AR Pistol: Legitimate Combat Firearm or Novelty?

I am NOT an early adopter in anything. I don’t need the latest type of television, I didn’t run out and buy a BluRay player when they came out, and I only have an iPod because it was a gift. I like things I buy to have a well-established track-record before I will drop money on them.

Accordingly, I have come relatively late to the AR Pistol game. Truth be told, I used to look at them and wonder what people were thinking. That buffer tube, devoid of a stock, always made the gun look….incomplete. They never struck me as true handguns (firing one with one hand seemed pointless), and if you use a “rifle grip,” then you have that ridiculous buffer tube back there.

A few years ago, maybe a year before the SB-15 Sig Brace appeared on the scene, a few industry leaders started taking harder looks at the AR Pistol as a legitimate fighting platform, and I started to take notice. Once the Sig Brace appeared, AR Pistols gained in popularity. My first “experience” with one came in the Center Mass Combat Tactics Carbine I class, where a friend of mine shot the entire course with an AR Pistol with Sig Brace. I started to become convinced.

I slowly acquired the parts to build my own AR Pistol, looking for sales on new parts and scouring the various web forums for used parts that would assist my build. At the same time, I continued to do as much reading on the topic as I could, trying to learn from the mistakes of others. Most seemed to agree that in a direct-impingement platform, a barrel less than 10 inches was sub-optimal. Accordingly, I kept a careful eye out for used, quality uppers. Within weeks, I scored a BCM ( 11.5 inch upper with Daniel Defense ( quad rail, assembled a stripped lower from Anderson Arms (, got the Sig Brace, and acquired the other parts that would bring it all together.

The gathering of parts.
The gathering of parts.

I had not even test-fired the AR Pistol yet when the BATFE “clarified” their position on the Sig Brace, and I was mightily disappointed. I suppose surprise wasn’t warranted, as people on the web were clearly using the Sig Brace to assemble a “poor-man’s SBR.” Nevertheless, I was torn between just reassembling my lower into a new, full-size AR, or perhaps doing the NFA paperwork and making a true SBR.

First incarnation
First incarnation

Down in the AR doldrums, I decided to remove the Sig Brace and see how the firearm handled. I had the KAK Industries buffer tube on it (, which was longer than it needed to be (it is designed that way so that the Sig Brace sits further back, more like a stock), so I changed it out for a Phase 5 Pistol Buffer Tube (, and now I saw that this gun was pretty fast-handling. I finally took it out to the range, and found that I could hit fine with it utilizing the three points of contact (both hands and my cheek), and recoil was not an issue at all (I thought it might be more of a teeth-rattler, but it was not. I should mention that mine is 5.56mm).

Latest incarnation
Latest incarnation

Now, clearly this is not something that can replace my 16 inch AR, or even an SBR, but I started to consider how to best utilize a firearm like this. I came up with at least three areas in which an AR Pistol can possibly shine:

Home Defense

The short length and fast-handling characteristics of the AR Pistol make it an ideal platform, in my opinion, for home defense. Many people already rely on the AR platform for home defense, as its magazine capacity and light recoil make it formidable, while thoughtful ammunition selection can limit potential over-penetration issues that can otherwise put loved ones or neighbors in danger (another alternative would be to run full metal jacket ammunition to deal with body-armor-wearing intruders… I’ll leave it to the reader to assess his or her own risk levels). The AR Pistol carries all of these same benefits but in an even handier package. While a more full-size AR will be better in terms of accuracy, particularly at longer ranges (four points of contact with the stock in your shoulder helping immensely with this), typical interior home defense ranges will probably max out at about 30 feet, depending on the size and layout of your house. As I have seen at the range, shooting tight groups at such distances with the AR pistol is a piece of cake – particularly when equipped with a red dot optic – significantly easier than with a “traditional” handgun.

Off-Body Concealed Carry

Depending on the laws where you reside, you may be able to carry an AR Pistol with you on a daily basis, covered by your Concealed Carry Permit (some states, however, consider the AR Pistol an “assault pistol” and do not allow this, so BE SURE to check your local laws). Since most people lack the ability to conceal such a pistol on their person, some type of bag is the best bet for this. In an effort to make the AR Pistol more easily and more compactly stored, some have gone with shorter barrels in the 7.5 inch range, some have utilized the Law-Tac Folder (, which allows the buffer tube to fold to the left of the receiver, and I have even seen some companies offering quick-release barrels that allow you to snap in your barrel almost like a telephoto lens on a camera. Others simply push out the two pins and separate the firearm into upper and lower halves for more compact carry.

Obviously, an AR Pistol in a bag in any form, like those outlined above, is not the weapon you want to rely on in a reactive situation! If you need a gun in your hands RIGHT NOW, then you’ll want to access your “regular” handgun from its normal concealed-carry position. The AR Pistol would be something that you could use proactively, i.e., if there is an active shooter situation in which you have the time, concealment, and cover, to access it and get it up and running.

“Car” or “Truck” Gun

People seem to have different definitions of a “car” or “truck” gun (keep an eye on this blog for an upcoming article on this topic from John!). Some like a beater to have on hand to put down an injured animal on the side of the road, something that, if stolen, won’t be a big deal in terms of money lost. Others look at the “car” or “truck” gun as something similar to the off-body carry described in the previous section. That is to say, you’ve extricated yourself from something horrible going on, but now you’ve made it to your vehicle and can get something with a little more range and “oomph” behind it to either defend yourself further or take the fight to the bad guys. The small size and impressive firepower of the AR Pistol could make it ideal for such a role. In my personal situation, living in an area where cars being broken into or stolen is a fairly common occurrence, I prefer to not leave a firearm in my car. Again, you will need to assess your own needs in this area.

For more thoughts on this truck gun topic, see John’s article.

Final Thoughts

As of this writing, I have not yet stretched the legs of my AR Pistol to determine at what distances I can make effective hits. Given my current skill level, I would regard my AR Pistol as a 100 yard and under firearm. I’m sure that, prone and shooting at static targets, I could get torso hits out to 200 or maybe even 300 yards with it, but I wouldn’t try to make a living doing this. Others with more skill may have an easier time doing so. Regardless, I think that if you set up the parameters within which you can or would use such a platform, the AR Pistol can be a viable platform in the three roles I’ve described, and you may find it to be an even more flexible platform for your own uses.

7 thoughts on “AR Pistol: Legitimate Combat Firearm or Novelty?

  1. I’ve been researching AR Pistols and SBR’s as legitimate defensive firearms. My question is, how do you feel regarding the velocity you lose with such short barrels ?

    I can’t decide if this leaves you better off using a handgun or PCC instead, should you need a “short long gun” so to speak.


    1. Michael,

      Thanks for the comment.

      My 5.56 AR pistol has an 11.5 inch barrel, so velocity loss isn’t much vs. a 14.5 pinned or 16 inch carbine. The general consensus out there, when talking 5.56, is you’re pretty solid down to 10.5 inch barrels. After that, the drop off is severe. Which is why…..well, let’s just say I’m starting to explore shorter options in other calibers. More on that in future articles.

      As for the PCC question, at the ranges I, as a civilian, would likely use such a firearm, I would MUCH rather have the rifle caliber. The main advantages of the PCC would be low-recoil, reduced signature/blast, and perhaps commonality of ammunition and/or magazines with your pistol (depending on your pistol choice, of course). These advantages are important, but I’d prefer the rifle round for it’s destructive capabilities and tendency to fragment (depending on ammo choice) in things like drywall, if we’re talking home defense applications. I guess it all depends on how “short” of a long gun you want (see above).


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