Could it be that the short barrel rifle has had its day?
Here’s the thing. The current proliferation of AK and AR pistols, especially when equipped with a forearm brace, more or less satisfy all the same reasons that most people wanta a short-barreled rifle for. And without all the pesky NFA hoops to jump through.
As these compact, handy firearms become more and more common in the marketplace, eventually it begs the question of whether it’s worth going the SBR route.
So, why would a person want an SBR?
It’s certainly not for their pristine, match-grade long-range accuracy. There’s a clear correlation between accuracy and barrel length; more turns in the tube means more stable spin and therefore a flatter and more predictable trajectory. That’s not why anyone buys an SBR to begin with.
Besides, the typical SBR is chambered in .223/5.56 or 7.62x39mm or 7.62 NATO and only one of those three is a real, honest-to-goodness long-range round with a track record of working well and reliably in that role.
While there might be some folks who hunt with them, SBRs aren’t really hunting rifles so that aspect is really a non-starter. The standard bolt-action rifle in 6mm or larger is better in almost every regard (longer range, longer barrel for better accuracy, and they look better anyway; look at a Montana Rifle Co. gun and tell me I’m wrong) so let’s not even go there.
Barrel length all but makes an SBR a medium-range weapon (at best) or close quarters rifle in most hands. Additionally, the compact dimensions make them easier to use in a tight urban or indoor environment, so they’re also good for home defense and can easily be transported in a vehicle.
Personal defense and competitive shooting are what most civilians would use them for.
The AR or AK pistol has all of these same qualities. Since many are sold without a stock or with a detachable pistol brace – they’re not stocks! – that means they do not require an ATF tax stamp, the requisite paperwork, background check, months-long wait and so on.
Nearly every component you can upgrade on a short-barrel AR is also upgradeable on an AR pistol. In a home defense role or most competition ranges – such as in 3-gun – an AR pistol is going to be a little bit less precise than an SBR, but not so much that it really matters.
So, pistols do the same jobs and they don’t require yet ANOTHER license (or shelling out $200 for no good reason at all). That kind of takes the SBR down a peg or two.
And then we come to the issue of bullpups. A bullpup rifle accomplishes all the same jobs as an SBR and yet remains, depending upon specifications, a full-size rifle as far as the ATF is concerned. Due to the longer barrel length, they’re more accurate at longer ranges and are just as easy to wield in close quarters as an SBR.
That’s why the British have had the L85A1 and its variants, France the FAMAS, and Israel the TAVOR in military service. Granted, the former two are converting to AR-15-style platforms…but those were exactly the reasons why those rifles were adopted.
Take, for instance, the FAMAS since it was mentioned. The standard model has a 19.2-inch barrel and measures around 30 inches in length, sans bayonet. The Steyr AUG, with a 20-inch barrel, measures around 31 inches in length. The Colt Commando, the SBR variant of the M16, measures between 27 and 30 inches in length (depending on the stock position) with an 11.5-inch barrel.
Carbine-length barrels in bullpup rifles bring the overall length of those foreign service rifles to the same as a short-barrel AR, and those are carbines. They require no tax stamp from the ATF so long as barrel length is more than 16 inches or overall length is more than 26 inches.
Granted, bullpup rifles come with their own sets of problems (clearing malfunctions is a pain, few are suited to lefties, many of them are expensive, you need optics to get the best accuracy out of them, etc.), but in the broad strokes they do everything an SBR does but have rifle-length barrels.
Does having the stock for a close-quarters gun really matter all that much? In 5.56/.223…maybe it really doesn’t.
What do you think? SBR had its day? Think they deserve their own niche and therefore are probably sticking around? Drink craft IPAs and want to tell everyone about it? Sound off in the comments!