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AR-15s: Pistol or SBR?

With the rising popularity of AR-15 pistols it can be confusing trying to figure out what exactly constitutes a short barrel rifle vs. an AR pistol. One is completely legal to purchase and possess and the other is restricted by the National Firearms Act and constitutes a Federal Offense to possess without the proper paperwork.

Now of course nobody wants to run afoul of the Federal Government, so it’s imperative that you understand what makes an SBR an SBR, and what makes AR pistols legal. It may appear to be complicated and obfuscated but the defining characteristics are pretty straight forward if you know what you’re looking for.

Short Barreled Rifle(SBR)

AR15 short barrel rifle

A rifle according to the ATF is a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder.

A Short Barrel Rifle is any rifle with a barrel length of less than 16 inches or an overall length of less than 26 inches. This constitutes an SBR that is restricted by the NFA without the proper paperwork.

Even though you can buy all of the pieces necessary to build an SBR, by assembling a rifle with a barrel shorter than 16 inches you are committing a Federal offense. To legally purchase/build a Short Barreled Rifle you must complete the ATF Form 1, pay the $200 tax and wait to receive the necessary paperwork in the mail.

AR Pistols

AR15 pistol

The ATF defines a pistol as is a weapon originally designed, made, and intended to fire a projectile from one or more barrels when held in one hand and having (a) a chamber as an integral part of, or permanently aligned with, the bore; and (b) a short stock designed to be gripped by one hand and at an angle to and extending below the line of the bore.

An AR Pistol is a pistol built on an AR-15 action and receiver, but that is designed to be fired with one hand and not fired from the shoulder. AR-15 Pistols do not have shoulder stocks and therefore were not designed to be fired from the shoulder. This means that they are in fact pistols, and not Short Barreled Rifles.

It’s very important to note that an AR-15 rifle cannot be made a pistol by simply removing the stock. If the gun was originally built as a rifle then it will always be a rifle and you cannot change it’s designation. By attempting to turn an AR-15 into a pistol you will actually be creating a Short Barrel Rifle and run the risk of being in violation of Federal Law. AR-15 Pistols must be purchased as a pistol or built as a pistol from a new blank lower receiver that has never been built as a rifle.


AR Pistol with SIG Brace

Now we’ve all seen the photos online of AR Pistols with what appear to be stocks on them, what’s the deal with that?

Although they might appear to be stocks, they are actually called Pistol Braces. They are intended to brace the shooters arm making the pistol easier to aim and control under fire. Some of them wrap around your forearm while others are blade shaped and simply press against your forearm.

As you remember the ATF defines a rifle as a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder. As long as the brace is not designed or intended to be fired from the shoulder, and instead is simply designed to brace the shooter’s arm then you can legally mount it on your AR Pistol.

What’s The Difference?

The difference between an SBR and an AR pistol boils down to one thing; a Short Barrel Rifle has a buttstock while a pistol does not. The AR Pistol is not designed to be fired from the shoulder, while the SBR is. The AR Pistol is 100% legal for any non restricted American to own while the SBR requires special paperwork for every rifle issued by the ATF.

When building your next firearm it’s important to understand the distinction between an AR pistol and a Short Barrel Rifle. The last thing any of us want is to have the ATF knocking on our door asking why we have a restricted weapon without the required paperwork.

If you have any questions about AR pistols or the process of acquiring the tax stamps for an SBR feel free to give us a call or shoot us an email. At C.O.P.S. GunShop firearms are our passion, and we live to share our knowledge and passion with our neighbors.

2 thoughts on “AR-15s: Pistol or SBR?”

  1. I have a PSA assembled lower receiver and would like to purchase a 10.5 inch upper receiver (remove the stock and install a pistol brace) to make an AR pistol. Would this be a legal AR Pistol? Most posts I assume are referring to a bare receiver when starting but I am just looking for clarification on starting from an assembled lower which was purchased without an upper receiver.

    Thank you!

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