Ever hear that old joke, “When is a door not a door? When it’s a jar.”

Today I want to go over the differences between an AR rifle and an AR pistol, as per ATF regulations. I thought it might help clarify some misunderstandings.

Please note: I am not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV. If you have questions about AR rifles, pistols, or short-barrel rifles, consult a knowledgeable attorney before purchasing.

Let’s start with a standard AR-15 rifle:

arrifle

It’s got everything you’ve come to know and love in an AR rifle:

– A buttstock
– A barrel, usually 16″ or longer
– Some even have a foregrip (or “broomhandle”)

According to the National Firearm Act (NFA) Rules and Regulations, the above-pictured firearm is perfectly legal for anyone over the age of 18 years old to purchase from an FFL (Federal Firearms License) dealer.

What about Short Barreled Rifles?

The National Firearms Act (most recently, of 1968) determined that any firearm with a buttstock and either a rifled barrel under 16″ long or an overall length under 26″ must be registered with the BATFE (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives). The overall length is measured with any folding or collapsing stocks in the extended position.

The category also includes firearms which came from the factory with a buttstock that was later removed by a third party.

sbr

Until VERY recently, anything shorter than a 14″ barrel would require an SOT (Special Occupations Tax) Stamp – costing $200, and require a wait time of, in some cases, 12 months or more. You’d only ever be able to use the short-barreled firearm personally – none of your friends or family could fire it – and you couldn’t swap out any of the parts to which the SOT stamp belonged within certain parameters.

The SBR pictured above has a 10.5″ barrel (that’ll come up later, kids. And yes, there will be a test.)

Enter the AR-15 Pistol (cue the angelic music):

tiffany 1

You will note that it has a few familiar parts on it as well:

– A buffer tube
– Sometimes an angled forend
– A barrel, usually between 7″-10″ long (the one in the picture above has a 10.5″ barrel)

So…what makes this one ok to own without a tax stamp and not the one in the “SBR Section”?

You’ll notice a few minor modifications that make it an AR pistol, namely:

1. No buttstock. The buffer tube is covered (in the picture above) with a foam pad. Other options include the SigTac Stabilizing Brace, or the Thordsen Customs Saddle Buffer kit.

The Stabilizing Brace utilizes a pistol buffer tube, which is fatter than the standard buffer tube, preventing the user from putting a full sized buttstock on the firearm and potentially committing a felony by accidentally turning it into an SBR.

Sig Tac Stabilizing Brace

Sig Tac Stabilizing Brace

Sig Tac Stabilizing Brace on an AR pistol

Sig Tac Stabilizing Brace on an AR pistol

The Thordsen Customs Buffer Saddle uses a full sized buffer tube, but it’s missing the indentations in the bottom of the tube where a 6-position buttstock would go. This also prevents a full-sized buttstock from being accidentally placed on the firearm, again, avoiding a felonious act.

ThordsenCover_01

Thordsen Customs Buffer Saddle

Thordsen Customs Buffer Saddle on an AR pistol

Thordsen Customs Buffer Saddle on an AR pistol

2. Angled Foregrip – Placing a 90 degree foregrip on an AR pistol WILL reclassify it as “Any Other Weapon” (AOW). Because the ATF classifies this as an NFA Title II item, the firearm recipient/owner must first register the weapon as an AOW. This requires payment of a $5 tax and ATF approval, which currently takes 10 months. Possession of an unregistered AOW is a felony punishable by 10 years in federal prison and up to $250,000 in fines.

However, the use of an angled foregrip will make the exact same firearm an AR pistol, instead of an AOW.

(Strike Industries makes a great one! It can be used 2 different ways, either as a brace or as an angled foregrip, plus it acts as a heat shield against the heat of the barrel after you’ve been shooting for a while!)

cobra tactical foregrip 1

Strike Industries Cobra Tactical Angled Fore Grip – legally a pistol per the ATF

cobra tactical foregrip 2

Strike Industries Cobra Tactical Angled Fore Grip (Image 2)

3. Bipod and other considerations. You can add a bipod on an AR pistol and still be ATF compliant.

utg bipod

UTG AR-ready Bipod

Just remember, the addition of a full stock WILL turn any AR pistol into an SBR (Short-Barreled Rifle), punishable by a $250,000 fine and 10 years in federal prison!

The Columbo Close

Oh, but there’s just…one more thing…

If your stripped receiver or rifle were run as a “rifle” during the TICS background check process, you’ll need to re-run the background check as a “pistol.”

Just let your FFL know that you already own the receiver and need to re-run the background check as a pistol. They should only charge you for the background check and maybe a couple of dollars for the time needed to re-run the check.

Will the ATF know if you turn a rifle into a pistol without doing the background check? Probably not. But, do you want to take the chance of a $250,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison if you get it wrong? For a $10 background check? That’s a no-brainer.

The Bottom Line

TALK to your local FFL or gunsmith. Ask questions. Write or call the ATF. We are all here to help answer questions or clarify myths and are happy to help!

Please note: I am not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV. If you have questions about AR rifles, pistols, or short-barrel rifles, consult a knowledgeable attorney before purchasing.