Firepower, hitting power and nimbleness–there's a raft of reasons to consider the AR pistol. We give you seven affordable options if you're looking to go small.
What Are The Top Affordable AR Pistol Options:
- CMMG BANSHEE 100, MK4, 5.56
- Ruger AR-556
- Diamondback Firearms DB 15 Carbon Series
- Palmetto State Armory 10.5″ Carbine-Length 5.56 NATO
- Core 300 Blackout Truck Gun
- Radical Firearms Pistol
- Springfield Armory SAINT AR-15 Pistol
You want fair, play Go Fish. Otherwise, when you’re planning to defend yourself, your property, your family your entire objective is to put your thumb on the scale. As the iconic Col. David “Hack” Hackworth said, “If you find yourself in a fair fight, you didn't plan your mission properly.” No truer words have ever been spoken.
Applying the unfair approach to saving your own skin touches every facet of self-defense: mindset, training, software and hardware. That last point is especially pertinent. If you ever wanted a single justification as to why you need an AR pistol, that is it.
Firepower, hitting power, accuracy, wieldiness—the petite configuration of America’s favorite firearm has it all. Which, when it comes to home defense or superior vehicle-based security, gives you the ultimate—an unfair advantage. If that’s not enough, they’re fun as Friday night to boot.
What Makes An AR Pistol?
Avoiding putting the horse before the cart, we should take a moment to discuss exactly what defines an AR pistol. It seems self-evident, but like so many firearms topics it’s painted in about every shade of gray imaginable.
Putting aside it’s essentially an AR-style gun—built on an AR upper and lower receiver with a direct impingement or piston operation system—the firearms essential has the following attributes:
- A barrel less than 16 inches or an overall length of less than 26 inches
- No vertical foregrip
- No traditional rifle buttstock (think M4 telescoping and the like)
Study the National Firearms Act of 1934, you’ll find physically the AR pistol is a stone's throw from a Short Barreled Rifle (SBR). Legally, they’re a world apart. Whereas you can procure an AR pistol-like any other off-the-shelf gun—your local legislation aside—an SBR is classified a Title II Weapon. This means the firearm requires the figurative pound of flesh to purchase—a mountain of paperwork, a note from your local law enforcement, $200 to the Feds (tax stamp) and plenty of waiting.
Read Also: Custom AR-15 SBR Truck Gun Build
The dividing line between the AR pistol and SBR, the last in the bullet point—buttstock. Which leads us to…
The Bracing Pistol Brace
Goiterish in appearance, an exposed buffer tube is neither attractive nor very handy. Though, in the early days, that was about your only option when it came to an AR-pistol. Maybe a rubberized sheath to soften it up, but not by much. This changed in 2012, with a stroke of genius from Alex Bosco.
The disabled veteran cobbled together a brace that attached to the buffer tube of an AR and futher to the forearm. The idea was more overall support and control of the gun. He quickly sold the design to firearms giant Sig Sauer and it became known as the “Sig Brace”. Equally as quickly, shooters noticed the Sig brace allowed comfortable shouldering of the AR pistol, along with better handling attributes. Can of worms officially opened.
Was a brace actually a brace? Or was it just a buttstock by another name? Or, in a strange metamorphosis, was a brace a brace until the moment it hit the shoulder than magically became a buttstock?
In 2015, the ATF briefly chose the third definition, saying using it as a shoulder stock represented a redesign of the pistol into an SBR. That stretch of the definition of redesign thankfully was short-lived and, thanks to SB Tactical’s efforts, the agency reversed itself on the shouldering question in 2017. Though the language is wishy-washy. First off, the brace cannot be modified in any way to make it strictly a stock–leave those straps on. Furthermore, the ATF uses words such as “situational”, “sporadic” and “incidental” to describe when it's acceptable to shoot one from the shoulder. In short, they're saying it's legal, but don't be flashy about it.
Read Also: 8 Budget AR-15 Options
Proposed 2021 Pistol Brace Ban
Again, AR pistol braces are in the news—never a good thing. Along with 80-percent lower receivers, the current administration has set its sights on one of the defining features of AR pistols. On June 7th, 2021 ATF published a new notice of proposed rulemaking on its website ominously titled Factoring Criteria for Firearms with Attached “Stabilizing Braces”. Overall, the rule—aside from pushing the limits of vague terminology—appears aimed at re-classifying any gun equipped with a stabilizing brace as an SBR. In turn, all such guns would be taxed and registered according to the NFA—even the ones currently owned. Fun, fun.
Similar to the arbitrary system laid out for firearms importation, the classification scheme utilizes a point system. And, boy howdy, does it ever seem skewed to eliminate the majority, if not all bracing systems. In thumbnail, the rule dictates firearms with stabilizing braces must weigh at least 4 pounds and measure between 12 and 26 inches. If it falls within these parameters, the brace is evaluated for certain features. Then the entire firearm and the brace are evaluated for a different, yet similar, set of features.
As for brace evaluation, the rule breaks it down into four categories:
- Device incorporates features to prevent use as a shouldering device
- Minimized Rear Surface lacking features to discourage shouldering
- Rear Surface useful for shouldering the firearm
- Material added to increase Rear Surface for shouldering
Those standards are about as well-defined and coherent as a Jackson Pollack painting, which doesn’t bode well for the American gun owner. The good news, these rules have not yet gone into effect in 2022. Though, there are rumblings they may soon.
All that behind us, for the time being, shouldering is acceptable, but maybe something not recommended for a day at a public range. Use caution. As history proves, the issue comes down to one factor—bureaucratic edict. Like a spring breeze, that could change direction at a moment’s notice, thus leave you in a perilous position if you’re not up to date.
AR Pistol Advantage
Is a screen pass in football more run or more pass? Tough to say, it shares so many elements of each. Yet, it’s indisputable puissant and under the right circumstances is a game-changer. The same can be said for the AR pistol.
Home defense, truck gun, bug out bag—anywhere quarters are tight or storage space is at a premium the hybrid platform excels. However, the AR pistol’s nimble nature and unassuming size aren’t the only assets it brings to the table.
First and foremost, it’s chambered for centerfire rifle cartridges. Yes, absolutely, the AR pistol is available in pistol-caliber cartridges, but the argument exists that—as a defensive arm—you’re doing yourself a disservice going this route. While a 10-inch barreled pistol will neuter a rifle round considerable—ballpark 500 to 700 fps for the 5.56—its performance still vastly outdoes what a pistol cartridge gains out of the longer bore. In turn, a hit is more likely to neutralize a threat more quickly than with a “nightstand” handgun.
You also have more rounds on tap, at least most of us do. Draconian corners of the country have mucked this up, cutting down magazine capacities to 10 to 15 rounds—which mirrors traditional pistols. But a great majority of shooters have 30-round options at their disposal; a few PMAGs and you’re well on the way to tipping the scales in your favor when the need tipped the most.
A potent cartridge and firepower are definite advantages, but don’t mean squat if you don’t hit the threats you face. Here too the AR pistol has a leg up, particularly on traditional handguns. A more stable platform, it offers greater overall control, as well as recoil management. Certainly, the heater won’t print a cloverleaf at 200 yards, like its bigger brothers. But most shooters find it possible to deliver more hits where they want them consistently than with other handguns.
Along these lines, the pistol works seamlessly with an optic, particularly a 1x job that allows you to shoot with both eyes open. Absolutely, traditional handguns have gone this route in recent years with the rise of the reflex optic. The case exists, however, the AR pistol facilities a more intuitive and steadier view through the optic, thus improving accuracy potential.
Finally, the AR pistol was almost made for suppression. Given you’re not bound by barrel-length requirements, you can invest in a perfectly sized platform relative to your can size. Pretty sweet deal. With a carbine, no matter what you're stuck with 16-inches-plus suppressor.
Incidentally, if the AR pistol has piqued your interest, it might be worth thinking about finally diving into suppressors. Short barrels equal a loud gun with excessive muzzle flash. A can will greatly reduce both.
Affordable AR Pistol Options
If a gunmaker rolls out an AR it’s a pretty sure bet they have a complementary AR pistol in their catalog. Which is to say, your options are legion.
While the likes of Daniel Defense, Noveske and LWRCI are always solid choices when it comes to any AR configuration if you’re considering your first pistol you might not have the cool $2,000 plus to buy one. With that in mind, we’re listing 7 entry-level AR pistol options from reputable gunmakers that are certain to get you on target. These guns all have MSRPs below $1,100, which means they’ll hit the retail outlets at price points almost every shooter can afford. Just a quick note, we kicked up the ceiling by $100 because nearly every model has increased in price due to 2022's inflation. Overall, most models are running around $200 more than they were a year ago.
CMMG BANSHEE 100, MK4, 5.56
Never afraid to tackle a new caliber or configuration, CMMG has among the most extensive AR catalogs out there—rifle and pistol. As for shorties, the gunmaker’s BANSHEE line has become a favorite, thanks to its excellent fit and finish, and performance.
CMMG does not list these in their catalog any longer, so it's safe to assume the striped down BANSHEE MK4 is soon to become a thing of the past. However, there seems to be ample stock left at various retail establishments, so we're still backing this horse. Sure enough, you’ll have to put down extra coin if you want a brace. And the pistol only comes with one barrel length option, a relatively long 12.5 inches. But you get to tailor the rifle exactly to your needs, plus you have the peace of mind of investing in a CMMG gun. Get one while you still can. MSRP: $950 // cmmginc.com
Read Also: The Short And Wicked Banshee
Ruger AR-556 Pistol
Out-of-the-box the Ruger AR-556 pistol doesn’t leave you wanting for much. In fact, for the price point it’s one of the best values going—particularly its 5.56 NATO model. Though if you’re willing to throw down an extra $50, you open the door to other chambering options, including .350 Legend and .300 Blackout.
As to the 5.56, the 10.5-inch barrel AR pistol comes with a factory-installed SB Tactical SBA3 Pistol Stabilizing Brace, a proven and comfortable option. Up front, the gun is outfitted with a 9-inch free-floated handguard that has an exceptionally thin profile and plenty of M-Lok attachment slots. Also, Ruger has opted for a carbine-length gas system—logical given barrel length—which makes it much less bucky. MSRP: $1,059 // ruger.com
Diamondback Firearms DB 15 PCML
Turning out AR pistols for around 6 years now, Diamondback Firearms is an old hand at the configuration. And at this point, the company offers a lot of the proverbial bang for the buck. Available in both 7- and 10-inch barreled builds, the PCML models offers a solid base to build up a nimble gun.
Again, you're getting a stripped-down option sans a brace (what did you expect for this price point?), so include that in your calculations. However, you get a well-made gun with a chrome-moly barrel, aircraft-grade aluminum receivers and a lightweight handguard that has a bit of dash to its design. For someone looking to get acclimated to the configuration, is short on cash and doesn't want something that falls apart in their hands, the PCML models provide a good entry point. MSRP: Starting at $782 // diamondbackfirearms.com
Palmetto State Armory 10.5″ Carbine-Length 5.56 NATO
Honestly, it’s difficult to go through ARs—especially the affordable kind—without hitting upon Palmetto State Armory. The South Carolina concern does it right, both in manufacturing and price.
To that end, the company 10.5-inch 5.56 is an excellent entry-level option. Yes, the gunmaker offers cheaper AR pistols, but none as well-endowed. What’s to like about it? The 9-inch lightweight handguard (M-Lok compatible, of course) and SB Tactical SBA3 brace. Off the shelf, this provides a competent package for nearly any operation. Furthermore, PSA includes a polished single-stage trigger that breaks much cleaner than a plain old mil-spec. MSRP: $899 // palmettostatearmory.com
Core 300 Blackout Truck Gun
Mixing things up, if you’re in the market for a .300 Blackout, Core Rifle Systems has a tidy little package in its Truck Gun. A dandy out of short-barreled guns and, in sub-sonic loads, eminently suppressible, the cartridge is a natural performer out of Core’s 7.5-inch barreled gun. Furthermore, the overall small size of the AR pistol, it’s next to nothing to add a suppressor without impeding its agility. The gun boasts an M1 flash hider, Core’s 7-inch M-Lok handguard and SB Tactical’s SBA3 brace, making it ready for your pickup the moment you take it home. MSRP: $899 // core15rifles.com
Radical Firearms AR Pistol
If you have a particular build in mind for a production AR pistol, Radical Firearms is a good starting point. The whole thrust of the company is flexibility, offering the choice of five different handguards when you order—huge benefit.
Granted, not every model comes complete. Only the RPR, MHR and FCR configurations are available with a brace—an SB Tactical SBA3 in all cases and all with 7.5-inch barrels. Radical offers 10.5-inch pistols as well, but only with a bare tube. But that’s far from a deal-breaker. Fit and finish on Radical’s guns are top-notch, but 5.56 NATO chamberings are the order of the day. MSRP: $685 // radicalfirearms.com
Springfield Armory SAINT AR-15 Pistol
Once again, we're dealing with a pistol that has been discontinued the past year. However, we're sticking with this gem in our buyer's guide for the time being for two reasons: the SAINT is still readily available in retail outlets, and it's the tits.
Right off the bat, the gun comes completely decked out and ready to roll. One of its most eye-catching features, its Trinity Force Breach Blade 1.0 Std. brace. Unobtrusive and whisper-thin, the brace does quite a bit to cut down on the bulk and weight of the gun, while maintaining its overall function. Furthermore, the gun’s 9.5-inch barrel is a nice “Mama Bear” length, milking a bit extra from the 5.56 NATO cartridge, while remaining nimble as ever.
The handguard is polymer, but a top-shelf unit—Bravo Company’s BCMGUNFIGHTER PMCR, which aside from being M-Lok compatible also comes with an integral hand stop. A valuable landmark that adds a solid safety measure to the system.
If this baby gets your juices flowing, which it easily could, don't wait if you run across one. Time is running out on getting one new out of the box. MSRP: $849 // springfield-armory.com
Read Also: Review: Springfield Armory SAINT Rifle
Subscribe to the Gun Digest email newsletter and we'll send your print-at-home target pack right away. Just enter your email address below.