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John P. asks:

What is the best approach for an NFA newbie to make a Form 1 SBR? Is it better to start with a rifle, obtain the stamp, and then shorten the barrel? Or should I prefer to start with a pistol and, once approved, add a stock?

I’ve done it both ways now, and as with most things the answer is “it depends.”

First, a little background on the NFA regs. According to the ATF a rifle requires a barrel length of 16 inches or more, and a pistol cannot be designed to be fired from the shoulder. So you can have a fully functional shoulder-fired AR-15 if your barrel is 16 inches or greater, or if you start with something shorter you can’t have a shoulder stock. The day you get your approved Form 1 from the ATF you can slap a stock on your pistol or shorten your barrel, but as the current waiting time for a From 1 is about 90 days you’ll probably want to have a usable firearm in the meantime rather than just a pile of parts.

If you start with a rifle, you can have all the usability and features you want while you wait. The gun is a fully functioning rifle with all the usability that comes along with it, just a little longer than you’d like it. This option is the least annoying, since the rifle is good-to-go while you wait, but also the most expensive. Sure you can chop down the barrel, but for an AR-15 moving the gas port in the barrel to compensate for the shorter length is probably not within the ability of your local gunsmith. You’re going to need a new barrel, and that means a new handguard as well probably.

The best option for those starting with a 16″ AR-15 rifle is probably to get a completely new upper receiver. That gives you the most options, since you can either (A) keep the old 16″ upper for days when you want to cross state lines without asking the ATF first, or (B) sell it as a standalone upper, which is much easier to sell than just a barrel or handguard. Either way, you’re going to be shelling out about $700 more when the appointed day comes.

For a bolt action rifle, things are a little easier. Chopping down the barrel is completely possible (Tyler Kee is doing just that with his hunting rifle right now), but there are some risks involved. Any time you have someone work on your barrel it’s like sending someone in for major surgery — the gun might not survive or be the same on the other side. Internal ballistics are still a dark art, and when you start making physical changes to your barrel it can have a major impact on the accuracy of your gun. A good gunsmith should have no problem but there’s always a risk involved.

For an AR-15, the other option is starting with a pistol. This option allows you to have a firearm with the same dimensions and (most of the same) parts as the finished product, but not the same functionality. You can have a pistol arm brace but no proper stock without the paperwork. What that means is your firearm will be somewhat less useful while waiting, but when the paperwork finally comes in at most you’ll be out $150 for a new buffer tube and stock. Or if you started with a 10/22 Charger, you just need a new stock at about $100 a pop.

Having done this process both ways, I can say without a doubt that the expensive way is the least infuriating. There are few things less useful than an AK pistol without a stock, and at least when you start with a rifle you can get the full functionality of the firearm until the gun exits paperwork purgatory. Then again, the more expensive option is more expensive. If you’re OK with your gun being less than useful for three or four months while waiting for permission to have your ideal gun, then you can get away with not needing such drastic and costly alterations.

Then again, depending on what gun you start with, your options might be slightly more limited.

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  1. I hadn’t considered using a Ruger Charger as a starting point for a less-expensive SBR. As a result of reading this article, my options just increased. Thanks, Nick.

  2. You mentioned on the expensive route that you can put on the 16 inch barrel when you want to move across state lines without notifying the ATF. Is the same true for a pistol registered as SBR that you take the stock off? Also, if I have a pistol, would I be able to put on a 16 inch barrel with a stock and turn it into a rifle?

    Main reason for asking is with some new rifles such as the Sig MCX you can do a variety of these combos without buying a new upper

    • Once the reciever is registered as an SBR you can put any length of barrel you want on it. As long as you are using your registered receiver, you can swap out barrels/uppers as you please.

      • I think if you “permanently” alter the specifications of your SBR then you have to notify the ATF, i.e. say you built it as an 8″ 300blk and later put a longer barrel on it or changed calibers and barrel lengths then if you ever sell your original 8″ blackout upper you have to update the new OAL and barrel length to the ATF.

      • I’ve gotten differing answers from several NFA ” specialist” agents. I have a Suomi M31 and love it ( currently the TNW variant with the extended barrel ) but I would love to be able to put the optional barrel and shroud style back on it. According to Mr. Howard at the NFA branch once I got the short barrel on it I couldn’t swap back to the longer version even temporarily. Which doesn’t make much sense to me I’ll admit. Besides the barrel swaps by hand on this gun.

    • Unclear – as usual from the ATF and its set of crazy rules. Check

      It has answers to questions like “May the short barrel on an SBR or SBS be replaced with a long barrel for hunting or other purposes, with the intent of replacing the short barrel?” and “If I remove the short barrel from my SBR or SBS, may I move the firearm across state lines without the submission of ATF Form 5320.20, Application to Transport or to Temporarily Export Certain Firearms?”

      So it seems from their answers that is OK to replace the short barrel with a long one for hunting – but they don’t say if that modification applies across state lines. And the second question applies to move the “was-SBR” across state lines – but doesn’t say anything about moving across state lines with a longer barrel . . .

      I have a rifle (started life as rifle, will keep being a rifle) and an AR-15 pistol – which started life as a stripped lower, was never a rifle. Just got my trust, planning to submit Form 1 today to SBR it. And due to all the fragging complexities of the law and ATF “opinions”, the SBR will die an SBR – either I’ll sell it as an SBR, or I’ll go back to stripped lower, sell as stripped lower, sell the rest of the parts by thermselves.

      Because taking an SBR out of the NFA registry is also a confusing proposition . . .

    • “Also, if I have a pistol, would I be able to put on a 16 inch barrel with a stock and turn it into a rifle?”

      Yes. The ATF has said its okay to turn a pistol into a non-NFA rifle and then even back into a pistol. Just not the other way around. Yes, I know, it doesn’t make sense.

      One could make an AR15 pistol and use a carbine buffer tube and a short barrel (sub 16″). Then you can replace the upper with a 16″ barrel and slip on a buttstock. Voila, you have a rifle. Then you take the buttstock off replace witht the short barrel, and now you have your pistol again.

      All perfectly legal, on the federal level, as long as the receiver has never been a rifle FIRST.

  3. AK pistols are extremely useful with an arm brace attached. Of course you never ever would shoulder it because that makes you an evil, scary, killer of small woodland creatures. Or some such emotionally based mouth spew.

    • Last week I saw a lady at my local range shouldering an Scorpion EVO w/ an arms brace. And yes, she was SHOULDERING it, not putting the arms brace against her cheek. So she was making an illegal SBR every time she shot the damn thing.

      A couple guys were interested – had never seen a Scorpion EVO in the flesh – and came to ask her “is that an SBR?” to which she replied (each time), “no – it’s a pistol”

      I wondered if she wasn’t unaware of the latest ATF BS about “redesigning an arms brace if you shoulder it” or she just didn’t give a frag.

      I guess we’ll all finally know for good the day someone ends in front of a judge for shouldering a pistol w/ an arms brace installed – then we’ll find out if the courts agree w/ ATF’s BS redefinition of what “redesigning” is . . .

  4. “…but when the paperwork finally comes in at most you’ll be out $150 for a new buffer tube and stock.”

    Not true. Not claiming to be a lawyer, however you can have a carbine receiver extension without a stock and it’s still a legal pistol with a short barrel. The ATF tries to scare you with constructive intent if you go this route if you have buttstocks just laying about.

    It’s already been debated to death all over ARFCOM and m4c. Most seem to use the pistol tube as a just in case from the ATF bogeymen.

  5. Easiest, most hassle-free way is to buy a complete SBR already fully assembled and registered as such.

    No extra hassle/cost of engraving any personal info on the receiver.

  6. “Or if you started with a 10/22 Charger, you just need a new stock at about $100 a pop.”

    Are people really paying the gov $200 to make SBR 10/22s? Seems like a lot of hassle and expense to go through for a .22LR rifle.

    • Plenty of people getting $200 ATF stamps on the most silly–by which I really mean “interesting”–firearms. This is America.

      • Plus, a Charger or 10/22 is useful, unlike some of the other oddball rifles people SBR. Hunting, varminting, plinking, a camping/boating/off-roading gun; all fun uses for 10/22 SBR. Ever since I saw an article years ago that described a short-barreled 10/22 with a folding stock as a “pocket rifle”, I’ve wanted to set one up this way. I even have a spare folding stock sitting in the corner of the hobby room, waiting for that day.

    • I’ve built a couple pistols that may someday grow up to be SBRs. I’ve had some issues–they needed tuning.

      I prefer to work the kinks out in pistol form before cementing the deal with NFA paperwork. Its a lot easier to deal with any parts that don’t work out as expected by swapping them out and selling them off. That includes uppers if their accuracy is crap.

      Seems to me that going the pistol-first route is actually less expensive and less hassle since it afford the opportunity to test the whole assembly sans stock before committing to the NFA process. I hate that NFA makes the prospect of buyer’s remorse so terribly cumbersome.

  7. I thought I did it the easiest and cheapest way. I bought a Polish PPS-43C. Pretty cheap. Then I applied for the right to unfold the stock. That took 6 months. Next was a parts kit, to un-phark the folding stock, so it unfolds again. Pretty simple, pretty cheap.
    Although I might add pretty stupid to the list. Pretty stupid to have to pay $200.00, send in photos and fingerprints, have my Liberal sheriff sign off on BOTH my forms, and wait friggin’ 6 months for permission to simply un-fold the stock, as originally designed.

    Is is, however really nice to know I’m legal.


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