A few weeks ago I ran a story about Franklin Armory’s new contraption. Thanks to some legal footwork this thing isn’t technically a rifle, isn’t technically a pistol, and isn’t covered under the NFA. It’s legally considered a “firearm,” and looks like the most awkward thing in the world to fire. Naturally, I had to get my hands on one of these “stamp-free SBR” firearms and see for myself. Frankly, the journey was more interesting than the destination (if you catch my drift). And now that the gun has left my possession I can tell you all about it.
Jay Jacobson at Franklin Armory quickly accepted my request to test fire one of his creations and shipped it out to me here in Virginia. The day before it arrived I was in my local FFL picking up the Wilson Combat Bill Wilson Carry 1911 and while I was filling out the 4473 the conversation among the owners and patrons shifted to tax stamps and SBRs. I casually mentioned the Franklin Armory XO-26b as a stamp-free option and was greeted with stunned silence and questioning looks.
The larger of the two employees was the first to talk. “Wait… So it’s not a pistol, and not a rifle… But too long for an AOW… I can’t believe no one has thought of exploiting that before.” And as far as I can tell no one has. Successfully and commercially, at least. As I was leaving the gun shop they were still debating the legality of such a firearm, but I had other plans for that night.
The very next day my phone started ringing — it was my FFL. “Your, um, thing is here” they said, not quite sure what to call it. It took me a couple of hours to get there, and in that period of time they had called in the owner of the gun store to take a look at the gun, debated its legality once more, consulted their lawyer, and reviewed the National Firearms Act as well as Virginia’s firearms laws. By the time I got there they had decided that all was kosher and had the gun ready to go. They had figured that in Virginia it’s technically a non-concealable pistol and would be transferred the same way a stripped AR-15 lower would be transferred.
The quick solution to the legal question came thanks in part to the photocopied letter from the ATF that ships with each and every XO-26b stating exactly why this firearm is legal. Then again that legality only applies to Federal law, so prospective buyers should be sure to check their local state and municipal laws as well. Even with the paperwork and a large note on the receipt telling the FFL exactly how to transfer the gun we had to go through about 4 4473 forms before they got the right marks in the right places. While that was going on I decided to start checking out the XO-26b.
The firearm is based on an AR-15, so all of the usual parts are in place and it functions the same way. The only major differences are the short barrel and the padded buffer tube. The gun was not designed to be fired from the shoulder (in order to meet the requirement to not be a rifle), so there is no stock and the buffer tube is covered in a foamy padding. This padding allows the shooter to rest their cheek against it (without shouldering the rifle) and still get a proper cheek weld and sight picture down the rifle. For my testing I used a spare EOTech sight that I had laying around, and there was no real difference in sight picture with or without a stock. It just felt… strange.
Speaking of strange, not long after I started playing with the rifle I tried to eject the magazine. The firearm is marketed as a “Single Shot Pistol” in its home state thanks to a magazine well plug that only has room to feed one single round, and comes with a strange device installed to keep that single shot designation. One of the guys at the gun shop spent a good 2 minutes trying to drop the magazine before I took a pen and showed him how it worked. Yep, he was confounded by a bullet button.
The Franklin Armory is located in the state of California, the great stronghold of gun control in the United States. Which makes this little toy that thumbs its nose at just about every firearms law even more delightful. Firearms produced in California after the assault weapons ban was introduced that meet certain criteria have to include a bullet button to make them legal for civilians to posses. The idea is that because the button is impossible to press with just your finger the magazine is no longer “detachable” and therefore the gun then falls outside the scope of the law. Just like most gun laws in California it doesn’t stop the “evil” firearms from being sold and possessed, it only makes law abiding citizens more resourceful.
Firearms from the Franklin Armory sold to people residing in free states don’t usually get the bullet button. Instead they get the real deal — detachable magazines and everything. The second Jay realized he had shipped my firearm with the bullet button still in place he emailed me and offered a couple different ways to fix it, but I was having none of that. I had never needed a bullet button and I wanted to see how the other half lived, so I declined his offer to send the replacement parts for the magazine release. Turns out that having a bullet button sucks as much as I thought it would.
The day eventually came for me to test fire the firearm, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. Despite the blatant legality of the thing (I kept the ATF letter rubber banded to the gun while in my safe) I wasn’t taking any chances and didn’t want it hanging around for more than a week. The only place I had available to me in the given time frame was the NRA Range, and while the NRA folks would probably be fine with the gun the agents from various 3-letter agencies that frequent that range may have other ideas. As anyone who reads this website knows even if you’re not doing anything illegal the police and law enforcement can still arrest you and ruin your life for no good reason, so walking onto the range with this gun was equivalent (to me) to walking into a lion’s den with a steak strapped to my head.
I thought about going to another range or wandering into the woods to test it, but that seemed like the easy way out. If I was going to give this gun a thorough testing I needed to see if it would pass muster with the strictest ROs I’d ever seen and the highest probability of LEO contact, so I grabbed the rifle and some ammo and walked confidently into the range.
When I finally got to my stall on the firing line I whipped out the firearm, loaded up a mag, and caught something out of the corner of my eye. The guy in the stall next to me had a badge on his hip (visible through the plexiglass wall), and he was staring at my gun. He was looking it over, scrutinizing it. My palms began to sweat and I could feel the adrenaline rising — this was it, I was about to be booked for an NFA violation by a cop that didn’t understand the finer points of legal loopholes, destroying any hope I had for getting my silencer out of NFA limbo and probably getting me fired from my day job. He leaned around the wall, nodded, and said “nice gun.” Then went back to practicing with his SIG. The only peep I heard from the ROs that day was when one let out a small chuckle as he was standing behind my back.
So what about the actual handling characteristics? Well, they’re terrible. Compared to an actual rifle, that is. Having a firearm with such a long barrel yet such a short (well, nonexistent) stock makes it front heavy and difficult to control. And when it goes off, if you have your face on it the entire firearm recoils in a very disconcerting manner threatening to punch you in the nose or throat. Firing from the hip, on the other hand, feels much more comfortable and natural but is wildly inaccurate. The people in the lanes next to me did not appreciate it one bit.
I’ve been trying all week to think of what purpose this firearm serves. It’s too short to be a good rifle, too big to be a good pistol, and not controllable enough to be used in competition shooting. It seemed like the sole purpose for this gun was for people to thumb their noses at the NFA, and that doesn’t seem to be worth the $1,000 investment. And then I remembered something one of the guys at the gun store said, and it was perfect: trunk gun. A firearm small enough to be unobtrusive and not take up a lot of space in the trunk of your car, but if you ever were in enough trouble that you needed some extra firepower it would be there waiting. Definitely a low probability situation, but it would be the perfect tool for the job. And until you needed it, you could happily thumb your nose at the NFA and enjoy your inaccurate and hard to control firearm.
Franklin Armory XO-26b
Caliber: 5.56x45mm NATO / 7.62x39mm
Weight: 6.4 lbs.
Operation: Direct Impingement
Ratings (Out of Five Stars)
Ratings are based on other similar firearms. Final rating is not calculated from the constituent ratings.
Accuracy: * *
It’s hard to be more than “minute of person” accurate with it. Firing is slow (as the gun moves around a lot) and getting a good sight picture takes time. Maybe a 50 yard gun.
Ergonomics: * * * *
Holding it in your hands it feels fine… just like a normal AR-15. The only complaint I have is that sometimes the plate on the back of the receiver digs into your hand and is a tad annoying, but it doesn’t always happen and I do have massive bear paws of hands.
Ergonomics Firing: * *
It’s just too hard to maintain a good sight picture and follow through. The buffer tube is, however, nice and comfy.
Reliability: * * * * *
No reliability issues. As Jay claimed when we first spoke, it runs like a Swiss clock.
Customization: * * *
I’m dropping a couple stars off because any modification to the stock or forward grip would make the firearm illegal. New grips or triggers or sights are just fine and dandy, though, and available in copious quantities.
Overall Rating: * *
To be honest, it’s a gimmick. It’s a firearm designed to point out a flaw in the current gun laws and exploit it so owners can have a short barreled rifle without the tax stamp (UPDATE: Apparently this also gets around California’s pistol testing and registration requirements). And while it might work OK for a trunk gun or dedicated home defense rifle, I’d still rather pay the $200 and wait for my stamp than take advantage of a legal loophole. The firearm bits themselves (made by Franklin Armory) were of high quality, but the finished complete product was as far from useful as I could possibly imagine.