When choosing between an AR-15 and an AR pistol, the choice is clear … You really want both. But that is a bit of a cheat, so let’s dive into the real reasons you might want an AR rifle and/or AR pistol.
There are a wide variety of AR rifles and AR pistols on the market today. We will be looking at a full-size Modern Materiel ACE rifle and the Springfield Armory Saint Victor AR pistol. They are both chambered in 5.56 NATO and offer quality, great capacity and very manageable recoil. These guns use the direct gas impingement system and are extremely customizable. But you will notice some differences right away.
SO WHAT’S THE REAL DIFFERENCE?
The shorter barrel length on the AR pistol provides less space for accessories compared to the rifle. The AR pistol is still considered a “pistol” under the National Firearms Act guidelines – at this point in time – because it is classified as a pistol with no buttstock and no vertical foregrip. Therein lies the rationale that this is a pistol. It is theoretically fired using one hand or a traditional two-handed pistol grip.
What is unique to AR pistols is the ability to utilize a brace. The brace is used to assist in stabilizing the pistol. Braces can be fixed or folding, and there are currently no restrictions on actually shouldering the brace as you would a buttstock.
An AR rifle has a barrel length of at least 16-inches. That just about covers it. But it also has all the traditional features of an AR rifle like a buttstock and accessory rails. You can customize the buttstock with various options and utilize a hand stop or a vertical grip if you prefer.
I will say that in general the AR-15 rifle handles better with an adjustable buttstock and a full-length forward grip. As you would suspect, gun manipulation is much more intuitive with the rifle. The shorter AR pistol is more difficult to get a comfortable and positive grip and cheek weld with the brace.
Now how would you actually use these two guns? Great question.
Home defense scenarios offer one practical use for AR rifles and pistols. Many have praised the benefits of the AR-15 platform for home defense. (I would add that you always need to be concerned with overpenetration in modern homes with their relatively thin walls or even an attacker at close range.) At around 34 inches, the length of an AR-15 rifle can also make maneuvering around a dark house somewhat awkward. But it does offer a high level of controllability and the option to add lights and optics to help you in a pinch.
A home defense situation may be better suited to the AR pistol with a length closer to 25 inches. You can also improve the pistol even more by adding a suppressor to assist in sound mitigation. This would add length, but the pistol has more to spare. That shorter length makes it a preferable choice for close-quarters situations. Many shooters also find it easier to achieve accurate shots with both the AR pistol and rifle over a pistol. That is another advantage worth considering.
SELF-DEFENSE, LEO, & MILITARY:
Daily carry is a questionable area for either a full-size AR rifle or an AR pistol. The AR rifle is not really suited to this situation. However, the AR pistol is certainly an option. Concealability is of primary importance. The AR pistol can be concealed using a sling under a loose-fitting coat quite effectively. Also, there are any number of sling packs or backpacks that would accommodate an AR pistol without anyone noticing. With practice, accessing an AR pistol can become very fast and effective.
Both law enforcement and the military could have use for either of these platforms, but they would usually opt for a fixed buttstock. This would convert the AR pistol into a short-barreled rifle. An SBR is simply a rifle that has a barrel shorter than 16 inches and a buttstock and/or a vertical foregrip. This category requires a tax stamp and a bit of time to process paperwork for a civilian. In my opinion, it is also a much more desirable configuration than the AR pistol. But there are many more federal hoops to jump through with the SBR.
In military scenarios, the AR-15 rifle has its obvious uses. But the AR pistol and SBR are specifically suited for close quarters. The shorter length makes them much more efficient in manipulation and maneuverability.
LET’S TALK BALLISTICS:
Giving yourself a ballistic advantage is another reason to consider an AR pistol or rifle. They both come in various powerful cartridges, but there are some key distinctions.
Let’s look at an AR-15 rifle with a 16-inch barrel firing full-metal jacket .223 ammunition. It has a muzzle velocity of 3,029 fps. If we compare that same round out of a 10-inch barrel, it is only yielding a velocity of 2,542 fps. Quite a significant drop in velocity.
Less velocity translates into less force. The bullet also tends to tumble and fragment upon impact with soft tissue at the higher velocities of the rifle. Whereas the slower velocity from the pistol may simply punch a small hole in the tissue. This could be considered a negative for the pistol depending on your specific mission.
Why would you choose one over the other? It all comes down to your mission.
The AR-15 rifle comes with all the benefits of a rifle. It’s much more accurate and possibly more effective at longer ranges. The rifle has improved stability and more desirable ballistics. The only negative is its size hinders concealability and maneuverability in close quarters.
The AR pistol has the advantage of being more concealable and maneuverable in tight spaces. That, coupled with a large round capacity, make it a great choice in close-quarter encounters. The negatives center on stability because of the buttstock and foregrip restrictions. You also have fewer options for accessorizing. We have discussed the less-than-optimal ballistics. Still, getting good hits at longer ranges is certainly possible.
So back to the question: Do you want an AR rifle or pistol? Each have distinct benefits for different missions. That is why getting both seems obvious to me.