge like .224 Valkyrie, which offers improved ballistics when engaging targets beyond 500 yards with an AR-15.

For strong overall performance, 5.56x45 NATO remains the most popular cartridge for AR15s. 5.56x45 is highly versatile with low recoil, accessible ammunition, and massive product support. 5.56x45 NATO-marked rifles can also use .223 Remington ammunition, adding to their flexibility and cost effectiveness.

1 .22 Long Rifle
.17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire
5.45x39mm NATO
2 .223 Remington / 5.56x45mm NATO
FN 5.7x28mm
.22 Nosler
3 6mm ARC
.243 Winchester Super
6.5mm Grendel
46.8 Remington SPC II
300 AAC Blackout
5.300 Whisper
9mm Luger
.375 SOCOM
6.40 Smith & Wesson
.45 ACP
10mm Auto
7.450 Bushmaster
.458 SOCOM
.50 Beowulf

The modularity of the AR-15 means you can buy one rifle, and a selection of other components that can be swapped in and out of the rifle, and have a firearm capable of utilizing multiple calibers for a variety of applications.

By swapping upper receivers or changing parts, you can adapt your rifle for hunting, plinking, personal defense, or long-range marksmanship. No other rifle can match the AR-15’s flexibility, which is why so many gun-owners invest heavily in their ARs.

A Mil-Spec AR-15 rifle is built to the specification of quality and fit that is standardized by the U.S. Department of Defense. Mil-Spec or Military Specification is a set of standards that guarantees every component is built to the same quality and size which allows the parts to be interchanged or replaced.

An AR-15 Rifle or it's parts manufactured to military standards is also built to adhere to a level of stringent testing, durability, and performance. Furthermore, the Mil-Spec designation ensures that a rifle and it's parts are built with specific materials that have been determined to provide an adequate level of performance.

The advantage of a Mil-Spec AR-15, besides a good baseline of quality control, is that parts can be interchanged or replaced using other Mil-Spec parts, regardless of the manufacturer because they are built to the same specifications. If you'd like to dive deeper into the subject of Mil-Spec standards, then check out our blog article explaining What is a Mil-Spec AR-15?

Most AR15s come with a modular handguard, which will offer picatinny, M-LOK, or KeyMod accessory attachment slots. These slots allow you to attach iron sights, lights, lasers, foregrips, bipods, slings, bayonets, and any other necessary additions.

Depending on the handguard, your attachment system will vary, so it is important to understand the differences between the three most popular options.

Picatinny rails (Pic rails) are the old-school way to mount everything to your gun. These days, most rifles will have a pic rail on top for optic and sight mounting.

M-LOK and KeyMod are the 2 newer standards for all other accessories and have been in direct competition. They both offer their own benefits, but M-LOK is the more popular option, offering a greater variety of compatible parts and accessories.

If you are buying your first AR 15 and are uncertain about handguards, we highly recommend that you look at rifles with ‘M-LOK’ handguards, as you’ll always be able to find compatible parts.

Choosing the best AR-15 for you comes down to what you want the rifle to do and what fits your budget.

AR-15s in standard MIL SPEC configurations are incredibly versatile, and a great place to start if you are buying your first AR. These rifles will be great for target shooting fun on the range, as well as varmint hunting.

They’ll also be very affordable in comparison to other more specialized configurations.

However, for just a little more room in the budget, you can get a complete AR with upgraded components that will go a long way in improving your rifle’s capabilities.

Moderately priced AR Rifles will have factory-tuned and pre-installed enhancements like free-floating hand rails and upgraded internal components to increase the rifle’s reliability and accuracy.

If you’re serious about diving into the AR-15 platform, it’s a worthwhile investment to kick in a little extra cash and get these upgrades.

This is also the best price range to get a rifle that will be worthy of some upgrades. A better trigger, more comfortable stock, better muzzle device, and a quality optic will help you get the most precision out of your rifle system.

High-end AR-15 manufacturers stake their reputations on the unparalleled quality of their rifles and products. Brands such as Bravo Company Manufacturing (BCM), Noveske, LWRC, CMMG, Daniel Defense, and LMT make some of the best Rifles right out of the box.

If you are looking for serious performance right out of the box, you can rest assured that with these rifles you will get every dollar’s worth for the price you pay.

People who trust their lives to AR 15 rifles every single day, only trust the top of the wolf pack to build the best rifles that money can buy, and they deliver.

We cover the topic of What is the Best AR-15 if you would like to dive deeper into the subject.

Also, while no list can ever be objectivly perfect, we find that any one of these brands could hold the title as having, 'the best ar15.'

When purchasing an AR-15 through a retailer, you must complete a few legal documents, including a federal background check. Contrary to myth, you cannot purchase an AR and ship it to your house. You need to send it to a dealer with an FFL (Federal Firearms License), so that they can complete that paperwork and transfer according to US law.

If you plan on building a rifle yourself, you will still need to complete a transfer for the lower receiver. All other parts can ship directly to your home.

For most rifles and pistols, the answer is no.

The National Firearms Act (NFA) restricts the purchase of ‘short-barreled rifles’, which includes any RIFLE that uses a barrel under 16 inches or fails to meet a 26 inch overall length. Very few AR-15s are sold as an SBR from factory, but if you are uncertain about a product you see online, check the product description. Most manufacturers will include a notice of its status as an NFA item.

Please note, AR PISTOLS are exempt from the barrel length restriction, though pistols have their own limitations. AR-15 pistols are classified as having a barrel shorter than 16" and cannot have a stock or pistol brace attached. They must use a smooth buffer tube assembly. You cannot put a stock OR a pistol brace on an AR pistol without converting it to an SBR, and if the pistol’s overall length is below 26 inches, you cannot use a vertical foregrip either. Whenever you’re making significant modifications to your AR15 rifle or pistol, make sure you’ve researched the law and feel confident in your changes.

Several states (such as California, New York, and Massachusetts) have strict state laws that limit the features and accessibility of AR-15s, misconstruing this popular rifle as an ‘assault weapon’. While every state differs slightly, there are a few common issues to pay close attention to:

Magazines: Some states will have magazine restrictions, limiting capacity to 10 rounds or fewer. Fortunately, 10-round AR magazines are very common.

Stocks: Some states will ban the use of a retractable stock. In these states, you will need to use a fixed rifle stock, instead of a carbine stock. If your state also bans pistol grips, you may need to incorporate the grip into the stock with a thumbhole or featureless grip. Muzzle Devices: Some states ban flash hiders. In these states, you will need to use a compensator or muzzle brake.

Ban by Name: Some states ban rifles by name. This can cause a tremendous amount of confusion, as lawmakers are inconsistent in their application. Often, two near-identical AR 15 rifles will face different restriction, simply because the model number was slightly different.

Ultimately, the onus is on the gun-owner when making their purchase. If you live in the northeast or on the west coast, you are likely to face a multitude of restrictions on AR 15 ownership. If you do plan on purchasing an AR-15 in one of these states, it is VERY important that you do all your background research to verify the legality of a certain rifle or product under state guidelines.

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to send us a message at info@primaryarms.com or call us at 713-344-9600.