Due to their compact size, AR-15 pistols can be a tremendous amount of fun to shoot. Plus, because they are classified as pistols rather than short barreled rifles, owning an AR-15 pistol does not require a shooter to pay the necessary $200 tax and endure the long waiting period required to obtain the special tax stamp needed to legally own a short barreled rifle. However, there are some legal restrictions that owner’s of AR-15 pistols should be aware of in order to avoid certain legal pitfalls. Therefore, in the article below, we will examine those legal pitfalls and how to avoid them
AR-15 Pistol Lower Receivers
So, to begin with, if a shooter decides to build their own AR-15 pistol, then the lower receiver needs to their first consideration due to the stipulations of the National Firearms Act.
For instance, according to the NFA, fully assembled AR-15 rifles must be transferred as “rifles” on form #4473 while stripped lower receivers are transferred as “other”. So, even though both AR-15 rifles and AR-15 pistols use the same lower receiver, once an assembled AR-15 has been transferred as a rifle, then its receiver cannot be legally used to build a pistol without first paying the $200 tax and obtaining the necessary tax stamp required to legally own a short barreled rifle (aka SBR).
So, in order to avoid this issue, a shooter can either start with a fully milled and drilled stripped lower receiver or, they can start with an 80 percent complete lower receiver such as those made by American Made Tactical.
LOP and OAL
Two other factors that need to be kept in mind when building an AR-15 pistol are Length of Pull and Overall Length.
For those of you who are not familiar with these terms, a rifle’s length of pull is defined as the distance from the trigger to the end of the butt stock or, in the case of an AR-15 pistol, to the end of the brace as measured in a straight line.
So, while a rifle’s length of pull is normally used to determine how well it will fit an individual shooter, an AR-15 pistol’s length of pull is important because the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (aka ATF) has advised shooters that an AR-15 pistol with a length of pull greater than 13.5 inches may constitute a redesign of the brace into a stock.
Furthermore, in addition to the length of pull, the overall length of an AR-15 pistol is also of importance. Again according to the NFA, firearms with barrels shorter than 16 inches but overall lengths greater than 26 inches are classified as short barreled rifles rather than as pistols. Therefore, because AR-15 pistols have barrels that are shorter than 16 inches, they must have an overall length of 26 inches or less or they considered short barreled rifles rather than pistols and thus are subject to the $200 fee to obtain the necessary tax stamp.
A Brace is not a Stock
Yet another important consideration that owners of AR-15 pistols should be aware of is the difference between a pistol brace and a butt stock. Introduced by Alex Bosco of SB Tactical in 2013 to provide wounded and/or disabled veterans a means of shooting an AR-15 pistol with a single hand, a pistol stabilizing brace is not classified as a butt stock by the B.A.T.F. However, according to the BATF, buying or building an AR-15 pistol with the intent of circumnavigating the NFA changes the classification of a pistol to a rifle.
In addition, also according to the B.A.T.F., attaching a vertical pistol grip below the barrel of an AR-15 pistol also causes it to be reclassified as an SBR rather than as a pistol because the firearm is then specifically designed to be fired with two hands rather than with a single hand.
Thus, in order to avoid legal issues, it is best not to attach either a buttstock or a vertical pistol grip to an AR-15 pistol
Yet another murky issue originating with AR-15 pistols is that while it is legal to use a pistol stabilizing brace to aid a shooter in aiming and controlling the recoil of an AR-15 pistol while shooting the firearm with a single hand, it may not be legal to shoulder the pistol while shooting it because that may cause ATF to classify the pistol as a short barreled rifle instead. However, in March of 2017, the bureau somewhat clarified its opinion on this issue by stating that “incidental, sporadic, or situational use at or near the shoulder does not constitute a redesign of the brace into a stock”.
So, according to their statement, as long as a shooter only uses the brace to shoulder their AR-15 pistol occasionally when firing, then ATF apparently still considers the firearm to be a pistol. But, if the shooter does so frequently, then the pistol is then reclassified a short barreled rifle and thus, it must be taxed as such.
Thus, while many shooters find shooting an AR-15 pistol to be tremendous amount of fun due to their light weight and compact size, there are certain regulations that a shooter should keep in mind in order to avoid legal conflicts. But, as long as a shooter remains within the boundaries of the law, then owning and shooting an AR-15 pistol can be a very entertaining pursuit.