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AR-15 Pistol Legalities on Building and Converting Lowers and Rifles

AR-15, ATF Rules
AR15 SB Tactical Mil-Spec Tube Stabilizing Brace SBA3 Fully extended on Pistol

The interest in AR-15 pistols has continued to grow.  AR-15 pistols can be used for recreational shooting, emergency preparedness and even self-defense. The good news is that, just like AR-15 rifles, AR-15 pistols can easily be assembled at home, but technically speaking, building an AR pistol calls for the same resources, tool set and instructional information as building an AR rifle.

The Legalities
It always has been the responsibility of the consumer to understand and comply with federal and state regulations in the course of building a firearm. Products and features that are perfectly legal to own where I live may be restricted or banned where you live. Conducting your legal research before buying any components will go a long way in avoiding any unnecessary unpleasantness with law enforcement officials.

As of this writing, Federal statutes allow law-abiding individuals who are legally qualified to own a firearm (in this case it’s a handgun) to assemble them at home without a Federal Firearms License (FFL) as long as the firearm is for personal use only. If you’re going to build guns for the purpose of selling them you’ll need to be licensed to do so. The AR-15 component that is legally considered the firearm is the lower receiver (where the trigger group is housed and the serial number is located). This means the lower receiver requires an FFL transfer with all of the same paperwork and fees as a complete gun. Every other common AR component, including AR-15 pistol upper and pistol buffer tubes, can be ordered online and shipped directly to your home.

The following information is by no means comprehensive but here are just a few things to remember:

  • A factory fresh AR lower receiver that has never been part of a firearm can be used to build a pistol, carbine or rifle. If a lower receiver is built into and registered as a pistol first, it can be stripped down and converted into a rifle in the future. If the receiver built into a carbine or rifle first, it must always remain part of a rifle and cannot ever be used to build a pistol.  Example: If you bought a DPMS Oracle 5.56 rifle.  You cannot put an SBA3 tactical brace on it and slap an AR-15 Pistol upper on it.
  • It’s not necessary to use a lower receiver stamped “Pistol” or one that is marked with the specific caliber of ammunition you plan to use when building an AR pistol. The markings are irrelevant just as long as the lower is brand new from the factory at the start of the build. Many companies are marking their lowers “Multi-Cal” these days in order to avoid confusion.
  • Attaching a shoulder stock to an AR-15 pistol changes its legal status from Handgun to a Short Barrel Rifle (SBR), which is a violation of BAFTE regulations. If you wish to build an SBR, ensure that all of the proper paperwork and tax stamps are in order before attaching a shoulder stock.
  • Attaching an AR-15 pistol upper assembly (which is an upper with a barrel SHORTER than 16″) to a lower with a fixed or collapsible stock is also considered an SBR and will get you in trouble without the proper tax stamps in place.
  • Although it’s a common practice to attach a vertical grip to the handguards of AR rifles, attaching one to AR pistols can changes their legal status from Handgun to Any Other Weapon (AOW), which requires a BAFTE tax stamp like an SBR.  Please note that to the BATFE; Angle grips and hand stops (like in the picture above) are not considered vertical grips.  These can be put on AR-15 Pistols.   Also it is the opinion of the BATFE as of this posting that any pistol over 26″ long TOTAL is not considered concealable and does not fall into the AOW category.  This all may change, please check current laws
  • At this point in time, it’s legal to own and attach a stabilizing arm brace to an AR pistol, such as the the SB Tactical Braces. However, the braces must be used according to their intended design. If you shoulder them like a rifle stock only you’re going to get in trouble. Theoretically it’s OK to “cheek” the braces (rest them along your jaw line), but cheeking looks like shouldering from certain angles. Because of the legal status of the stabilizing arm braces being how they are used.
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