AR Pistol, SBR, AOW


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Following is a discussion of how a person can build and own a compact AR-15 in the form of an AR-15 pistol, Short Barreled Rifle (SBR), or Any Other Weapon (AOW) and some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.  A good reference to review before reading any further is  Pre OR Post Ban:  More than a serial number on 

In review of the material at the link above, weapons built before the Clinton Ban came into effect had characteristics that are now prohibited by the Crime bill by the definitions listed.  These definitions have created challenges for AR-15 owners that need to be addressed in order to make a post Crime Bill legal AR-15 pistol.

The POST BAN AR-15 Pistol

The key to building a post ban AR-15 pistol is to find a way around the crime bill, then buy yourself a new stripped AR-15 lower and build the pistol in a way that the crime bill does not apply to your pistol.  To do this, it is essential to understand the definition of a Semi Automatic Assault Pistol as the crime bill defines it:

A Semi-Auto pistol with an ability to accept a detachable magazine can not have two (2) or more of the following features:

  1. an ammunition magazine that attaches to the pistol outside of the pistol grip.
  2. a threaded barrel capable of accepting a barrel extender,  flash suppressor, forward handgrip or silencer.
  3. a shroud that is attached to, or partially or completely encircles the barrel and that permits the shooter to hold the firearm with the non-trigger hand without being burned.
  4. a manufactured weight of 50 ounces or more when the pistol is unloaded. a semiautomatic version of an automatic firearm.

Over the years I have thought of three ways around these rules.

bulletMake non-semi auto pistol

The AR-15 and M-16 rifle system uses a gas tube to allow it's semi-auto or full-auto operation.  The easiest way to make a non-semiauto AR-15 pistol is to simply remove the gas tube.  After removing the gas tube I like to tap the opening inside the gas block where the gas tube was removed and thread in an allen headed set screw.  This in itself creates a charging handle operated bolt action.  This can be further improved through milling the upper receiver and adding a bolt handle that is mounted to the AR-15 bolt carrier.  In this design, you have about the fastest bolt action in the world as you pull the bolt back to eject the spent cartridge and let it fly forward to load the next cartridge.  If the bolt handle is added to the left side (for right handed shooters) this will also assist the shooter for the shooting hand can remain on the pistol grip for firing.

Another option which I have seen done is to build a pump action upper.  DPMS makes a pump action upper and I know that these were also built by some skilled do-it-yourselfers but I am going to postpone discussion on these uppers to a later time.  If you have information on these uppers or have built one, I welcome you to E-mail me and I will add the info here!

bulletMake the magazine non-removable

The way this has been accomplished by the major manufactures ihas been to either build a lower that was never designed to have a removable magazine, as with the FAB 10, or make a modified lower that had a magazine pinned and welded in place as in the case of the OA-96.  As with the OA-96, an individual could pin and/or weld a magazine to the lower. In either of these solutions, the weapon would be loaded by pivoting the upper open and loading from inside the action using stripper clips.  I am also working on some drawings of a modified flattop upper receiver that would incorporate a small back up iron sight as an ARMS #40 with the flattop in front of the rear sight would be milled out to allow for loading of the internal magazine with stripper clips.  This mechanism combined with some type of protective cover would create an appealing option in my humble opinion.

Another option that I have considered is a replacement of the Mag-Release button with a nut.  It WAS my understanding that the ATF considered a removable magazine as one that can be removed without tools.  I have read that the ATF may be interpreting the crime bill to indicate that the magazine must be something of a more permanent form so I encourage you to contact the ATF for clarification before you try that route!  I will write the ATF myself on this when I get a chance to try and have them clarify just what the ATF defines to be a DETACHABLE MAGAZINE!

bulletMake a single shot AUTO UNLOADER!

DPMS makes a single shot AR-15 lower.  If this lower was used in conjunction with a pistol upper, the single shot lower should be exempt from the crime bill as given there is no magazine it can not be a semi auto.  Where this configuration is interesting to me is in the aspect that the pistol would auto eject the spent cartridge after every round creating a very fast single shot pistol.  PLEASE NOTE, I am working to write the ATF to confirm that they consider a single shot lower to NOT be a semi-auto.  I assume this would be the case but I believe in writing to the ATF before proceeding.

bulletBuild a AR pistol if the weight was under 50 ozs. The limit is without sights or magazine. You could do this a couple of different ways. The shorter the barrel the lighter. Use plastic/carbon fiber upper and/or lower receivers. Or use a flat top upper, short barrel, no front sight, and drill/cut lightening holes in the lower like the Olympic OA-98 pistol. So, these are the ways that I know of to get a pistol AR-15 in these days.

The Short Barreled Rifle AR-15

Bishop's Micro-Car

The second option you have in regards to an AR-15 pistol is to build a Short Barreled Rifle (SBR) AR-15.  Once the lower is registered as a SBR you can then remove the stock and replace it with a pistol buffer and your short 7-inch upper and use it in a PISTOL configuration or keep the stock! With a pre-ban lower you can use it as a pre-ban short barreled rifle including the flash suppressor, bayonet lug, etc.  If you use a POST BAN AR-15 and register it as a SBR, you have a number of shortcomings including the fact that you can not use a bayonet lug, flash suppressor, or collapsible stock BUT there is no reason that you can not still use it in a PISTOL configuration! Because this is a SBR and NOT a pistol, the SAW laws do not apply as they would to a post ban Semi Auto Pistol as far as detachable magazine and pistol weight.  NOTE:  I am confirming these understandings with the ATF!!!

The AR-15 Any Other Weapon (AOW)

The AOW is a unique category for the AR-15 as the AR-15 will have a forward and rear pistol grip. An AOW is defined to be "...any weapon or device capable of being concealed on the person from which a shot can be discharged through the energy of an explosive, a pistol or revolver having a smooth bore designed or redesigned to fire a fixed shotgun shell, weapons with combination shotgun and rifle barrels 12" or more, less than 18" in length, from which only a single discharge can be made from either barrel without manual reloading, and shall include any weapon which may be readily restored to fire. Such term shall not include a pistol or revolver having a rifled bore, or rifled bores, or weapons designed, made or intended to be fired from the shoulder and not capable of firing fixed ammunition." 26 USC sec. 5845(e).  The ATF has made the decision that a handgun with more than one grip is an AOW based on the gun a) being concealable and b) not meeting the definition of a "pistol" in the regulations promulgated under the NFA, since they say a pistol has a single grip at an angle to the bore. However, at least one federal court has decided that if the grip is added later, the gun is not "originally designed" to be fired by holding in more than one grip, and thus putting a second grip on a pistol does not make it an AOW. 

So with a fundamental appreciation of the definitions above all one needs to do to build a AR-15 AOW is to buy a stripped lower to use.  It is important to remember that an AOW can not have and must never have had a stock attached to it!  Then simply fill out the appropriate ATF and FBI paperwork and send it to the ATF for approval.  When the paperwork returns with your NFA tax stamp the AOW can be built.  To build an AOW, you need to add a pistol buffer and a pistol upper with a forward vertical grip.  In addition, the forward pistol grip must be attached in a way that tools would be required for it's removal to prevent the AOW from being considered a pistol or Short Barreled Rifle (SBR). An AOW has one big advantage as the crime bill does not apply to AOWs!  In such, you can buy a stripped post ban lower and build it with a flash suppressor, bayonet lug, removable magazine, etc.  NOTE:  I am confirming these understandings with the ATF!!!

Final Review & Conclusions

The AOW and SBR route both require ATF and FBI paperwork and NFA taxes.  The SBR comes with a $200 manufacture or transfer tax while an AOW has a $200 manufacture cost and a $5 transfer tax.  Accordingly, if you can have your local C-2 manufacturer build and register an AR-15 AOW and then transfer it to you for a $5 transfer. If you do it yourself it's a $200 tax. You do not need to work with a C-2/C-3 dealer to do either of these conversions... Just sent the ATF and FBI your prints, pictures, and application and wait a few months until the papers come back!  I do not know how much a C2/C3 dealer would charge to register a lower as an AOW and then transfer it to you.

For me, I would prefer to go the SBR route with a pre-ban lower as it allows a lower to be used as a pre-ban rifle, a SBR (i.e. 14.5-inch M4 Carbine or shorter), a pre-ban AR-15 pistol, a AOW, or just about anything else. An AOW can only be an AOW, i.e. it can not be used as a pistol or as a rifle or carbine.  The Post Ban pistols have their advantages as they eliminate the ATF National Firearms Act but they lack the real character of the AR-15 system due to the characteristics that must be eliminated to make the pistol into a form that the crime bill doesn't apply.


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This site was last updated 03/15/04