What really sets the AR-15 platform above basically all other firearms is the fact that you can do just about anything with it.
Read on to learn all about the legality, best braces, complete AR-15 pistol builds, and uppers.
Table of Contents
So, what exactly is an AR pistol? If you want the complex legal definition of a pistol Check ATF’s Website.
However, we break it all down for you in-depth here.
The short version is…an AR Pistol is an AR-15 that was built from the start to be a pistol — it also has a barrel less than 16-inches in length and does not have a stock.
Generally, an AR-15 Pistol will have a stabilizing brace instead of a stock, but that isn’t required.
**Note: The ATF is reevaluating its stance on stabilizing braces. Pew Pew Tactical is monitoring the situation and will update our readers if there are any legal changes in the future.
Those are the three major federally important points.
Double-check your state law before embarking on this kind of build, what federally qualifies as a “firearm” or “pistol” might be an “assault pistol” in your state.
Most of the components on an AR pistol are going to be quite similar to a classic AR-15 build. There are a few key differences to note:
- Stabilizing brace: an AR pistol cannot have a stock, as it would then be classified as an SBR
- Gas System: pistol length or carbine length
- Pistol buffer tube instead of a rifle buffer tube
- A vertical foregrip is only allowed when the overall length is over 26 inches
We cover it more in-depth in our AR-15 Pistol or AR-15 SBR article.
Lots of pistol braces are designed to be as aesthetically close to a stock as they can be, without changing their legal definition. In fact, most braces can even be shouldered much like a traditional stock can be.
But the act of shouldering can be murky, legally.
Many manufacturers and people have concluded that it is okay to shoulder a firearm that is affixed to a stabilizing brace.
While the ATF forbade this for many years, in 2017 they issued New Guidelines reversing that.
While the ATF might change their minds again someday, for now, you’re in the clear! So, ready to get your new AR pistol?
Disclaimer: this is not legal advice and you should double-check everything, especially since the laws surrounding this always seem to be in flux. Also, the installation instructions are for entertainment only. Always have a qualified gunsmith work on your firearm.
Best AR-15 Pistols
Nearly all major manufacturers of AR-15s now offer an AR pistol option making it easy to get a clone of your main rifle in a pistol format.
Building your own AR-15 and AR pistol is a lot of fun and a GREAT learning experience, but not all of us have the time or space to make that happen.
With that in mind – here are some great options you can buy right now.
1. Palmetto State Armory 10.5-inch
PSA is well known for offering many configurations based on barrel length, caliber, and brace options.
Come up with a combination, and they most likely have an AR-15 pistol at a shockingly low price.
Here’s our full review on their 7.5-inch and 10.5-inch uppers. Complete with our thoughts on fit/feel, reliability, shootability, accuracy, and more.
Check out the 7.5″ in action!
Want more video? We now have a full review from our YouTube channel.
We’re also fans of their full-sized rifles.
What’s your take on the PSA AR-15 pistol?
2. Springfield Saint AR-15 Pistol
I personally had a chance to shoot the Saint AR-15 Pistol at a Springfield demo. It shot very comfortably for such a short barrel and was not terribly loud.
The 7.5-inch barrel keeps the platform compact, but an M-LOK rail and Picatinny section means easy accessorizing.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Saint, you’ll need to read my full review of the Springfield Saint Rifle.
If 5.56 NATO doesn’t do it for you, take a look at the Springfield Saint Victor — it’s an AR-10 pistol and gives you a lot more punch for the size.
Make sure to take a look at that review also!
3. BCM Recce 11 KMR-A Pistol
Stepping outside of the budget end of rifles we find the BCM Recce 11 KMR-A.
Quality parts and craftsmanship meets a sleek design with a classic KMR Alpha rail.
Accessorized with BCM furniture, the possibilities are endless.
The full-size BCM Recce-16 is one of our favorites.
And the beautiful thing about the BCM Recce series is there’s even a .300 BLK version.
The BCM Recce-9 brings all the goodness of the Recce platform but chambered in .300 BLK and with a 25-inch overall length.
4. Sig Sauer MCX Virtus Pistol
Sig surely contributed to the pistol craze with their SB15 stabilizing brace and the Virtus pistol has only increased the hype.
Truly a top-of-the-line design, the Virtus features ambidextrous controls, two amazing finishes, and a Matchlite Duo trigger.
Lucky for me, I have been able to shoot this pistol and it truly did impress me.
5. Aero Precision AR Pistol
Another of our favorite makers that rank highly in our best bang-for-the-buckness is Aero Precision’s line of AR Pistols.
The finish is always great and their ARs perform flawlessly.
We love their 16-inch variant, the M4E1 (full review), and we wholeheartedly recommend their shorter pistol versions…especially the balanced 10.5-inch version we’re running.
6. PWS Diablo 7″ (Piston)
Piston guns run cooler and cleaner than direct impingement guns. But unless you’re going suppressed or short…they don’t help that much for average folks.
I would have never gone that short on a regular AR-15 pistol because all my buddies’ guns that short were always finicky.
So far the Diablo has been working without a hiccup…with tons of different types of ammo. Stay tuned for a full review.
7. Daniel Defense DDM4 PDW
Really anything from Daniel Defense is a solid buy, but the DDM4 PDW in .300 Blk is particularly awesome.
Rolling with a 7-inch barrel and coming in at barely 20-inch OAL, this is an incredibly small package. It comes with all of the ergos that you would want from DD and that really helps make it feel like a full-size DD rifle.
From the linear compensator to the hand stop to the PDW brace, Daniel Defense makes sure to include everything that a high-end AR pistol should have.
Johnny took it out to the range and has the full review for you, but the short version is that this is one of the best AR pistols on the market and a standard that others will be judged by.
Build Your Own AR-15 Pistol
If buying a complete gun isn’t enough fun for you, then read on for endless building options. Building an AR pistol is not too difficult with the endless internet resources and companies that have made it very consumer-friendly.
Just remember, if you’ve built an AR-15 before — this is basically the same process, just with some different parts. If you want a refresher or if this is your first build, make sure to read our AR-15 Definitive Resource.
There are three major things you need to consider for a pistol build: caliber, barrel length, and brace.
You have options here. I would first determine your primary use. Is this going to be a range toy, home defense weapon, truck gun, or hog hunter?
Your main caliber choices are going to be 5.56, .300 AAC Blackout, or 9mm. But if you really wanted to go wild, 6.8 SPC and 7.62×39 are also options. We’re going to focus on the big three here.
- 5.56: this is a great go to if you’re not exactly sure or are wanting this to be a multi-use gun. Ammo is not too expensive and finding the parts for 5.56 is easy.
- .300 Blackout: looking for a super short barrel or wanting to suppress it? This is going to be your go-to option. .300 Blk is a larger round that was meant to be shot suppressed and can be run through a shorter barrel than 5.56. Learn all about .300 Blackout!
- 9mm: if you own a Glock and want to be able to swap mags, this might be your option. It’s not as loud as rifle calibers and cheaper to shoot, but parts can be harder to find.
Ask an AR nut the shortest barrel length 5.56 needs to burn or what length .300 is optimized at and you are sure to get into a heated argument. Here are a few of the most common barrel lengths explained.
- 11.5-inch: this is a pretty safe bet for 5.56 because it can nearly fully burn and barrels are common. A 10-inch or 11-inch rail pairs perfectly.
- 10.3- or 10.5-inch: Common among USSOCOM rifles, the 10.3 and 10.5 has been pushing its way into the civilian market as well. I personally have a 10.5-inch in 5.56 and love it. Yes, there are some fireballs and it is quite loud, but it is a comfortable length for me and allows for a lightweight build.
- 9-inch: in .300 AAC, you will get the highest velocity making this the ideal combination. You truly get the pistol feel with this short of a barrel.
- 5.5-inch: probably the most common length for 9mm, not really offered for much else, however, the Sig Sauer Rattler uses a 5.5-inch barrel in .300 Blackout.
The barrel is a crucial component. If you’re going to splurge on one thing, I would choose a nice quality barrel.
Prices vary immensely and you often have options when it comes to finish and material. Here are a few manufacturers and their 10.5-inch pricing for general comparison.
You really can’t go wrong here. They also have just about every length/caliber combination so if you have something specific in mind this is a great place to start.
We’ve used their barrels before for other builds and loved them – take a look at the full review.
Generally, when you’re looking at pistol length barrels one thing that isn’t on your mind is long-range precision since the length of the barrel prevents the round from really stretching its legs.
However, that doesn’t mean your barrel can’t help it as much as possible. If you’re looking to get that little bit more out of your 5.56, using a .223 Wylde barrel might be the answer.
Rainier Arms is one of the few makers of a pistol-length barrel in .223 Wylde, and they also make some of my favorite AR-15 barrels period.
This is where I purchased my barrel, partially because it happened to be on a great sale, but also because it had great reviews — two of those coming from Pew Pew Tactical.
The key defining component of the AR pistol is the brace of course.
Many manufacturers have competed to produce the simplest, lightest, and most stock-like designs. We cover these more in-depth in our Best AR-15 Pistol Braces article.
The original inventors of the stabilizing brace, so you know they’re good. Today, they offer SO many options, and not even just for ARs.
If you want it to look like a stock from the side, this is a great option.
While the Shockwave is not as comfortable to shoot with because it is marketed as a “blade” it is a less-expensive and simpler alternative.
Maxim Defense CQB Pistol BDW Brace
Hands down one of the best pistol braces on the market, but also with a price tag to match. This is the Rolls-Royce of pistol braces. Solid, easy to use, and looks outstanding.
The only problem is that at this price, you don’t want to put this on a budget build or a truck gun.
This is for serious use only. If you plan on using your AR pistol as your home defense gun, you might want to shell out the cash for this.
KAK Shockwave Buffer Tube
The un-sexy part of any brace or stock, the buffer tube. Don’t underestimate this component though — it’s important.
Generally, when you get a brace you’ll get the tube at the same time since it is always better to go with what the brace manufacturer recommends.
Check out the in-depth reviews of our favorite braces in Best AR-15 Pistol Braces.
AR-15 Pistol Optics
Over the past year, optics have most certainly become my favorite accessory and favorite thing to research.
They’re incredibly important and can make or break a firearm. On an AR pistol, the main considerations are size and zoom.
You need to think about how far you’re going to be shooting and what conditions.
Most Worth It Holographic Sight
On the less-expensive side for a holographic option, but has a very wide sight picture which makes it comfortable to shoot with. You also have the option for a single 2 MOA dot or an entire ring.
Aimpoint Patrol Rifle Optic
This thing runs for three years on a single battery and is nothing short of durable. The dot is clearer than you can imagine and makes target acquisition extremely simple, this is the gold standard for red dots.
Need to know more? Read the Complete Review.
In simple terms — this optic kicks ass. EOTech is one of the most respected names in optics and the EXPS lives up to its hype.
Fixed power works well for this platform, especially with the optic that has become the symbol of rugged and functional.
Vortex PST Gen II 1-6×24
If you’re looking to take this thing out to 300-yards with ease, the Vortex PST is a great choice and an all-around great optic. While it will add quite a bit of weight, the 6x zoom will give you endless possibilities.
Take a look at our in-depth and hands-on review of the Vortex PST in our Best 1-6x Optics article.
And for everything else…we have our super comprehensive Best AR-15 Scopes & Optics Guide.
Accessories & Upgrades
Anything that you can put on a normal AR-15 rifle, you can put on your AR Pistol. From slings to a new High-Tech BCG, it’s all the same.
Our first stop would be a weapon-mounted flashlight like the SureFire M600 Scout.
Once you have that mounted, you’ll need a sling. Just because it is a pistol, doesn’t mean there are holsters for it. A sling is a must-have for any firearm the size and weight of an AR pistol.
Personally, I like a 1-point sling for an AR pistol – like the Magpul MS4.
Check out our complete guides for more:
Over the past few years, AR pistols have been increasing in popularity for good reason. The ATF has yet to be crystal clear on its stance but we can’t expect too much.
If waiting 10 months and paying an extra $200 isn’t a viable option, the AR pistol might be for you. The platform is extremely versatile and has quickly become one of my favorites as the building ideas just seem so endless.
Because it is so technically similar to an AR-15, you have the same pool of options when it comes to accessories.
The ATF has proven itself to be a bit of an unpredictable bureau. It can surely be unsettling to invest $1,000 into something that might become illegal but you do have other options.
If you are looking to be a stamp collector eventually, you can always file a Form 1 and have fun with your AR pistol while you wait for the SBR stamp.
What brace did you use? Let us know in the comments! Need more options? Browse through our AR-15 Definitive Resource and find anything you need.