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Nick’s article about declining interest in AK-patterned pistols got me to thinking: is there really any good use case for these not-so-little .223/7.62x39mm sidearms? I’ve shot them before, and they sure are fun as all get-out. But my tastes tend toward minimalism in style and a functional justification for anything that costs more than $500. Thus I haven’t gotten around to buying one, and (with one possible exception,) probably won’t have a reason ever to do so.

As far as I can tell, the justification for buying/building one of these falls into one of two categories.

(1) The buyer really wants a short-barreled rifle (SBR). As defined by 18 U.S.C. sec. 921 (a) (8), an SBR is “a rifle having one or more barrels less than sixteen inches in length and any weapon made from a rifle (whether by alteration, modification, or otherwise) if such weapon, as modified, has an overall length of less than twenty-six inches.” Thanks to the National Firearms Act, legally owning an SBR in this country requires the citizenry to supplicate themselves to los federales for approval, and as of this writing, the ATF is taking anywhere from 180-280 days from start to finish to get things squared away.

One could simply put together an AR-style pistol with a 10- or 14-inch barrel and shoulder brace, submit the paperwork to the ATF, then enjoy your little “I can’t believe it’s not an SBR” until the Feds get around to giving you the A-OK, at which point a real stock can be added. (And by “added” I mean, actually purchased at that point, since mere possession of all the parts that could allow you to assemble an SBR without permission makes you a felon.)

That’s cool, it makes sense and it’s the reason I might, someday, buy an AR pistol.

(2) An operator operating operationally needs cool tools for school. Let’s face it, there’s something awesome about a small and outwardly mundane thing that packs a ton of power. Like the time VW shoved a 650 horsepower 12 cylinder engine into the back seat of a Rabbit Golf GTI, just to prove they could make it work. Sure, it was stupidly laborious and expensive, and you’d look ridiculous spinning out on every corner when you drove it to the local Kroger, but c’mon! You know want to give it a test-drive, don’t you?

There’s a lot of people buying these pistols, not because they fill any particular self-defense purpose, but because they’re Cool As F****.  When you pick one up and start letting loose at the range, you feel like Jaws with that MAC-10 during the river chase scene in Moonraker: you’re having such a good time spraying and praying, you don’t care what you look like, that you’re not hitting the broadside of a barn or, indeed, that you’re about to do a faceplant at the bottom of Iguazú Falls. Bring it on, Bond baby. You’re not getting away this time.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. There’s something about “pursuit of happiness” in our nation’s founding documents, IIRC. And certainly any gun is better than no gun at all when you need one. And these can do a job.

It’s just that, pace Carly Simon, whatever job you’re asking them to do, someone else does it better. These are high-powered novelties, not a tool filling a small, but understandable niche.

Or am I wrong on that? Am I missing out on some really useful function that these pistols are just perfect for? I’d love to know if I’m wrong on this one.

UPDATE: Some commenters have pointed out because the feds must be notified when an SBR is taken across state lines, ease of interstate travel is another point in the AK/AR pistol’s favor. I agree, but this just reinforces the general point that demand for these pistols doesn’t have to do with their utility, and instead is driven by the current (contradictory, confusing, and ludicrous) state of American firearms laws. I’d still prefer a real SBR with a real stock, if I had a choice.

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  1. They are basically expensive, badasss looking plinkers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but they don’t have any use besides having fun.

    • You can slap a silencer on one and still have something short enough for home defense. Yes it costs you $200 in taxes, but an SBR will cost you $400.

    • They’re perfect size for room clearing, home defense etc. Once you hit 16″ or more manuevering from room to room becomes a pain.

      Exactly why we switched off the old m16 20″ barrels in Iraq when we got into the cities. Room clearing with a 20″ isn’t as effective.

      • What did you go down to? 14″? Or are people running 10″ or smaller in the sandbox?

        Also — you guys kept the stocks, so technically not pistols, right?

        • Seems that most people are having caliber tunnel vision. .300 blk was designed for it to acheive optimum performance out of a 10.5″ barrel and a lot of pistol rounds reach maximum velocity around the 10-11.5″ mark as well. Also, a lot of people (myself included) just refuse to pay the ATF their shakedown money and add to their coffers. There are MANY reasons that the pistol brace is a viable option, not something that derives from the weapons integrity a la a slidefire etc. This article reeks of snobbery.

        • I don’t know that it reeks of snobbery, but it sure does reek of not having shot a 9″ 300 BLK suppressed pistol, shooting 205 or 220 grain loads, on a dynamic range.

          I can’t imagine a more suitable firearm for indoor home/business defense. If you’re really in trouble you won’t notice the difference between a stock and a support or padded action spring tube.

          There are still ATF restrictions on SBR’s: you must (technically) provide them with notice when taking the thing across state lines (of course, to an accepting jurisdiction). This does not apply to the pistol version OR the silencer.

          I cannot make a good argument for the 5.56 version of an AR pistol, however. This simply because the 300 BLK subsonic rounds suppress so well, and are quieter even without the can. I’ve been shooting the Gorilla Silverback 205’s, for example. They’re quiet….very quiet with a can. They have more than enough power for HD ranges. Almost everyone can shoot an AR pistol more accurately than a standard small pistol…once they give it a try.

          Opinions vary, of course

    • My $200 Hi Point carbine does all that and has a stock. Gimme a break. They are cool, but there are other tools that do everything they can do, better.

      • Whoa, when did they start making the HiPoint carbines in rifle calibers?!??! Oh they dont? So the HiPoint can only shoot pistol caliber rounds out of barrels over 14.5″ long? So its basically in no-way a comparison to an AR/AK pistol shooting a rifle round out of a 8-10″ barrel? Oh ok.

    • There’s a lot of point, especially if you buy a Sig PMCX (the pistol variant) owners can very simply “upsize” into a carbine at any time (with no legal issues) with a simple 16″ barrel change (provided you can source that assembly) with no special tools and in very little time. Conversely, if you buy the standard MCX, you may have a legal problem if you ever wanted to “downsize” it into a pistol. You run into the exact same legal questions with the Ruger Charger & 10/22 platform, you’re often better off starting from a Charger receiver although they are both the same…except the wording on the side, and how it was classified as a pistol or rifle when purchased new.

    • Waiting on an ATF permission slip to cross state lines is insulting. That’s why. Same gun, but slap on a 6″ longer upper and suddenly you are safe? What a joke.

    • The article specifies .223 and 7.62 x 39 pistol versions. Does anyone still buy AR pistols in those calibers to use absent a suppressor? They’re both painful to the ears and present (in low light) horrible muzzle flash sans can. No?

      With a suppressor, even supersonic 300 BLK in a pistol is neither blinding nor deafening. With subsonic (such as 220 grain SMK or 205 grain Gorilla Silverback) the thing makes a very handy quiet interior home defense item. Change the magazine to one (marked as) containing 120 Barnes VOR-TX and you instantly have a decent short-range hog, coyote, and forest deer gun. A variety of suppressors will do the job on both sub and super 300 BLK. I use a Liberty Cosmic simply because it is rated for those…and I had it already to use on a G21/G19, etc. So with no additional cost beyond the pistol, it isn’t a bad item.

      I grew up with long guns, even in close quarters (Mil and hunting), so I don’t mind my 16 inch version even with the suppressor. It has proven very reliable, and is accurate at the distances relevant to each type of ammunition. I also like being able to switch lowers to choose between a Geissele SD3G trigger and a heavier Geissele two-stage HSNM version. I still prefer a Model 70 30-06 for eastern whitetails and larger game though.

  2. MY only reasons for wanting one as a PDW is ergonomics. When you absolutely positively need to send the very best, Three points of contact , a good cheek to stock ( umm Brace ) weld and sight alignment is hard to beat. Then there’s the maneuverability though doors and not knocking down everything when you traverse from one side to the other.

    Im more in the market for an MP10 in .40

  3. The nitch they fit is as a trunk gun. Especially with the size vehicles are in this day. Or as a SHTF gun that can be carried in a backpack or a satchel. Easier to conceal than a full size rifle.

  4. These definitely have a practical purpose, albeit not a very common one.

    That said, one of these with a brace is not just an inferior SBR. It is an SBR that can be transfered and cross state lines at will. That last bit is pretty important where I live, since I regularly (often daily) drive through the edges of three states.

    For me, and actual SBR would be a range queen, since there is no way I’d leave it in my vehicles or travel with it, since I need to cross state lines so often, and frequently without thought or warning.

    I find it distasteful the disdain that these with a brace get from the ‘just get a stamp’ crowd. Don’t we have enough enemies that we don’t need to hold each other in contempt over choices we don’t understand?

    • This is true, but it still supports my belief that the only role these pistols are serving is either pure fun, or a role created by the peculiarities of American firearms law, and the buyer actually would rather have had something on the NFA list…..

      • What’s next… “slide fire stocks, binary triggers, bump firing… What’s the point?”

        Of course the point is to get as close to the real thing without being inconvenienced and/or spending a lot of money! These and more are all solutions created in response to laws.

  5. If somebody needs a super compact rifle for a car gun or similar there is nothing smaller than a AK pistol. Throw a folding brace or a rear mounted single point sling and you have an extremely compact and effective rifle. AR pistols are a little less useful since they do not fold and most commercially available 5.56 rounds suck out of short barrels. In 300 BO or with a custom round it would be viable, but its still a large package and a bullpup rifle would work better.

    • Yeah, this. Like my state Washington, loaded pistol is OK, loaded rifle is against the law (and unchambered but loaded mag attached is still considered “loaded”.)

    • This is my reason.

      (3) AR Pistols are legal where AR Rifles are not.
      Loaded AR Pistol in a small case behind my truck seat is okay, all day, even when in passing through Denvergrad. An Loaded AR rifle, not so much.

  6. It’s not an SBR and doesn’t shoot as well as one. No one can hit anything shooting from the hip, so in addition to all else, these are a waste of ammo (money). The only reason anyone in California builds/buys one is that we can’t have SBRs. For me, then, these are useless and wasteful range toys. but it’s your money, and if that’s the way you want to spend it, have at it.

    • Mark, your assessment of hip shooting with a semi-long gun isn’t borne out by the Army’s experience. They trained thousands with the technique, including me, in the ’69-72 era (and perhaps after that). At 15 yards a torso target was easy for almost all of us. It was taught to provide confidence in our first shot during an ambush. Though I was in Aviation, I saw the technique used by exotic unit guys up close, and they were using11.5 inch unsuppressed carbines.

      Personally, I tossed my in home defense 45ACP PCC into the big safe, for a 300 BLK, shooting 205 grain Gorilla Silverback cartridges. They’ve tested as very accurate, reliably expanding, and with slightly better penetration and energy than good 45ACP +P shells, while remaining subsonic. I prefer my 16″ BCM upper, but shot a friend’s 10.5 inch suppressed pistol model, and may pick one up, since I already have an appropriate Liberty Cosmic that I use on the 16″ and my G21Gen4 and G19Gen4MOS. If you think it’s difficult to shoot such a gun with nothing but an insulated action spring tube for a stock, and with an Aimpoint on top, compared to a standard small pistol, you haven’t tried one. “Try it, you’ll like it.” …maybe. I live in a much less restrictive state, though. That may be the key difference.

      Additionally, the ATF regs still require notice if taking a registered SBR across state lines. This rule does not apply to either the pistol or the silencer.

      That’s my view, at least. I would not use 5.56 short barrel items indoors, given a choice. Too loud. Too fast. These have other uses, obviously, especially in a rifle with a longer barrel. You can’t make an effective subsonic 5.56.

    • You know they make “forearm braces” for these, right? No need to shoot them from the hip. Check out the Shockwave Blade, specifically.

    • Let me shoot your ass with it and see if its useless get the fuck out of here a ar pistol in 300 blk was made for self defense in cc so how are they useless? Your trying to make a point about your fucking opinion and there like ass holes everbodys got 1 and there are many real life cases were ar pistols have saved lives in self defense cases so your opinion is not valid is just an opinion there like ass holes everybodys got 1 but u cant bring up a cases were an ar pistol has failed to do its job as long as u got good parts and good company they serve its purpose fucking gun hater clowns!!!!

  7. Everyone has brought up some very good points. The non-SBR friendly state issue is the big one for a lot of people…in general, just so many less regulations with a AR Pistol vs a SBR. I really don’t understand the hate….just arrogant and elitist IMO.

    • Spot on. Several solid, practical arguments for brace-equipped pistols. And to each his own: it’s a free country, do what you want.

  8. I used to think there was no good use for AR pistols. However, I now find myself owning a CZ 805 Bren pistol as an additional travel gun when my destination is a hideous part of a city several states away.

    Many CCW permits and States only recognize PISTOLS. Carrying a rifle may not be covered by your permit or the State you are traveling through. Many times rifles are covered by hunting laws. Not good.

    • I like mine too. Specifically because its an 11.5″ barrel. Ballistically, It’s still lets 556 tumble/fragment, out to maybe 35-50 yards, and for me that’s fine. It’s inarguable that either 762X39 or 300blk would be better, and arguably even a PCC, might be more feasible for a sub 10″ barrel. But I’d only buy an AR/AK pistol AFTER I’ve chosen what my standard rifle caliber is, I chose an AR as primary rifle, and 9mm as standard pistol, so I can buy bulk and use for all my needs. But who am I kidding, I got the Bren because it was cooler, and I live along 3 borders and have shooting friends in all three, so a pistol is better than an SBR.

  9. I’m real close to buying an MCX pistol in .300 BLK. Damn what a bad-ass weapon! Suppress it, you can carry it in your car loaded (with CPL permit where required) Install one of those SB Tactical MPX PSB stocks and what’s not to like?

  10. Yes of course it has a place. As a poor vet, I can chose to use a more compact ar-15 style rifle. For whatever I need it for. And now with the “brace” I don’t have to bribe the feds to exercise that right

  11. What was that about the 2nd amendment being about want and not need? Because AMERICA! Who cares if it’s practical?

  12. As a tool of self defense they have plenty of uses. Who cares why… I applaud anyone buying any firearm if they are lawfully using it for lawful purposes!

  13. They are basically an SBR without the paperwork and you wonder why people are buying them?

    Do you also wonder why people want SBRs? Or do you wonder why people don’t just go through the hassle and expense of getting a real SBR (if they even are allowed to where they live)?

    • I’ve bought several guns over the years because the gubment decided i could not be trusted with them. Frankly i am surprised we can still buy 16″ AR’s and AK’s much less pistol versions of same.

  14. All of the above. Plus while waiting for the ATF to approve your SBR you can use it now and carry it across state lines without ATF permission.

    .300 BLK is designed for an 8 1/2 inch barrel. With a Law Tactical folding stock, it fits in my briefcase fully assembled.

  15. In Michigan, if a firearm has an OAL <26" it's a pistol, and falls under the purview of the Concealed Pistol Licenses issued by the state. This is a fine reason to have a AR/AK pistol, in this state at least.

  16. Bonded 5.56 ammo is good out of barrels as short as 10.5″ -11.5″. 6.8spc2 and blackout down to 8.5″. For home defense with a brace why wouldn’t you want one? They are small enough for one handed and hold 30 rounds of get up and go.

  17. Amazing how no one has mentioned hunting with an AR pistol in areas that don’t allow hunting with rifles. I can use my .300blk AR pistol to hunt deer in the lower half of Minnesota

  18. Yes, there is a reason….mainly a middle finger to the ATF and NFA of 1934. That’s probably good enough reason.

  19. When AK/AR type “pistols” came out I was like, WTF? A pistol that requires two hands to operate? Well, that’s interesting.

    I may be out of step with the general firearms community. Hell, I know that I am! But I don’t see the point. Maybe it’s lust for a near NFA item (a siren whose call I do not hear).


  20. Let’s see:

    -No NFA PW or expense or concern about state borders
    -One enjoys almost all the benefits of an SBR
    -legally a pistol so can be kept in condition one In states where loaded long guns are illegal in vehicles.
    -300BLK is done developing at 9 inches or so.

    It’s not rocket science.

    • This. AR/AK “pistols” were arguably silly range toys before the pistol braces came out. Now, they are basically SBRs with unusual buttstocks.

  21. It’s essential pushing buttons the same way Cody Wilson does with the printed gun thing. It’s a way to show the emperor has no clothes. Which is in and of itself a political statement.

  22. I am of the opinion that AR and AK pistols are a gimmick. they serve no real purpose other than to be cool and different.

    • Since an AR Pistol with a “brace” is functionally a loophole SBR, you must feel that way about SBRs, too. Maybe you’d like to tell all of United States Joint Special Operations Command that they regularly use gimmick weapons with no real purpose other than to be cool and different?

  23. I have SBRs but I may one day get a couple of pistol ARs as well. Why?
    1) In a state of emergency most states prohibit leaving your home with rifles but “pistols” are okay
    -If there was a serious state of emergency I’d probably want my MK18 with me but a pistol variant gives me options.

    2) I like to have a dedicated weapon in the back of my jeep but I am always worried about local law enforcement not knowing the law and trying to take away my SBR in the event of a traffic stop or theft.
    -While the AR pistols I am looking at are the same price as my SBR if the pistol variant was wrongly confiscated it would not take me 1 year to replace

  24. I use an AR pistol to train because I have a shoulder injury that makes it very difficult to keep my left arm extended for any period of time. Having to hold the weight of a full length AR can be daunting depending on what kind of drills are being worked on.

    The Pistol reduces the overall weight, and the shorter length reduces the torque on my shoulder a great deal.

    When I can afford it, i’d probably get an SBR stamp and do a full rifle, but until then the pistol works well for me.

  25. A AR pistol is a sbr without the legal bullshit. And short rifles are more ergonomic and easier to handle and store in tight spaces.
    They make exellent home defense rifles when you want to run through all your small rooms but not loose your expensive sbr to a evidence locker. Also using a sbr in self defense will be used against you by the attorney. Not because it makes any sense, but because he can. The whole idea of regulated sbr’s is ridiculous to begin with. But they will throw shit at you wherever they can. And they got away with 2nd amemdnemt violations for 80 years now, so why not use it against you in court?
    Also, they make damn fine truck guns because you can’t travel with a sbr but storing and handeling a full size rifle in a car is problematic.

  26. You’re wrong.

    Interstate travel is one reason.

    Som states have prohibitions against carrying or transporting rifles.

    With the right ammo, short barrels excel at a lot of civilian engagements.

    Movement inside structures is easier.

    Handling is generally easier.

    And once you add a silencer, it’s not unwieldy.

    I have both, and while SBRs are more pleasant, more comfortable, and more fun, pistols make more sense once the law gets involved whether you’re currently allowed to shoulder it or not.

  27. Got to shoot an AR pistol (KAK shockwave brace) today for the first time and found the experience somewhat underwhelming. I had to contort myself to acquire a sight picture (iron sights) as well as stay “legal”.

  28. Personally, the only good place for this weapon is to arm aircrews or tankers with something more than a service pistol . But more lethal than a Smg typically.

  29. I bought an ATI Mil-Sport 9mm AR pistol. It takes Glock magazines and once I put a SIG brace on it, it’s essentially a semi-auto PDW.

    7.5″ barrel provides better ballistics with 9mm than a 4 inch barrel, duh.

    I plan to build a 5.56 AR pistol, as I am in possession of two complete Anderson lowers. I am going full backpack gun with this one. LAW Tactical folding stock adapter, DOLOS quick detach barrel. Totally legal to carry. Easy to stash in a vehicle, and with a couple of loaded magazine I’m set for any situation up to and including the fall of society.

  30. They are pointless, range toys for Operators Operating Operationally. If you’ve got the cash to burn, have at it. Otherwise, in 1947 the Soviets officially adopted a rifle with a 16in barrel that had the primary goal of replacing SUBMACHINE GUNS, hence the short buttstock and horrible sights and full auto doctrine. When they followed NATO’s lead and updated to a squirrel cartridge(the Soviets did it much better) they kept the 16in barrel. Hell, they’ve even got a bunch of muzzle devices that add a few inches.

    The M249 has a 16in barrel.

    Ian over at InRangeTV ran a match with an AK pistol and the added muzzle blast SLOWED HIM DOWN. So light and handy all the way up until you pull the trigger and completely lose your sight picture. Especially at night when there is no way to mitigate the gigantic fireball of a muzzle-flash.

    So, yeah, that class1 16.5 barrel you find on AR/AK rifles? That’s really the length they should be. That’s the best balance.

  31. I’ve been considering an AR pistol and ultimately decided not to build one. The only reason I was really considering building one is simply to have it in the event that they are prohibited down the road.

    Performance wise – a 16 or 18 inch AR perform exceedingly well out to 600+ yards in my experience. Let’s be honest, I see many people talking about the use case of room clearing and CQB… most folks aren’t ‘clearing rooms’ and likely never will. In a self defense scenario you’re 16-inch rifle will work just fine IF AND ONLY IF you’ve trained with it or have experience shooting under pressure maybe from a match. There’s no piece of gear that will replace training. For those of you clearing rooms and kicking down doors, I’m sure your weapons are issued with the necessary tools for your job by your unit thus the pistol argument is irrelevant. An AR pistol is just a fun gun from what I’ve seen. I’m sure there are edge cases where in more rural parts of the country it makes sense to have an AR pistol in your truck or car – but for most people it’s just a range toy. Will I be changing my 16-inch home defense setup? Nope. Will I maybe build a pistol down the road? Maybe if I have some fun money collecting dust.

  32. I occasionally work doing truck escorts and jewelry transport. Maneuvering in and out of a vehicle with a full size rifle or shotgun can be a pain. Engaging targets why seated in a vehicle also difficult. Pistol carbines are way better in tight quarters, and why wearing body armor.


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