The Quintessential AR15 Pistol: The Good, Bad and Ugly
Major Pandemic 03.28.16
The AR-15 pistol is not only one of the most fun AR-15-based guns you can own, but these pistols can actually be really viable hunting and defensive tools. The entire AR-15 pistol market has had a recent resurgence partly due to the Sig Braces and partly because, well, AR-15 pistols are freaking cool. But there are some potential pitfalls to the AR-15 pistol that I’d like to lend some perspective on. Let’s start with the Ugly, before getting to the Bad and Good.
The Ugly Side of the AR-15 Pistol
The drama around AR-15 pistols this past two years with the ATF flip-flopping decisions around the legality of shouldering an AR-15 pistol equipped with some type of brace was totally ludicrous. At the 2015 SHOT show, the rumors abounded that the ATF was actively looking to cite anyone who so much as thought about shouldering a Sig Brace-equipped rifle. Of course, that did not happen, and the ATF patiently fielded about ten thousand absolutely asinine questions during the show about their “opinions.” I felt sorry for them just a little bit.
The crux of the problem was that during the prohibition era, the National Firearms Act of 1934 enacted a law that said rifles could not have barrels under 16” or they would be considered Short Barreld Rifles (depicted as horrible devices of mass death used by gangsters). The noted Short Barreled Rifle would require a stiff $200 tax stamp and registration to own, thereby somehow controlling all the guys using illegal guns doing illegal things and prevent them from legally purchasing these guns.
Over the last year or so, a few products such as the Sig Brace spurred more controversy and various ATF “opinions.” One of the more heated ATF’s opinions was that if the Sig Brace was used to support the gun against the shoulder instead of the forearm, a perfectly legal AR-15 pistol would magically become an NFA ATF regulated item and the owner could get charged with owning an unlicensed SBR. FFL dealers actually pulled pretty much every Sig Brace equipped AR-15 pistol from the shelves because, according to the ATF opinion, if a customer shouldered one of these pistols it would permanently become an SBR. Ridiculous on so many levels, right?
The problem is that SBR law is a stupid regulation filled with more loopholes than your average spaghetti strainer, and the ATF is left to interpret the intent of the original law. However, despite whatever ATF may say about the legality, widespread enforcement of said “ATF Opinions” is nearly impossible because unless you are doing something stupid, you probably are not going to get regular ATF raids of your home. Most of the ATF agents I met at SHOT were not anxious to start citing people, and in fact all this noise just makes their job harder.
Some people stumble accidentally into legal trouble. Using the “ordinary common man” legal test, the ordinary common man would assume that a product freely available to purchase would not become illegal if assembled. Thus problems occur when someone unknowingly pins up a rifle AR-15 lower with a AR-15 pistol upper, and then same goes for someone magically transforming a legal AR-15 pistol into an SBR just by shouldering it. Which brings us to “intent.”
Generally ignorance of the law is not an excuse, but typically the courts allows some leeway once you are in front of the actual judge when it comes down to the intent of the defendant. Some simple questions that the prosecutor will have to prove: Did the defendant intend knowingly to build an SBR, did they buy a Sig Brace to knowingly use the AR-15 pistol as an SBR, and/or were they knowingly intending to use any of the above parts in a manner which would re-classify the firearm they built/modified as a NFA ATF regulated firearm?
Although I do feel sorry for the ATF a bit to have to manage a law that makes as much sense as a fur lined sink, the whole Sig brace thing makes my eyes rolls so hard it makes them start to bleed.
The Bad: 50 Shades of Grey
Though the ATF still seems to be waffling on whether you can shoulder a Sig or other similar “brace” depending who asked who and when and the context of your question, the reality is that Sig Braces are perfectly legal to buy, own, and use on any AR-15 pistol, but no one wants to be in front of court over a weekend project that you shoot three or four times a year.
The legal expenses even if you get off innocently will be exponentially more than just going ahead and spending the $200 to register that cool Lower receiver as an SBR. I recommend not dancing in the “grey area.” If you want and SBR, go ahead and register your favorite lower receiver and 3-6 months later you can do whatever you want with the gun. I would go further and suggest just buying a IWI Tavor if you really want a shoulder-able short length rifle. As the 16” Tavor is sold, it is classified as a plain old rifle and is actually just a little shorter than an AR-15 pistol with an extended buffer tube and Sig Brace installed, as you can see compared to my Aero Precision AR-15 pistol with Phase 5 Tactical extended buffer tube, new SBX brace and 7” .223 Barreled upper.
AR-15 pistols are very cool, but they can be a potential legal nightmare depending on your local laws, law enforcement knowledge, and how you are carrying them. Technically they are a pistol, but in some cases the length of your AR-15 pistol may add extra restrictions around carrying the gun, so check first.
The other issue is that the police are woefully misinformed about what is legal and what is not when it comes to AR-15 pistols. Technically there is nothing wrong with owning and possessing an AR-15 pistol as your pistol sidearm. If you are stopped for a traffic violation with a tricked out AR-15 pistol complete with extended buffer tube and Sig Brace, I can guarantee there will be additional questions and potentially a call in to the local ATF branch for inspection of said pistol if they do not understand what it is. You will not be on your way in minutes. A standard AR-15 pistol will probably net far less headaches, but you’ll still get some “questions”.
I love my AR-15 pistols, but unless the situation dictated it, I would likely not be riding with an AR-15 tucked into my truck’s door pocket much the same way that I would not have an AR-15 tossed over the passenger seat.
All this BS was one reason I initially did not want anything to do with AR-15 pistols. Then I ended up with an EXTAR AR-15 pistol and was hooked. I began to see that there was a lot of fun and utility to be had with an AR-15 pistol despite its potential image problems. Then I did an AR-15 pistol build based on an Matthew 80% billet lower receiver, and then one based on a inexpensive blemished $39 lower receiver.
The thing that pissed me off the most was that just before everyone opened their mouths and forced the ATF into answering a question that should not have been asked, I had just built a rather expensive custom Aero Precision AR-15 pistol kit. This Ultimate AR-15 Pistol build kit (as I was calling it), included three top tier Aero Precision COP uppers in 7.62×39, 300 Blackout, and .223 calibers and of course Sig’s Newest SBX Pistol Brace mounted to the custom cerakoted AP lower. I event did an extra .223 lightweight upper version with an Apex Handguard. The builds were completed right before SHOT show when the ATF decisions started rolling in forbidding shouldering such a rifle. It took the steam out of that article.
It took a while to go back to those AR-15 pistol builds and even shoot them because I didn’t want the hassle. After a second look at the concept of the AR-15 pistol, I realized I still loved the idea. The Sig Brace and Shockwave Blade ideas are sound ideas that are still completely legal to buy, and they make the AR-15 Pistol format a lot more fun and easier to shoot.
The AR-15 pistol is more than a legal path to something that performs like an SBR without the registration because it goes back to what the quintessential AR-15 should be. If you want an SBR length rifle, just go buy a Tavor. If you want an AR-15 pistol, then we need to go back to the roots of the original style of the pistol.
Though I may have gone a bit overboard to illustrate the point of a basic AR-15 pistol, the build turned out beautiful. I used a Black Rain Ordnance billet stripper lower receiver, Phase 5 Tactical billet buffer tube, Geissele trigger, Strike Industries accessories, and one of the repurposed Aero Precision COP uppers complete with a match grade MicroMOA .223 barrel, Sharps Reliabolt & Carrier, Nordic charging handle, and SLR adjustable gas block. I even went a step further and made one of my custom hand stippled and paracord wrapped custom grips with a chopped down grip size to further reduce the overall AR-15 pistol profile.
This build was every bit at its core a basic, short, and loud-as-hell AR-15 pistol and could in no way be construed as anything other than an AR-15 pistol that still allows me to connect easily on 12” targets all the way out to 300 yards. The result was one of my favorite guns in my safe and something that is solidly outside of the “grey area” which I can say with a straight face or without winking or nudge that it is without question an quintessential AR-15 Pistol.