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The AR Pistol: What You Need to Know Before You Buy or Build

The AR platform pistol is extremely popular right now, whether it be a 5.56 or pistol caliber, the demand is through the roof for these firearms.

There are a few things you should know before you dive into the AR pistol world to make sure you stay on the right side of the law. This is not a comprehensive list of AR pistol laws, but just a quick overview. Please read and follow all local state and federal laws as it pertains to AR pistol ownership in your area.

AR Pistol Laws

  1. AR pistols are legal to own (in most states) and are regulated by the ATF the same as any other handgun.
  2. An AR pistol cannot use a standard rifle stock. You must use a pistol stabilizing brace. But, thanks to the recent ATF ruling, you can now shoulder your brace “sporadically” “incidentally” or “situationally” (see our previous blog on this).
  3. An AR pistol is considered any barrel shorter than 16 inches with an overall length of the gun not to exceed 26 inches.
  4. You cannot attach a vertical foregrip to an AR pistol. You can use an angled foregrip or a micro handstop. The law holds to a 90 degree ruling on vertical grips. So, as long as there is an “obvious” angle to it, it does not violate the law.
  5. If you want to use a standard stock and or violate the 26-inch rule, you must apply for an SBR (Short Barreled Rifle) stamp. As a note: you cannot take possession of or build an SBR until you have been issued the tax stamp from the ATF.
    • As a side note to the SBR (we will do a blog about this later):
      You cannot transport your SBR across state lines without ATF permission. Make sure you read up on this and follow the laws as it pertains to transporting SBRs out of state.

AR Pistol vs. AR Rifle

What are the advantages of an AR pistol over an AR rifle?

  1. Requires less storage space. Being a smaller gun, it can fit easily in places a rifle cannot, like under your truck seat. You will also require a smaller case than a standard rifle case. Plus, put a folding stock on it and some models can even fit in a backpack.
  2. Ease of use and maneuverability. For home defense, an AR pistol is a great choice. Close quarters combat requires agility and maneuverability, and you get both with a pistol. The down side is if you shoot an AR pistol in a small room or hallway without hearing protection… you will wish you hadn’t. We recommend the use of a blast can or flash forward can on a pistol to help with this.
  3. The availability of many calibers. The most popular calibers are available in AR pistols. Even the heavy hitters like the .450 bushmaster (often called the “thumper”). If you’re going to build or buy a pistol in 5.56 we recommend using a barrel of 10.5 inches or greater for the best ballistic results with this caliber.
  4. The majority of parts are totally interchangeable with your AR rifle. If something breaks on your pistol, it is easy to swap out parts from your rifle and keep going!

We love shooting AR pistols. They are a ton of fun and make great range toys and home defense guns. Once you buy or build one we’re sure you’ll love them too.

Ready to build your own AR ?

For more helpful tips on where to start when upgrading your AR checkout our Top 5 Easy Upgrades Guide. If you are looking for that last piece to finish a build or simply something new checkout our Parts and Accessories. And if you are ready to take the plunge and build your own AR from scratch we have both Pistol and Rifle build kits!

Interested in learning if you should build or buy?

Read our blog for the pros and cons.

21 thoughts on “The AR Pistol: What You Need to Know Before You Buy or Build”

  1. Pingback: Can You Use A Rifle Scope On A Pistol (a Helpful Guide)

  2. On #3: I believe the 26 inch MAX length is from the muzzle without any attachments – linear comps, suppressors, etc. – to the extended length of the brace. so the handguard that extends past the muzzle does not seem to be an issue.
    I’d also like to point out that “length of pull” figures into the ATF formula, which is 13.5″ max.
    My 300BO build uses a 10.5″ barrel with a KAW magnum linear comp and an SBR3 pistol brace and no angled fore grip which seems to keep me inside “the box” for now.
    Thank you for putting some info up.

  3. Hi, I have an ar 15 pistol and when the stock is slid in it comes to 26″ but if I slid the stock out it is 28″. Is it illegal to slid the stock out since it exceeds 26″?

    1. Layne
      the Over all length of a pistol is measured from muzzle ( without muzzle device ) to the end of the collapsed or folded brace or tube ( its shortest possible configuration )
      over all length in the extended position is irrelavent. if you were over 26 inches folded or collapsed you would have a “firearm” .

    2. Yes it has to be below 26 in with the stock fully extended or it is considered as sbr each state is a little different but if it exceeds 26 in then that’s a major felony charge I would change that really quick

      1. Guns overall length is measured from end of barrel no muzzle device and to the end of the buffer tube the brace has nothing to do with the overall length and that doesn’t change state to state

  4. These Michigan laws are bonkers. So if you have a pistol lower, can you put a 16 inch barrel on it and turn it into a rifle? I’ve gotten so many different answers lol

  5. Sorry if I send a duplicate, but I’m not sure if the first one went through. So, if I have a pistol lower, is it legal to put a rifle upper on it and consider it a rifle? It seems to be in about every other state, but it’s not real clear to me for Michigan. I saw something about it becoming a “Michigan pistol”, but as I said, it’s kind of difficult for my simple brain to figure out. Thanks!

    1. Thomas
      I am not up to speed on specific “michigan” laws so this would be a question for local law enforcement.
      as a general rule it has been my understanding that once a rifle always a rifle…. meaning your lowers serial number was manufactured and sold as a rifle
      it must always remain a rifle. “pistol” lowers are sold as “other” and can be whatever you want them to be and can flop back and forth.

    2. Tom,
      See Jim Wiggins reply. Even in michigan, if you purchase it as a pistol “other” but then put a rifle barrel on it, it it then a rifle. It technically cannot go back to being a pistol.

    3. They are referring to the length of the barrel as to what makes it a pistol. What do you mean by you got a pistol lower?

  6. If I modify my already built AR rifle to a pistol AR, does it matter if the lower receiver has been sold as a rifle receiver, or am I ok as long as it does not exceed 26″ and has a pistol brace on it?

    1. Steve
      my understinding is once a rifle always a rifle. a gun manufactured and serialized and sold as a rifle can never be a pistol in any configuration.

      1. Jim, how does one tell if a lower was mfg & serialized as a rifle? Say if purchased as a stripped lower, new or used.

        I’m intending to use a lower I purchased stripped to build a pistol. I have no idea if it is serialized as rifle, or other.

        1. Brian
          a stripped lower purchased by itself is labled as other during the background check. this lower can be made into either a pistol or rifle.
          when a lower is built into a rifle and sold as a rifle the FFL lists the purchase as a rifle and that lower can only ever be a rifle. once a rifle
          always a rifle. Other can be built into either. I am not sure if the new frame receiver ruling effected this as I have not beeen able to read the entire thing yet. if you bought the lower as a private sale I would say take to an FFL and have them check the serial
          number to see how it was listed on the 4473 at the initial point of sale.

  7. Can I put a sliding stock on a 80% lower that is paired up with a 10.5″ upper that I milled myself at home? I thought I read somewhere that an 80% lower is considered ‘anything other or not a firearms’ , so you can put any stock you want on it, paired up with any sized upper in the state of Florida.

  8. This article specifically states that a AR pistol is defined by the length of the barrel and not over 26 inches. Could someone point me in the direction of the laws on that? I belive that there is no maximum barrel length for a handgun. I can not find a law anywhere that says I can’t have a AR pistol with a 20in barrel.

  9. So if I put a 45° angled foregrip on my Ruger PC Charger (carbine SBR) in the state of Georgia, according to this It’ll be considered legal then???

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