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There’s nothing better than shooting a sleek, powerful AR pistol… except shooting one that you build with all your favorite custom parts.

So why doesn’t everybody jump on board the pistol-building express? One word: Feds.

But, with a little finesse and a lot of knowledge about your local gun laws, you too can confidently build a classy AR pistol.

Note: This article is for educational purposes only; it is not meant to be construed as legal advice. You are ultimately responsible for your own actions and we advise you to seek guidance from a legal professional in your area before attempting any AR pistol build.

AR Pistol Laws and Definitions

The first thing to note about any custom build to make sure you stay safely within the law is your local and state gun regulations. Call up your local FFL, and they should be able to get you that info pretty easily.

As a general rule, though, a short-barreled rifle classification is what you want to avoid.

How are those classified? A rifle with less than a 16-inch barrel or overall length of less than 26 inches will get you that unwanted $200 NFA (National Firearms Act) tax.

Another important note is how the BATFE (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives) defines a rifle vs. a pistol.

In short, a rifle is anything with a stock that you fire from your shoulder.

The ATF defines a pistol as “…a weapon originally designed, made, and intended to fire a projectile (bullet) from one or more barrels when held in one hand, and having: a chamber(s) as an integral part(s) of, or permanently aligned with, the bore(s); and a short stock designed to be gripped by one hand at an angle to and extending below the line of the bore(s).”

But, hang on. I’ve seen tons of AR pistols that look almost identical to an AR rifle. What gives? And how are they avoiding the NFA tax?

The answer? Pistol braces.

AR Pistol
An AR pistol is a great compact alternative to a longer AR-15 rifle.

Bracing for Impact

In an open letter to the BATFE, the question was posed whether a brace, which traditionally has hand-holds or arm straps to help the shooter stabilize their shot while firing with one hand (fitting our pistol definition), would still classify the firearm as a pistol even if the shooter “happened” to “accidentally” place the end of the brace on his shoulder.

Initially, their answer stated that this type of shouldering would qualify the weapon as an SBR under the NFA.

In 2017, however, that statement was amended to read as follows:

“With respect to stabilizing braces, ATF has concluded that attaching the brace to a handgun as a forearm brace does not ‘make’ a short-barreled firearm because … it is not intended to be and cannot comfortably be fired from the shoulder…Therefore, an NFA firearm has not necessarily been made when the device is not re-configured for use as a shoulder stock — even if the attached firearm happens to be fired from the shoulder.”

So, if you’re looking to add that extra stabilization to your build with a brace, the BATFE has given the green light.


Maxim Defense CQB AR Pistol Brace
Adding an AR pistol brace gives you similar benefits to a stock, but doesn’t require additional legal paperwork.


Keeping Your Weapon Legal

The main thing to make sure your build is legal is to keep it under the “pistol” definition. Here’s how:

  1. Use a stripped lower receiver that has never been barreled as a rifle action. Or a receiver that started on a pistol in the first place. If the receiver started on a rifle that has been classified as a rifle, you’re in trouble. Interestingly enough, if the receiver started on a pistol, you can strip it, put it on a rifle, then back on a pistol with no problem.
  2. Use an angled foregrip like the Magpul AFG that is less than 26 inches from the unadorned tip of the barrel to the end of the buffer tube. A vertical foregrip is not allowed on a pistol.
  3. Stay under that 16-inch barrel length and 26-inch overall length.

Really, if you follow these guidelines along with your local laws, building a legal AR pistol is a piece of cake.

And now, since I know you’re wondering, here are some of my favorite components when building my AR’s:


Magpul AFG2 AR-15 Grip
Be sure to use an angled foregrip like this Magpul AFG2, because you cannot use a vertical grip.


My Go-To Components

If you’re anything like me, you’ve got an ideal product for every square inch of your custom gun. But, just in case you’re in the market for some killer ideas, here are some of my top choices for custom builds:

Whatever parts you choose to build your perfect AR pistol, have fun with it and be sure to keep it legal with the above tips.

Have you legally built an AR pistol? How did it turn out? Let us know in the comments below!

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