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[Best AR-15 Builds]: CA Featureless Home Defense

Every home needs to be able of being defended, even those of us in states that heavily restrict our freedoms.

No Right to Bear Arms
Wait, is this not the California state flag?

While many California home-owners choose shotguns, pistols, or other means of defense – I’m of the opinion that the AR-15, even in a CA legal configuration, is the best firearm for my home defense.

With that in mind, I present my California Legal Home Defense AR-15 Carbine.

California Home Defense AR-15

Table of Contents



Aero M4E1Aero Slick Side UpperHolosun HS503GU
ALG ACT Trigger12" Aero ATLAS S-One5.11 VTAC 2-Point Padded Sling
Strike Megafin GripFaxon 14.5 Pencil Barrel w/ BrakeInforce WML
MFT BattlelinkBrownells TiN BCGSI Ambi Mag Release
CMMG Gunbuilders LPKRaptor LT
Brownells Buffer Tube KitFaxon .625 Low Pro Gas Block

Wait, Is That Legal?

Yes – as I understand California law, my rifle is legal in every way. This is a “Featureless” build so I have a fixed stock, no pistol grip, no flash hider, and no forward vertical grip.

I do have a 30-round magazine, something that not everyone will be allowed to have in CA, because I bought mine during Freedom Week as it has come to be known as.

Live cam of California shooting ranges, May 30th, 2019.

Because this rifle is featureless, it does not become an “Assault Weapon” per CA law even with a 30-round magazine.

How Does It Shoot?


After several thousand rounds, I’ve never had a failure or malfunction of any kind and across a huge range of ammo, but mostly using Wolf Gold .223.

It is also very accurate…for being a 14.5″ carbine with a red dot.

5.56 at 50
(L to R) Wolf Gold 55gr, Federal Gold Medal 77gr, Federal Gold Medal 69gr at 50-yards shooting supported with a 2 MOA red dot

I have it zeroed for 25/225-yards. Meaning, it is zeroed for 25-yards but due to the trajectory of the bullet, it is also zeroed at 225-yards.

I like this style of zero since it makes for a solid middle-ground for short-range shooting.

A yard from the muzzle my rifle shoots 1.5-inches low and at 50-yards it shoots 1.18-inches high. From zero-yards to 250-yards I’m never more than 3-inches plus or minus from my point of aim.

And that is good enough for minute of bad guy.

CA HD AR-15 Build List

This is a build that has been refined over several years, as I grew as a shooter and more proficient with the AR-15 my goals and how I met those goals changed.

What I want from an HD rifle is reliability, zero fussing with to deploy, easy and intuitive to manipulate, compact, and lightweight.

Coming in at 6.2lbs with the sling, white light, red dot, and foregrip – I believe I have achieved each of those goals and navigated the troubled waters of California law.


Aero Precision Slick Side Upper Receiver

Aero Precision is one of our go-to brands because of their quality and their price.

CA HD AR Slick Side
Aero Precision Slick Side Upper

I went with a slick side upper because I really don’t believe the forward assist adds anything of value to an AR-15 and I like the weight savings, minor as they are.

Plus, having better Ambi access to the charging handle helps when using a CA featureless grip.

Aero Precision ATLAS S-ONE

The ATLAS S-ONE is one of my favorite handguards because it is really easy to install, slim, lightweight, and has all of the attachment points that I need.

I went with the 12″ model so that covers as much of the barrel as possible and gives me a lot of room to grip.

Best Bang-For-The-Buck Handguard
at Aero Precision

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Faxon 14.5″ Pencil Barrel With Pinned and Welded Muzzle Brake

Faxon 14.5″ with a pinned and welded slim muzzle brake is an awesome barrel and I love it. This one is pencil profile, but they also come in Gunner.

Faxon Barrel Assortment
Just some of the Faxon Barrels we’ve reviewed!

The extreme lightweight of the barrel plus it being as short as legally possible in CA makes for a very smooth and quick to maneuver rifle even indoors.

We have a complete review of this barrel that I highly recommend taking a look at!

Brownells TiN BCG

I’ve used Brownells BCGs in several builds now and they have run flawlessly. Furthermore, I haven’t seen really anyone say anything bad about them online so far.

This plus the several thousand rounds I’ve shot with them give me confidence in their build quality.

at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

The TiN coating was on sale and I thought it looked good, I do take this rifle to the range often so some style points are nice.

Radian Raptor LT

We reviewed a bunch of charging handles before, but this is still my favorite. Easy, smooth, decent price. My kind of product!

CA HD AR Raptor Charging Handle
CA HD AR Raptor Charging Handle

While normally an Ambi charging handle isn’t critical to a build – if you’re using a fin grip of any kind then it becomes much more important. I highly recommend using one!


Aero Precision M4E1

Aero M4E1 because it’s clean looking, works, and was a good price. The flared magwell is also a decent feature to have, even though it is outrageously unlikely that I would need to speed reload this weapon.

Still, if you can get it – why not?

ALG QMS Trigger

Normally, the trigger is the first thing I upgrade about a rifle. But this time I actually choose to use a mil-spec trigger made by ALG.

Since this is an HD rifle, I don’t need ultra-high precision, nor do I need ultra-fast follow-up shots. I do need reliable.

And I chose to have a heavier trigger than I normally like so that I have some extra margin of error in trigger pull. A milspec trigger is very unlikely to be bumped or brushed and have it go off, even when adrenaline is pumping.

I picked the ALG QMS because while it is milspec, 6.5-ish lb pull, and honed to remove grittiness or crunch. If you want to a step up in quality though, ALG also makes a Nickle Boron and Teflon coated version called the ACT.

Tested AR-15 Triggers
Tested AR-15 Triggers

If you want an even better trigger, you should read through our Best AR-15 Triggers article. We tested a huge range of triggers and have some really important findings to share!

Strike Industries Megafin

Strike Industries featureless grip is the one I like best, the thumb shelf is nice, and the extra texture on the side and top help me get a secure grip.

CA HD AR Strike Industry Megafin
CA HD AR Strike Industry Megafin

I would rather have a real pistol grip, but California gotta California.

Best Featureless Grip
at Primary Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

You can check out more grips in our Best Featureless Grips article.

Best Featureless Grips
A Few of Our Featureless Rifles

MFT Battlelink

MFT won me over because they have a CA compliant version of their stock that comes with a roll pin you can install to lock the stock in place. Very handy and well made!

CA HD AR MFT Battleink
MFT Battlelink

Plus, it’s lightweight and feels good in my shoulder.

at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Strike Industries Ambi Mag Release

Honestly, this was 60% because I saw it and I wanted it and 40% because I thought it might be nice to have.

One of the main deficiencies of using a grip like the Megafin is that you radically reduce the amount of control you have over the firearm while holding in one-handed, such as during a reload.

CA HD AR SI Ambi Mag Release
Ambi Mag Release

Using my trigger finger to help grip the rifle a little tighter makes reloading easier while the Ambi mag release can be used using only my left hand.

That was my rationalization at least, I’m happy to say that it actually works out well and I’m glad I did it. I wouldn’t call it critical, but it is handy and adds a little extra to the rifle.

Strike Industries Hex Ambi Safety

This is a critical part of the build. Another downside of the SI Megafin is that it doesn’t play well with most safeties. Sure, a standard one can be used – but then you have no way of manipulating it with your shooting hand.

Hex Safety

This is where the Hex Safety is needed. Used in the 45-degree throw position, you can use your firing hand thumb to flick it off and on.

There are other safeties that work or ways you can make them work, but this is what I find nicest.


These are totally optional and very user-dependent. But they are what works for me.

We highly recommend that every HD AR have at least three things – no matter what flavor you get them in.

  • White Light
  • Sling
  • Red dot

Holosun HS503GU

I like Holosun optics – they are durable and well made.

The Shake Awake feature has never failed me and saves a lot in terms of battery life.

50,000-hour battery life is outstanding, but what I like most is the reticle. The donut and dot gives me a nice large circle that I can look for quickly while also having a fine dot just in case.

at Optics Planet

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

In all this gives me a red dot that delivers what I want most out of a red dot, plus some features that are just really nice to have.

holosun reticle
Holosun reticle

There are other red dots that fulfill these goals, like the Sig Sauer Romeo5, but the real deciding factor for me was Holosun’s donut and dot reticle.

Inforce WML

I really dig how bright it is and it comes with two light modes, always on and hold on.

CA HD AR White Light
CA HD AR White Light

Being able to choose if I want my light to stay on or if I want it only to turn on while I hold the switch is a nice feature to have.

Most Lightweight
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Not to mention, it fits well on the rifle and the switch to turn it on is easy to locate with how I hold my rifle.

5.11 VTAC Sling

We’ve covered the VTAC sling before and we looked it at on our YouTube channel!

This, however, is the 5.11 VTAC sling. But… I have no idea what the difference is between the VTAC and the VTAC made by 5.11.

CA HD AR 5.11 VTAC Sling
5.11 VTAC Sling

Either way, it’s awesome. It adjusts quickly, stays secure, feels great, and has become my default sling on all of my rifles.

And, like John found if you watch the video, I too decided on threading my sling through my MFT buttstock, rather than use the QD attachment. I can confirm that this method is far better.

Best Two-Point Sling
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Strike Industries Link Curved Foregrip

Since this is a featureless rifle, I can’t have what I really want – a vertical foregrip. What I primarily wanted was something to index off of even in the dark or when I’m not thinking right.

Strike Industries Link Curved Foregrip

Something that I can feel and know that my hand is in the right place each and every time.

at Optics Planet

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

The SI Link does that for me. I know how my hand should fit in it and when fit right, my hand is in the perfect place to control the rifle, work my light, and won’t get burned by anything.

Parting Shots

This is my rifle. What works for me, might not work for you. But if you’re in California or any other restricted state this should give you a good idea to start with.

The AR-15 is the greatest defensive rifle currently on the market, just because our state’s laws might suck doesn’t mean we should ignore one of the best options.

How do you have your HD AR set up? Anything we missed? Let us know in the comments! Stock up on training and defensive ammo, take a look at the Best AR-15 .223/5.56 Ammo!

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28 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar

    Somewhat new to firearms, CA resident. Is this a full list of all the items I would need to recreate this AR build? I want to get one for HD or maybe build one and the only reason I haven't started buying parts is because I just don't know which makes more sense. To buy or to build?

    September 6, 2021 5:50 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Mark Johnson

    Any guidance on assembly for this build anywhere? I've been looking into an AR recently and figured built > bought might be the move to customize it in CA. Plus it would likely be a fun project as I've never built a gun. I'd probably stick closely to this exact build, with minor changes to sight/lights.

    March 24, 2021 10:02 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Sean McClain

    First time commenter here. I'm pretty new to firearms, but it's become a hobby over the last few years. I live in California and really enjoy your articles that touch on ownership in the state. Moving isn't an option for me, but a featureless rifle is. Finally collected all the parts for this build and I'm looking forward to putting it together this month. Big fan of the site, hope to see you out on the range.

    January 6, 2021 7:58 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Bob Khaira

    David have you considered using a fixed magazine instead of going featureless?

    August 28, 2020 5:13 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      David, PPT Editor

      I have but I went with featureless because the reloading of a mag locked rifle is really a pain in the ass. Also, with my featureless rifle, I can use full capacity magazines that I bought during Freedom Week.

      August 28, 2020 5:17 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        I hear ya there man. I went with an ejection port loading system that works decently well.

        August 28, 2020 5:33 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Thank you, great guide! Hopefully stock replenishes and I can build this!

    July 25, 2020 4:27 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    What gas tube length did you use?

    July 19, 2020 7:20 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      David, PPT Editor


      July 19, 2020 7:49 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Thx so much. Great read.

    July 6, 2020 9:28 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Nice write up, but that SI grip's features is useless for lefthanders. And it doesn't appear SI has a southpaw offering. So lefties are stuck with Sparrows and Resurgent.

    May 5, 2020 7:12 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      I’m a leftie as well what do you recommend.

      August 3, 2020 4:33 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    So I bought the Ambi safety selector and the Megafin grip. Does the safety selector piece on the right side ever bother you when it rubs against the thumb rest on the grip? Thanks for the information!

    April 6, 2020 6:48 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      David, PPT Editor

      An ambi selector and a megafin is what I use on several of my rifles also, I use the Strike Industries 45 degree hex selector so that it makes a kind of shelf that I can rest my thumb on.

      April 6, 2020 7:01 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        Awesome man. That’s what I ended up doing. Feels good having that shelf..
        One more question. What did you use to mount your InForce light to the side of the handguard?

        April 10, 2020 5:33 pm
        • Commenter Avatar
          David, PPT Editor

          I used a Magpul M-LOK to Picatinny mount!

          April 10, 2020 6:17 pm
          • Commenter Avatar

            Awesome thanks man!

            April 10, 2020 6:29 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    I thought your not allowed to have any kind of grip to hold on to even on a featureless rifle. On the other featureless thing you guys wrote about stated why risk it adding a grip. Just wondering to be on the safe side before I add any to my AR rifle.

    September 12, 2019 1:32 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      David, PPT Editor

      The definition surrounding it is a little unclear, with things like the Resurgent Grip you are totally in the clear since there is no way it can be considered a pistol grip. With something like the SI Megafin it is generally accepted that it is clearly not a pistol grip, but there is no official word from CA DOJ or case law confirming that. However, since it has been on the market and widely used for several years now - I would say that if CA DOJ was going to try and claim it wasn't legal, they would have done so by now.

      If you're concerned about it though, the Resurgent Grip or Hammerhead grip are solid options.

      September 12, 2019 1:38 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Eugene Novikov

    What is this Strike Industries Stock Stop you have listed but don't describe in the write-up. Is that something you did not use since the MFT stock has a roll pin to make it fixed?

    September 12, 2019 10:59 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      David, PPT Editor

      You are exactly right! Thanks for pointing that out, somehow it survived from an earlier draft.

      September 12, 2019 11:19 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    wait, i thought 16" was the shortest barrel you could legally have on a rifle...

    September 12, 2019 9:44 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      David, PPT Editor

      16" is the shortest overall length for a barrel including any muzzle devices that are permanently attached.

      This Faxon barrel is 14.5" plus a permanently attached slim muzzle brake that takes the overall length to 16" and allows for a gas block to slide over the brake.

      September 12, 2019 9:55 am
      • Commenter Avatar

        What size is the upper hand guard you chose? Looks proportional but is it a 12?

        September 12, 2019 3:39 pm
        • Commenter Avatar
          David, PPT Editor

          Yes, it is the 12" Aero ATLAS S-One

          September 13, 2019 3:14 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        Didn’t see a preferred muzzle break. Any recommendations?

        August 15, 2020 6:50 pm
        • Commenter Avatar
          David, PPT Editor

          The Faxon barrel I used has a permanently attached brake from Faxon. However, on other rifles I normally use a VG Gamma -- really like that brake!

          August 15, 2020 7:38 pm