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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
Barrel: 11.5″
Overall: 27.8″
Weight: 6.4 lbs.
Operation: Direct Impingement
MSRP: $1079.99

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.

Franklin Armory’s Website

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  1. There is an often-repeated but probably apocryphal story about prairie homesteaders who built themselves a 12 by 12 house in order to stake their legal claim to free government land. The law, allegedly, did not specify that the house be measured in feet, so some homesteaders built a 12 inch by 12 inch house.

    Those prairie houses, just like this rifle, protect their owners from nothing but the law.

    • Nothing, in much the same way that nothing’s stopping them from just building a SBR upper on their own out of parts. The laws are there as a deterrent. They have no way of monitoring in these things in real-time to prevent it happening. God help the fool who gets caught doing it, though.

    • Same thing that keeps people from illegally installing M16 machine parts in an AR15 lower. Nothing. Laws have no effect on the criminals, hence why they are the criminals…

  2. For something equally pointless, why not just get a KelTec PLR16 for ~$500? Even smaller, 9″ barrel 18.5″ overall, and if you really want a buffer tube to rest your head against, they have a AR stock adapter for the SU16 which should fit. If you really need to have a VFG, you can register it as a AOW and it will still be alot cheaper than this thing.

    • To apply an SU16 AR stock adapter to a PLR-16 would be making it “readily adaptable to accepting a stock” and would be the equivalent of putting a 4 pos buffer tube on an AR without sliding the stock onto the tube. Still illegal.

    • Yeah! exactly what i was gonna say! I’m sure you would have felt much differently if you used a single-point sling and fired it euro-style.

      Although i can’t find a pic to reference basically you adjust the sling so you can push out against the sling and use that as your third point of contact to steady it. That technique has been used successfully for decades and is quite steady from what i hear..

  3. I have a PLR16, I like it because it’s only 18inches and I can fit it in my Dodge’s interior storage compartments or a backpack. At 27 inches the only advantage I can see is being able to put on a front grip.

  4. Perfect trunk gun: Keltec sub 2000 9mm – Glock.

    A couple of factory 33 round mags, coupled with a Glock pistol of the same.

  5. Sort of the problem with long guns converted into legal pistols, without the shoulder stock, shooting becomes erratic. Pass on this one.

    • I have one of these guns. The owner of Franklin Armory and his sons went on a bear hunt with us in the 2011 season. After a hunt he brought one out to show us in 450 bushmaster. After firing a couple rounds through it I had to have one. They did some custom stuff for me and I couldn’t be happier with it. With a high end red dot on it I get 2 inch groups at 25 yards. I get nice groups at 100 and hit a gong at 200. Have killed pigs and bear with it too. Will always turn heads at the range. Worth every penny.

  6. How would modifying the front grip make it illegal?

    Also. What’s to stop any guy with a regular ar pistol from sticking a VFG on it instead of paying the steep price on this one? As long as it’s long enough to not be an AOW. Everybody keeps talking like this weapon is special but it’s just an AR pistol with a foregrip. Anybody can buy an VFg and make one of these for 30$, yes?

    • Removing the forward grip turns it into a pistol. Which doesn’t make it illegal or put the owner in any sort of legal bind.

      I agree with you: it’s a fun middle finger to point at the feds, but there are better uses for my money.

  7. I take it as a good SBR to buy and shoot until the tax stamp goes through. I know a few people that got AR pistols knowing that some time down the road they would get the stamp & stock.

  8. I figured out what that foam handle reminds me of. It’s just like the butt section of my saltwater casting rod. Add a line spool and 5.56mm projectile casting cup and it’s all set for for some relaxing beach-chair surf fishing. One-shot CA version would have a use.

    • In California, once you get the one-shot version home (or even in the store once the paperwork is finished), you can remove the sled and put a regular 5 or 10 round magazine in there. But don’t put a magazine with more than 10 rounds in there or it suddenly qualifies as an unregistered “assault weapon”.

      California gun laws are moronic. California gun owners are heroic (IMHO) for finding awesome ways to work around those gun laws. I left because I couldn’t afford a home near decent schools, but there are lots of great people there still fighting against the stupidest laws you’ve never had to deal with.

  9. If you run out of ammo, you can use that foam padded buffer tube thingy as a handle and the rest of the contraption like a club. Swing away, Merrill, swing away.

  10. There are very few ways to get an AR pistol in CA. This is one. They are for sale at most larger gun shops I have been to. They are sold as a single shot pistol, but you can add the 10 round mag with a bullet button. You cannot have more than a 10 round mag or go without a bullet button. If you do it makes you a felon in CA. In CA you cannot build an AR pistol from a stripped lower because the AR is not on California’s list of approved pistols.

  11. This gun makes my AR-15 with a carry handle look pretty..

    +1 on the Sub-2000, much cheaper and it shares mags with my Glock 17.

  12. I know it’s a pain to move a business, but I still wonder at companies who remain in gun unfriendly states such as California, Illinois, and most of New England. There are many other locations, mostly in the south, who would welcome a thriving business, perhaps even offer tax incentives to move there.
    I do admire a certain optimism, but sometimes it’s just smarter to cut and run and leave the idjits to stew in their own juices.

  13. They’re disposed of in a large blast furnace behind my house once I become bored with them.

    Just kidding. They send us guns to test, and once we’re done testing we send them back. Unless we buy them.

    • Well, actually it is more silly than a pistol grip 12 gauge. With the shotgun, you can grab it in the middle of the night, aim it from the hip (with sleepy eyes) in the general direction of a heavy breathing, stocking masked perp, and send a handfull of .38 cal. sized pellets into his smelly presence. Try that with this thing and there’s a good chance you will end up making a .22 cal. sized hole in the window five feet to the right of the perp, punch a hole in your neighbor’s back door, and penetrate the head of that hot, 28 year old school teacher who used to ride her bike by your house on Saturday mornings, wave, and say, “Good morning, Mr. Asterix.”

      • Aiming a shotgun from the hip with blurry eyes and firing in the “general direction” of an intruding figure? That magically seems safer to you with a shotgun than doing the exact same idiotically dangerous thing with a semi-auto whatever this technically is?

        How about you get a light and actually identify your target instead of possibly killing a family member who just wanted a snack and stumbled over the ottoman?

  14. “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, ”

    Bravo… How True…

  15. Re: trunk gun. When you need more firepower, an unstable rifle or unwieldy pistol is NOT the thing to have. I would much rather have a nice 20-24″ 12 ga. double, or an SKS. Those are outstanding trunk guns. If trunk space is at a premium, then put a folding stock on the SKS.

    Oh, and unless you have your earplugs ready, you WILL suffer immediate and permanent hearing damage from a short-barreled .223 w/ a muzzle brake on it.

  16. This is just an AR pistol with an 11 inch barrel. They have been around for a while, but are usually found with a 7 or 8 inch barrel.

  17. “John” (October 28, 2011 at 6:08 PM) Says:

    “This is just an AR pistol with an 11 inch barrel. They have been around for a while, but are usually found with a 7 or 8 inch barrel.”

    I believe you’re mistaken, because of the forward grip, which would be illegal on the AR pistol you describe!

  18. To me, this seems to fit into the category of civilian sub-gun knock off, like a semi-auto MP5 or something. As such, it is meant to be shot from the hip. Put a flash light or a laser on it and you’re good to go.

    • YES! It’s a semi auto burp gun. Just load with V-MAX or soft points and over penetration won’t be an issue.

  19. I suppose I’m coming late to the party here, but would it be possible to have the manufacturer ship one with one of those nifty bipod/forward grip contraptions? I feel like that might make it a bit more friendly to shoot.

  20. I happened onto this review by accident, because I was considering picking up a Franklin Armory lower. I know it is a couple years old, but I think a lot of people miss the point. I’m happy that Franklin Armory makes this “device” (for lack of a better term). It may seem ridiculous and there are better options for tools like this on the market, either in the form of things like a Kel-Tec Sub2000 or a legal SBR with an NFA tax stamp. However, that’s the point. It’s ridiculous, because it demonstrates how ridiculous gun control laws are. I do understand why people are hesitant to spend the money on this non-pistol / non-rfile AR build, but it is admirable of them to make it and offer it for sale. It makes for good debate and conversation on the subject of gun laws even amongst the gun community.

    My hats off to Franklin Amory for putting this little baby together. I may just have to pickup this Franklin Armory lower after all!

  21. My pistol build is based on this concept and built to my specs. Firing it from the shoulder is possible (takes some practice to get used to) and it is just as accurate as a rifle when done so. I feel confident shooting it out to a few hundred yards. It always gets curious looks at the range and people always ask where I got it. I am frankly quite smitten by it. It’s the funnest thing I have in a centerfire arm and capable to boot. While I do not agree with the reviewer, it’s not for everyone, and I can respect that. Mine has become a “go to” gun.

  22. So, made this in 300 blk. And it’s amazing. There is nothing illegal about putting the buffer tube in your shoulder. Even with a sig brace on it. Not doing so is like shooting an over under shotgun without using the stock. It still sucks. Works better with a side charger to keep your charging handle out of your face. But 300 yard shots are not a problem, even just using a rra pistol buffer tube.

  23. The primary use for this kind of weapon is as a vehicle gun, very similar to the AK variant PAP 85/92.

    The biggest problem is the muzzle flash. Control can be gained by adding a sling and using a tension hold. Adding a red dot or similar aiming device also adds to the accuracy tremendously.

    These are professional guns due to the experience and expertise needed to handle effectively. However once mastered these are a deadly personal defense weapon.

  24. Just add the Sig AR pistol brace, which doesn’t change the classification and is legal to fire from shoulder (per shitheads in Washington). You have a legal SBR without NFA wait times or clearing.

  25. YES!!! XO26 + SB15 or…… build the dang thing yourself for $500 or less… w/ a free-float rail even…. 🙂

  26. Just wanted to add, for those reading the comments, that the BATFE has reversed its decision on the Sig pistol brace. They say, if you shoulder it, that doing so makes the firearm an SBR. I don’t like it, but I just wanted to add this to warn people.

    • Just wanted to add to this add that, years later, the BATFE reversed their reversal and said you can shoulder a 100% unaltered pistol brace. For whatever that might be worth.

  27. “….decided it was Kosher…..” And that’s the problem. Kosher taxes on your food. Kosher taxes on your paycheck (gotta fund those wars!). Kosher taxes on your guns.

  28. Not even a good trunk gun. An AK underfolder is a good trunk gun, maybe even the best trunk gun. The underfolder stock is awful on the cheek but still functions as a rifle. This thing on the OTOH will still have all of those awful handling characteristics when you pull it out of the trunk.

    Thumbing your nose at both the ATF AND the State of California might be worth it though.

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