Want a short barreled AR-15, but don’t want to pay the tax stamp for it?
We understand, which is why we’re going to introduce you to the wonderful world of AR pistols.
The National Firearms Act, commonly called the NFA, is the law that restricts much of what we’re allowed to own, including our beloved AR-15s. The AR pistol was created to be an alternative to an SBR, while still staying on the right (and cheaper) side of the law.
We’re going to get into that more, as well as get a better understanding of what an AR pistol is, why you need one, and show you the best AR pistols available for a variety of budgets.
What’s an AR-15 Pistol?
It seems rather odd that the AR-15 could be a pistol. The AR in AR-15 stands for Armalite Rifle, after all. Most configurations have it firing a rifle round, and even the smallest ARs are much bigger than a pistol.
AR-15 pistol is a classification that exists due to some silly American gun laws and definitions. An AR pistol cannot have a stock, but can have a bare and exposed buffer tube. Another no-no is a vertical grip, but an angled grip like the Magpul AFG is legal.
AR-15 pistols can have barrels as short as you want them to. Personally, I own an AR-15 pistol with a 7.5-inch barrel and, while it is ridiculous, it’s a lot of fun.
Over the last few years, the popularity of AR-15 pistols has grown significantly. This growth is mostly tied to the advent of stabilizing braces. Stabilizing braces turned a gaudy, heavy, and awkward gun into a stable, comfortable-to-shoot weapon.
Why Would I Want One?
We won’t dive too deep into the NFA, but the section that concerns this article is the law that rifles must have 16-inch barrels, or else they are regulated under the NFA.
So, if you wanted an AR-15 with a 7.5-inch barrel, you’d have to pay a tax stamp, ask for permission, and wait for 3 to 6 months for approval. Once approved you could then own an SBR. Or you could just buy an AR pistol and skip all that.
There are a lot of other reasons you might want an AR pistol, besides just the tax stamp.
First off, you may live in a state that prohibits SBRs in general, regardless of federal regulation. An AR pistol might be your only choice.
An AR pistol is treated and regulated as a pistol. This pistol classification may mean it’s legal to carry in a variety of ways.
For example, some states require long guns to be stored in a vehicle unloaded, or even in the trunk or a locked box. An AR pistol is a pistol, not a long gun. An AR pistol could potentially be legal to be carried concealed in your vehicle and ready for immediate use.
In my state I could technically, if I found it necessary, toss my AR pistol in a sling bag and carry it concealed legally. While this may not be necessary, in the event of a hurricane or other bug out situation, I may want a little extra firepower.
AR-15 pistols require a lot less hassle than an SBR, and with a brace, are great firearms for home defense. They can be ultra small and insanely easy to maneuver in and out of buildings with, plus you can attach a can and still have a smaller overall platform than a regular rifle.
Best AR Pistols
When I started thinking of AR-15 pistols to suggest for your guys and gals, I realized there are just way too many out there. To make it easier, I chose eight guns in three different budget ranges. I hope you guys can find one or two on the list that appeals to you.
I also jumped into a variety of calibers when possible, and this will show you just how versatile the AR-15 pistol is.
If you are shopping on a budget, you still have plenty of quality options available for a AR-15 pistol. It’s a hard line to walk between cheap and affordable, but I think I’ve found three great guns for your AR-15 pistol needs–without making your wallet cry.
Aero Precision makes terrific guns. They made the budget list by being smart and proving you can get a high-quality pistol at a low price. The trick is to strip the gun down to only the necessities.
The AR-15 OEM Pistol lacks a handguard so that you can pick and choose your own. This design cuts cost and allows you to select the exact handguard you want. The gun rocks Mil-Spec everything. It helps keep the gun simple, well made, but also very affordable.
This particular model is in .300 Blackout, which is a fantastic caliber for a pistol AR-15. The .300 Blackout is made for short barrels, and this 8-inch barrel is undoubtedly short. This round can reach its peak potential from a 9-inch barrel, so 8 inches will get the job done.
The overall length of this gun is only 26 inches. Toss on a Magpul MOE fore end and a stabilizing brace and you have a very capable little AR-15 pistol. The Aero Precision OEM AR-15 pistol is an excellent choice for beginners and it’s one that will last shooters a long time.
Palmetto State Armory is well known and respected for their budget-friendly AR-15 builds. Of course, they have pistols! What’s great about this 8.5″ SOB Pistol kit is that it’s a complete kit. It comes from PSA with nearly everything you need to hit the range.
The gun is complete with a brace, magazine, and handguard. The gun itself is in 5.56 so ammo is cheaper and more common. The only thing you need to add is a set of sights or an optic.
This build comes with an SOB brace from SB Tactical to help you stabilize this gun. The SOB is a basic brace that’s wholly functional but isn’t adjustable in any way. The weapon itself rocks an 8.5-inch barrel that has a 1:7 inch twist.
The gun comes with a short MLOK metal handguard and a monolithic top rail for all your optics needs. The gun retails for right around 500 bucks. It’s a great base model gun you can customize as your budget allows.
Radical Firearms is well known for making affordable and quality little firearms. They make a variety of pistols in the AR platform, but I wanted to go a little bigger than the other two. This 10.5-inch pistol has a little more barrel than most.
With a 5.56 gun, this gives you a hair more velocity, range, and a little less muzzle blast. A 10.5-inch barrel is pretty standard for military rifles that fall under the shorter length category. It’s an excellent compromise for maneuverability and ballistic performance.
The Radical Firearms 10.5 inch pistol has a 10-inch FGS rail. This rail allows you to mount M-LOK or RF FGSA rail attachments. The rail itself is a completely round handguard. It’s very comfortable in hand, to be honest.
If you are a C-clamp enthusiast this type of rail system is perfect, and you can get an excellent tight grip around the gun in a very comfortable way. This rail system is topped with a full-length rail for optics, sights, etc.
This pistol is a great beginner’s AR pistol, and once you toss on a stabilizing brace and a set of sights, you are ready to hit the range.
Got a little more to spend, but aren’t ready to commit to pro-grade? These mid-range AR pistols are a step up from the bare-bones budget models, but also don’t have a bunch of features you won’t use.
Not all AR-15 pistols come in rifle calibers, and pistol caliber ARs are a natural extension for AR pistols. The TNW ASP is very far from standard, but to me is still technically an AR-15. Most pistol caliber ARs don’t utilize a standard DI system so it is hard to judge any as correct ARs.
The TNW ASP is a blowback operated 9mm pistol that takes Glock magazines. It uses a side charging handle, and this particular model even comes with a brace. As a 9mm it’s exceptionally lightweight and weighs in at only 6 pounds.
The barrel is a longer 10.25 inches, but it does allow the 9mm to gain a little more velocity and offers you a longer sight radius. ASP stands for Aero Survival Pistol, and the idea is to have a lightweight, and compact option for bugging out and other survival scenarios.
By being chambered in 9mm, you have less range, less penetration, and all the other disadvantages of a pistol caliber. However, you also have less recoil, a lot less muzzle blast, and they are easier to suppress.
Plus who doesn’t like pretending they have an SMG?
The DB 15 pistol is my kind of AR-15 pistol. It’s short, ugly, and aggressive. This gun rocks a 7.5-inch barrel with a dynamic and effective flash suppressor. You’ll need as much flash suppression as possible with one of these guns, especially with the 7.5-inch barrel.
The DB 15 is a 5.56 AR pistol so expect a lot of sound and fury. The gun has a short handguard with a top and bottom rail. You have plenty of room for optics and accessories. The gun comes with a PMAG and a Magpul grip which is a nice touch.
Unfortunately, no brace is included with this build, but the end of the tube is covered with a soft foam covering. This makes it easy to rest your cheek on the tube and aim the gun. A brace is a must have though, once you try it you’ll never go back to a pistol without a brace.
The DB 15 is a great little gun, and it’s priced well for the included features. The DB 15 is an excellent mid-priced AR-15 pistol.
The FightLite Industries SCR Pistol is the most exciting pick on this list. Part of me fell in love with this gun and loved it even more at SHOT Show 2018 when I finally fired it. The FightLite SCR pistol completely lacks any buffer tube or standard pistol grip.
In place of this is the Shockwave Raptor grip. This grip gives this AR pistol a unique appearance I’ve never seen before. It looks more like a pirate’s AR than an actual AR. The gun can’t mount a brace but is far from unwieldy.
It’s easy to hold and aim, and comfortable at the same time. The low recoil from the 5.56 round makes it easy to fire from the eye. It’s also easy to shoot with one hand… but it’s not very accurate with one hand.
The gun sports a 7.25-inch barrel and an M-LOK rail system. You can mount an optic and AFG, but there isn’t much else you can do. The FightLite SCR weighs only 3.9 pounds and is a blast to shoot.
The lack of a buffer tube brings the overall length down to only 20.25 inches. The SCR pistol is one compact AR.
Ready to run with the big dogs? These two AR pistols are pro-grade, and by that, we mean that they are trusted by professional shooters, military, and law enforcement. Take a closer look at these drool-worthy pistols!
Want to use what the pros use? By pros, I mean armed professionals around the world. This gun is the closest you can get to the actual MK 18 without having to cross into NFA territory.
The MK 18 is a gun used by Special Ops troops when they need something lightweight, maneuverable and of course deadly. The DDM4 MK 18 pistol from Daniel Defense sports a 10.3-inch government profile barrel. The MK 18 pistol comes with or without a brace depending on the package you purchase.
The MK 18 is one of the highest quality AR-15 pistols on the market. It’s built to extremely demanding standards, and it delivers excellent accuracy, reliability, and long-term durability. The MK 18 pistol does use a standard quad rail that old guys like me tend to appreciate.
Keymod and M-LOK are sexy, but a quad rail is always there for you. Plus the extra weight helps with muzzle rise. Daniel Defense tosses in their DD 32 round magazine.
The Recce-1 KMR-A Pistol is a bit of a mouthful, so we’ll call it the Recce-11 from here on out. This gun has an 11.5-inch barrel, which makes it a little longer than your standard AR pistol. However, it is built off an SBR platform, so it makes sense it is a little bigger.
Bigger barrel means more velocity, longer range, longer sight radius, etc. The Recce-11 is the pistol for you if you want something highly customized out of the box. It wears a lot of BCM’s Gunfighter gear.
The Gunfighter gear includes a free float handguard, the MOD 0 compensator, the Gunfighter charging handle, the Mod 3 pistol grip, BCM trigger guard and so much more. The only thing this gun needs extra is a robust set of sights and a brace, and you are ready to go.
The Rifle-Style Pistol
Rifle styles pistols are an excellent way around the NFA process for an SBR. With the current braces on the market, I’m not even sure if I see a reason to get a stamp anymore. Regardless of the route, you take to be sure you check out a few of the above-listed AR-15 pistols.
What’s your take on AR pistols and rifle caliber pistols? Do you own an AR pistol? Tell us about it in the comments below! Want to add a brace to your AR pistol? Check out our reviews of the best AR pistol braces.