What’s better…an AR-15 pistol or an AR-15 SBR?
Everyone seems to have an opinion on the topic, and many people are looking for the answer…especially in light of recent ATF regulations.
The correct answer, like with so many other topics is…”it depends” and you’ll just have to decide for yourself, in the end, what is best for you.
So follow along as we walk you through the differences between each and help you decide which is best for you.
Update Feb. 22, 2023: The ATF has enacted a new ruling that directly targets AR pistols. To learn more about that regulation and its impact, check out our complete write-up on Pistol Braces & The ATF.
Table of Contents
Disclaimer: While some of the information provided here is legal in nature, it is not to be construed as legal advice and is for educational and entertainment purposes only.
AR Pistol vs. SBR: Size Matters
Before we can address the pros and cons of a Short Barreled Rifle (SBR), first we have to define one.
An SBR is a rifle with a barrel less than 16 inches or a rifle with a barrel of 16 inches or longer but an overall length of fewer than 26 inches.
Pistols, on the other hand, are firearms designed to be gripped by one hand. Pistols can have any barrel length under 16 inches, though most commonly, they will have shorter barrels ranging from 3 to 12 inches.
While pistols can’t have a “stock,” at one time, they could use a brace such as an arm brace, a stabilizing brace, or in some cases, just a buffer tube with some padding or foam on the end.
Editor’s Note: Again, as we mentioned earlier, the ATF has a new rule about that, which has made things a bit dicey. TL;DR version is that the ATF says that braces, like stocks, turn AR pistols into SBRs…
BUT buffer tubes are still okay to use with barrel lengths under 16 inches. So if you want an AR pistol, that’s the way to go until the ruling is overturned (we hope!)
Buttstock vs. Pistol Brace
At this point, you might be asking yourself why is this whole buttstock versus brace thing a big deal?
To some, it isn’t…but for others, it is the difference between crunchy or smooth peanut butter…basically, preference.
There are other factors that need to be considered, though.
On pistols, you cannot have vertical foregrips.
Angled grips are allowed on pistols, though I have talked to people who were told by the ATF they were on thin ice due to the angle.
SBRs, on the other hand, can use whatever grips you like. Do you really like that sweet bipod fore-grip? Knock yourself out.
Want something more angled? Not a problem; the world is your oyster in this regard.
SBRs offer a level of legal protection. In the states that allow them, as long as you have the tax stamp and documentation to prove it, you can do as you please in a number of regards!
With an SBR, you can have your barrel and overall length as short as you like or use whatever furniture you want.
You can also rest easy knowing that you have something more solid than a determination letter to rely on if you are confronted about your firearm.
ATF Has Entered the Chat
One of the main arguments against SBRs that I see time and again is the amount of involvement with the federal government.
Whether or not the National Firearms Act is an infringement on the Constitution is a debate that will rage on longer than my lifetime, I’m sure. But, for the time being, if you want to stay in the legal realm, you have to comply with it.
That means that in order to make an SBR, you have to register it with the ATF and pay your $200 for the tax stamp.
It doesn’t end there, though.
If you have an SBR and need to take it out of the state you manufactured it in, you have to ask for permission first.
The ATF Form 20 has to be filled out and sent in for approval before you can legally transport your SBR to another state (assuming SBRS are legal there).
There is a silver lining, though; you can fill them out well ahead of time. Thankfully, Form 20s can be submitted for a year’s worth of travel at a time so that you don’t have to do one every few weeks if you go to the same destination over and over.
What about pistols?
AR Pistols didn’t use to require Form 20 permission, which was a huge draw for some people. But again, the final rule has redefined AR pistols, so things aren’t as cut and dry as they used to be.
That brings me to my next point, knowing the law can save you a ton of headaches.
Each state has a different stance on SBRs and pistol builds.
If you aren’t sure about the laws of a particular state, class3laws.com is a good site to start with, as it typically is updated regularly.
If you aren’t sure of your state’s laws, contact your local ATF field office. They can get you the answers you need and are a lot more friendly and willing to help than most people would think!
Build or Buy
Building and buying an AR-15 pistol is basically the same as a normal AR-15.
Our guide to the Best AR-15 Pistols can get you started off right!
Prices accurate at time of writing
Prices accurate at time of writing
25% off all OAKLEY products - OAKLEY25
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Buying an SBR, on the other hand… requires some extra work, and you’ll need an FFL near you with the right licensing.
That’s why, generally speaking, it’s a lot easier to buy a lower, start the paperwork, wait for your tax stamp approval, and then build or buy an upper to complete the rifle.
Prices accurate at time of writing
Prices accurate at time of writing
25% off all OAKLEY products - OAKLEY25
Copied! Visit Merchant
To some people, SBRs are only for people making clone guns or wanting to play operator. To others, pistols are for people too cheap or paranoid to get the tax stamp.
In the end, the person that can make the decision on which is better is you.
Each person’s needs and application are going to be different. Where you live, your budget, and at some point, your patience will all come into play when deciding which is better.
What do you think of SBRs vs. pistols? Let us know in the comments below. Ready to deck your AR out? Check out our list of upgrades!
42 Leave a Reply
In Wisconsin once you register your ar PISTOL as a SHORT BARRELED RIFLE, You will not be able to carry it "loaded" in your car anymore. Like as if it were a pistol. Which to me is the biggest down fall of turning it into a short barrel rifle.
I built my pistol just before the Brace became available. My choice was pistol because under 26" it is considered a handgun in many states - which means it can be carried loaded concealed ready to hand. You can't do that with an SBRifle - must be unloaded cased ammo separate. Not because of the ATF, but because of all the older "no road hunting" laws in various conservation codes. I can use the Pistol in MO Alternative weapons season, an SBRifle is only legal in Firearms season - and the Pistol is, too. Two seasons are better than one here.
About all I have to do to make my braced pistol legal is just take off the brace and voila, it's exactly the same as the day I finished it. No $200 fee, not trust, no carrying paper with it - which most owners never show anyway. There is almost no "enforcement" in the field or on a range in the Midwest - SBR's and pistols are everywhere. There is more concern about a 10 shot max magazine for hunting, no lights or lasers. My pistol conforms, but a full on SBR may have accessories that are illegal for hunting. Like that handgun in the bottom of a suitcase, you don't want to forget when you find yourself staring at a badge.
At present nobody has even hinted pistols have changed anything in codes or the ATF - all the language is very specific about BRACED pistols now being SBR's. No brace, no fuss, despite all the clickbait video and articles on how to convert or stamp it - because there is no money in just taking off the brace. It's not discussed.
Overall, it's just less hassle and certainly cheaper to go pistol for me.
When I bought an AR pistol with a brace some time back, I felt like this ruling was inevitable and in the meantime there was no way I wanted to shoulder mount this weapon out at the range in front of God and everyone and then have to have a chat with a range compatriot about the law (which I really know nothing about, ‘cause I’m not a lawyer). So with the AR in hand, I submitted an ATF Form 1 via ATFE’s eForms site that explained that I wanted to convert my AR pistol to a carbine-length rifle, I paid the Tax Stamp fee, and ATFE approved the Form 1 in 17 calendar days flat. No muss; no fuss. You can grumble all you like about government interference in your affairs, and $200 for a Tax Stamp is real money, but I personally don’t think that anyone has ever bought an AR pistol with a brace without knowing that they were going to shoulder mount that weapon, and it was only a matter of time before ATFE came to that conclusion, too. The most trouble free way forward for me was to just be 100% transparent about my desired use of my AR and do the ATFE paper chase to make my use of my AR unambiguously legal.
You want a cookie? Or some sort of trophy? I bet you are on your 7th booster shot too.
Being a "glass half empty" guy, I assumed the soulless corruptocrats in DC were going to outlaw Braced AR pistols eventually. Restricting freedom is what government has always done, from time immemorial; why would they change now? So, being a pessimist, I opted for a .556 Bullpup carbine with a 16.5" barrel and 27" OAL. Also got a Bullpup 12 GA with 18.1" barrel 27" OAL. Both handle well and reliably for self defense purposes, including CQB. No tax stamp, no travel restrictions and no ATF goons banging down my door looking for legally purchased pistol braces. Problem solved.
Just the beginning. They want to create a data base for every gun. And go past go so they collect their $200.
Won’t be long before they make. Another rule.
I'm not quite following the "can't shoot the pistol from your shoulder" rule. Does the pistol come with a ATF agent to watch me shoot it? How is that even enforced?
This is all hard to follow (ATF)! I bought a AR-15 pistol, hoping that keeping the weight closer might allow me to shoot from a standing position with neck/back issues! (NOT) The new range overloards, TWRA, do not allow AR's with -16" barrels. I bought a 16" upper, and planned on buying a stock to help reduce but it sounds like I will end up paying the ATF which is one of the reasons I chose the pistol route. Also, how do PCCs factor into this, or should I retract the question?
Can you get the stamp for SBR and if you travel (last minute) switch to Pistol Brace? or am i thinking to much into it?
Have them all. Just figured Id be legal and get a tax stamp for the SBR. I prefer to stay on the legal side of everything.
Let’s say I have a MK18 pistol and get a new standard AR rifle. Can I register the new rifle’s lower as the SBR essentially allowing me to swap the MK18 upper back and forth from pistol to SBR? I like the idea of having the option so I could have it as a pistol for transport (I have a conceal carry permit in PA) but would also like an SBR. Are there any forseeable issues with freely swapping a short barreled upper between pistol and SBR configurations?
Tons of issues exist with that. in the eyes of the ATF, an SBR is an SBR and a pistol is a pistol. In their linear thinking, swapping uppers is verboten.
Very narrow question. I'm putting together a short-barreled BK300 pistol, but I'm having real difficulty finding ammo. If I got a "swap-in" upper in 223/566, do I need to keep it shorter than 16 inches (built) to avoid it being an SBR? My thought was to shoot a lot of 223/556 brass, and then reload into 300blk
A pistol can have a long barrel and still be a pistol.
So if you build a 11" 300blk pistol, you can throw a 16" 5.56 upper on it and it will still be a pistol.
State depending. In my state a pistol is allowed a barrel up to 16".
So legally an ar15 pistol can have any length barrel on it and long as it still has a brace and non vertical foregrip it'd still be a "pistol"?
I live in the People's Republic of Connecticut, and here they have a law banning a mythical classification, and have attached spurious aesthetic and ergonomic features together as proof of this elusive unicorn. Connecticut went to some considerable trouble to be thoroughly obnoxious with their feature list, one for rifles, one for pistols, and one for shotguns. Curiously, they seem to have neglected to have checked existing CT law regarding pistols. In CT, a pistol with a barrel that is longer than 12" in length is no longer a pistol. As a result, even though they classify a pistol where the magazine well is not concentric with the grip as this mythical classification, which I won't dignify by using their term, this only applies if the barrel is 12" long or shorter. A firearm, which has a 12.5" barrel, or longer; but is a pistol under BATFE regulations, is merely a firearm in CT, and immune to the current unicorn gun law.
Not exactly. The weapon becomes an "other" firearm with a barrel longer than 12" (not a pistol), a pistol brace (no stock, not a rifle), a vertical grip, and an overall length greater than 26". Just took mine to the range today.
I live in FL, I just bought a 300 AAC pistol, without a "brace or stock or stabilizing brace".... I need a stock or stabilizing brace but want to stay legal, Laws and peoples interpretation of the "legal" brace allowed is confusing. Could you tell me exactly what type/style of "brace/stock",etc I can order for this pistol. It has a 8.5 inch barrel and I do not have a stamp... thanks, Ross
You'll have to get a pistol stabilizing brace in order for it to be legal. If you put a stock on it it's officially a SBR which without ATF approval is illegal.
Extar EP9 solves the problem and is awesome
Too much plastic to be reliable long term?
I ended up building a pistol for the "other" reason.
Blew my right shoulder out, had to get it rebuilt. Shooting rifles off the shoulder can suck out loud, even in something as low impulse as 5.56. Shooting a pistol with a brace strapped around my forearm, elbow tucked into my hip, and using a laser as a sight sucks a whole lot less.
Fun article, covered all of the ins and outs of both that I mulled over when picking out a first build in 32 (!!) years—since our company armorer would let us play with parts when we were on alert on weekends.
I went with a PSA pistol, because waiting for the stamp would have been agony, and my kids were excited to get started.
Great price point for the upgrades from their standard 10.5” kit: NiB BCG, polished trigger (consistent 7lbs center, no grit), sweet can, SBA3 brace.
It was a blast to get back behind a wrench other than a car or house. Kids had a ton of fun, especially finding the detent spring I let fly at one point.
Thanks for the write up. The law right now is bizarro. When I tell folks about how the SBR stamp and pistol laws work, they are flabbergasted.
I'm a vet who has shoulder damage it seems to me the ATF are all about harassment than what's good for citizens. I don't feel I should need to pay a penalty because of archaic rules that make no sense. A pistol stabilizer just makes the shooter less accurate. Their argument is that you conceal carrie 30 rounds and reload fast .this is stupid .you can equip most semiautomatic pistols with 30+ round magazines and load them just as fast. And no one is carrying sbrs for protection except the ATF & CIA .also the laws for ,suppressors are equally stupid. They naturally assume they will be used for nefarious reasons .if you just shelled out 200 bucks for the tax stamp and the hand ed a dealer 1000+ for a suppressor why would you risk that and jail for something stupid. Just sell the gun if you don't have money DUH .another thing the military took away from me is my hearing . Ever fire a gun in close quarters. Suppression can save a home owners hearing in the case of home invasion
Thanks for respecting/not trashing LEOs who may not have the education of a lawyer.
LEOs are the good guys and are the victims of ignorance in this country.
I will never trash LEOs, I work with and know too many of them. Nothing but respect coming from me toward the LEO community.
I went the AK route... sort of... My setup is an M85NP with SBA 3 brace. AK platform pistol that takes AR mags chambered in 5.56. Midwest handguard with Magpul hand stop.
I chose a 10.5 in 300 blackout pistol because in Missouri during the alternative season you can hunt with modern cartridge pistol
I would LOVE you to address the issue of getting an ATF approval to "manufacture" a suppressor/ SBR/ whatever.
It appears to me, (based solely on hearsay & rumor) that I can get a manufactures stamp (whatever it's called) and then build my own suppressors/ SBR for use by my trust without having to buy endless $200 stamps.
More pertinently, I am planning on modifying/ repairing mine because I have an idea on how to build a better designed one. Which would require me to "tune" & modify the length & diameter of the tube...
What would you like to know? The ATF form 1 is the form making a sbr/sbs(short barrel shotgun)/suppressor (making, not buying). You fill put the paperwork, submit it, pay for the tax stamp, and wait. Once approved, you complete the manufacturing.
Yes and no. If you don't want to deal with the $200 stamp per, there is another route (sort of). A type 7 FFL will allow you to manufacture firearms and components for sale. Adding a Class 2 SOT will let you make machine guns and suppressors and whatnot. As a business, for profit. If you're just looking to build them for your personal collection, going the FFL route is not such a great idea. In any case, I'd check with a lawyer for better answers.
You can have a vertical grip on a "pistol" if it measures over 26" (with the correct measuring, meaning fully extended brace unfolded and to the beginning of the muzzle device if it's not permanently attached). There's ATF letters talking about it and basically if it's over 26 inches it's considered a firearm instead of a pistol. That's one reason why some people will add a folding adapter or use a barrel an inch or two longer to meet the requirement.
If that's not good enough, you can register it as an Any Other Weapon (AOW) for a $5 tax instead of the SBR's $200 tax and put a vertical grip on it.
Also, you can convert an sbr back into a pistol and travel across state lines without a form. It's also mentioned in an ATF letter.
To make an SBR, you can use the efile form 1 and mine just took two weeks for approval. All you do is fill it out, pay $200, and mail in 2 copies of your fingerprints. It sure beats waiting 8 months to buy one. You also have to get it engraved as you are the maker.
I turned my CZ Scorpion pistol into an SBR with a Magpul Zhukov Yugo stock and it's well above and beyond what any brace that's made for it is. Getting the proper cheekweld, having adjustability in length of pull, additional QD points, having an actual buttpad, and being able to use risers to properly cowitness a red dot were key factors.
This is no longer accurate. The ATF has published the opinion that pistols will be measured in the shortest operable configuration(ie. brace removed or brace folded, muzzle device removed). They are rounding up several shotgun “firearms” and pistols for being unregistered AOWs.
8" 300 Blackout for me. SBA 3 Brace with a Law Tactical folding stock adapter. We like overland travel and camping. I wanted more than my Glock 19 if I am broken down on a long and lonely highway out West. This fits in a backpack and is covered under my CC Permit. In a previous road trip of three weeks we did 5200 miles through 12 States. I can't imagine the paperwork I would have to do to get an SBR approved ahead of time.
I chose the AR pistols over the SBR. It was just simpler to me. Although I do like vertical grips, I now run an angled grip on both my 300Blk and 7.62x39. Waiting for a tax stamp sucks. I do have a KAK flash can on the BLKout. I’m awaiting my tax stamp for a suppressor and hate it. Two pistol builds saves me $400. That’s a nice quantity of ammo that I can shoot now in my pistols, instead of waiting 8-10 months for a tax stamp.
I have this dilemma. My first AR after getting out of the Army was a gift from my wife. M&P Sport. You know, the first ones without a dust cover or forward assist and a solid trigger guard. Then, a year later, she gifted me a Magpul furniture kit. The one that looks like urban camo from a distance but it's actually skulls. Came with the butt stock, pistol grip, trigger guard, hand guards and vertical grip. For years I had the trigger guard in a parts box and eventually ended up using it on a 300blk build because of the whole solid trigger guard thing on the M&P. Of course my OCD finally got the better of me and I just had to take the kit off of the M&P. I couldn't stand not being able to have that trigger guard on the same rifle with the rest of the kit. So I went and got the black Magpul furniture and put it on the M&P. Now that problem is solved but I still have the awesome skulls furniture kit that I absolutely want to use on my next build. It was a gift from my wife so I have to right? Of course I do! Anyway, I have everything I need to do a pistol build but since this kit came with an adjustable stock, I'm leaning towards the SBR route. I don't want to build it as a rifle because then I will have two identical builds just one is skulls and one is black. Boring. Then I'd have to buy another barrel too. Why would I do that? I already have a pistol barrel. Absolutely hate the fact that I even have to worry about this is a violation of our Rights and just plain stupid as hell. Then on top of that I have to pay them and ask for permission! My goodness. What's a law abiding citizen to do?
You have other options though! You could build a standard rifle with ultralight hardware, or use an alternate material receiver (there's more than just aluminum and plastic out there), or hell, build an AR-10 - most of the lower parts are compatible anyway.
Nicely laid out. I have several pistols and am waiting on my parts in the mail for another 300 AAC 10.5" barrel for home defense. I will never build an SBR as long as it is restricted. Just my preference. Honestly, I only bought them for 2 reasons. One is my wife kept saying the rifles were to heavy and akward. She is 5'1. The second reason was to put in a backpack or something more easily concealable should I ever need it such as camping or whatever. To remove some of the blast at my face I equipped them all with blast cans. I knew my wife will complain about the blast. Personally I still prefer rifle length. Thanks for article. You guys are my favorite.
Don't forget that you can also build a AR Pistol from the start, add a longer barrel later, then switch back to a shorter barrel ....it's still a pistol. What you cannot do (legally) is start with an AR Rifle and swap to a shorter barrel without getting permission/tax stamp first.