Consider an AR Pistol Instead of an SBR

| January 4, 2014 | 0 Comments

For some platforms, the only option for a short overall length is to register the weapon as a Short Barreled Rifle with the ATF. The AK platform is the best example of this. There are AK pistols, but these stockless, heavy firearms aren’t great at anything longer than point-shooting distances.

My primary AK SBR is built from a Mini Draco pistol. While it was possible to shoot the pistol without a stock, it required a very firm grip and a lot of compression within the arms.

I sent in the paperwork and waited eight months before my AK pistol project became a rocking short barreled rifle.

When I got my stamp back, I did the necessary work on my Mini Draco (drilled the rear trunnion, attached an ACE folding stock mechanism, etc). I’m very happy with it, but be advised there are restrictions on short barreled rifles that suck:

  • They can’t be “possessed” by anyone other than who’s on the paperwork. The definition of “possessed” is gray.
  • You have to get written permission from the ATF if you intend to transport your SBR out of state. You have to have a specific address listed where the weapon will be stored.
  • The wait time for an NFA application is approximately 10+ months.
  • If you want to sell a short barrel rifle you have to do a special transfer, and that requires the buyer to go through the same 10+ month wait process you did to get or make your own SBR.

The AR platform is the only design where a “pistol” version can be used effectively as if it were a rifle. For legal reasons, I am not advocating that you use the pistol as a rifle, and I will do my best to keep my wording straight.


There are several advantages to an AR pistol, especially if you are already familiar with the AR platform:

  • Extremely easy to build, as the buffer tube is required by direct impingement ARs (the most prevalent design). If you’ve built an AR before, you can build an AR pistol. No need for a drill press or special trunnions like converting an AK pistol into a rifle.
  • Chances are your training group is already full of guys and gals with AR pattern firearms. Spare parts and troubleshooting should be easy.
  • For shooters with shorter arms and/or less upper body strength the AR pistol is very easy to mount and manage.
  • Depending on the laws where you live, an AR pistol will be covered by concealed carry law. Most states have rules about transporting loaded rifles and/or concealing rifles on your person. Minnesota has a weird collision where you can’t have a loaded rifle on you, but defines a firearm with a short barrel as a pistol, so … know your local and state laws.
  • You can sell an AR pistol (or its components) very easily.
  • For some, not having the firearm on the NFA registry is attractive.
  • You can take your AR pistol out of state without asking the government for permission.
  • If the lack of a stock bothers you, or if you’re impatient like I am, you can always apply for an NFA stamp and use the AR as a pistol while you wait.

As usual, there are some caveats. NOTE: I am not a lawyer. Please do your own legal research about firearms, particularly laws where you live. Consult an attorney for additional help.

  • The lower receiver must have never been registered as part of a rifle. Meaning, don’t take a receiver that was sold commercially as a rifle and then convert it to a pistol. The reason you want to avoid this is that the serial number of a commercially manufactured and sold AR rifle will be associated with a “rifle.” You are not building a short barreled rifle. You are building an AR pistol. Some manufacturers make a “pistol” lower, but that’s just a roll mark on the lower for piece of mind. You don’t need one.
  • In order to avoid the boogieman of constructive intent / possession, most AR pistol owners buy a special buffer tube that cannot accept a traditional AR stock. These tend to be very expensive compared to regular buffer tubes, ranging from $50 to $200. I think this is overkill, but if you would rather be safe than sorry go for it.
  • Some people get buffer tubes that don’t fit their regular stocks and then permanently alter them as to not accept a stock without tools or significant effort. For example, if you own only military spec stocks, buying a commercial spec stock and then modifying the tube so that it can’t accept any stock (commercial or military) might present enough effort on your part to avoid a constructive intent claim.In any case, it is possible to slam a stock or an item that could be used as a stock onto any buffer tube, “pistol” or otherwise. Some pistol tubes have a slightly larger diameter than regular buffer tubes but it isn’t enough to keep a stock from being put onto it. The ATF doesn’t care if your stock can be adjusted; they just care if a stock can be put on your firearm without tools. In short, if you have a pistol buffer tube or a “rifle” buffer tube, the answer is yes. To my knowledge no one has been prosecuted based on a buffer tube, but do what is best for your conscience.
  • Don’t put a vertical foregrip on your AR pistol. It is legal to put Magpul’s Angled Fore Grip (AFP) according to the ATF, but a true vertical foregrip is a no-no. Why? Because gun laws are dumb. Note: as of this writing, it is possible to put a foregrip on your gun if its overall length is over 26″, it does not have a stock, and you do not conceal it on your person. The ATF then classifies this weapon as a “firearm.” I am not sure why you’d want this over an actual rifle or an AR pistol, but you can do it if you really want to. Just understand what you’re dealing with.


There are several reasons why you might be hesitant about owning a short barrel rifle. You might not want to bear the cost of setting up an NFA trust, or go through the process of getting your chief law enforcement officer to sign off on a personal application. You may disagree with the principles of NFA items, and the additional registration and regulation of these items. You may not want to limit where you take your firearm just based on the presence of a stock or a barrel  length, and your sensibilities may be affronted when you have to get permission from the government to take your SBR to another state.

The AR pistol is an inexpensive, easy to assemble and easy to maintain alternative to SBRs as well as bullpup firearms. They are also very handy firearms for shorter people, people with shorter arms, or folks with less upper body strength.

About the Author:

Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd is a regular guy and works to make Web sites and mobile apps easier for people to use. He spends his free time attending fight-focused firearm, knife, and combatives training, motorcycling, writing, and playing games. His daily carry is a Glock 19 pistol and an AR15 .300 Blackout pistol in a backpack.
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