Featureless AR-15 Rifle: Grips, Stocks, and Muzzle Devices

Confused by all these new laws and what makes an AR-15 “featureless” so you might not have to register it as an assault weapon (AW)?

A featureless rifle is one that does not have any of the following: pistol grip, thumbhole stock, telescoping or folding stock, flash hider, grenade or flare launcher, or forward pistol grip.  A featureless rifle allows the use of detachable magazines and lawfully owned standard-capacity magazines.

*UPDATE* Jan 9, 2017 with a TLDR section on the new California Assault Weapon laws.

A little confused?  We’ve got you covered.

Learn exactly what makes an AR-15 “featureless,” how it allows the use of the magazine release and larger magazines, and how to build one with recommendations for appropriate grips, stocks, and muzzle devices.

Featureless AR-15
Featureless AR-15

Disclaimer that this is not legal advice and you should double-check everything, especially since the laws surrounding this always seem to be in flux.  I’m also writing this mostly towards residents in California, but New York residents can also benefit.

What Makes an AR-15 “Featureless”

First, let’s go over what makes an AR “featureless” before diving into the laws.

This flowchart from Calguns.net is perfect for making sure your semi-auto centerfire rifle is legal.

This works for other semi-auto centerfire rifles but I’m using the example of the AR-15 since it’s the most popular.

Please download the flowchart as well as following along with my emphasis edits (in poop brown) below:

Calguns Flowchart Brown
Calguns Flowchart Brown
  • Start: Begin here and if you bought your rifle at a legit FFL, it should pass everything with flying colors as you move down with the brown line.
  • Section A: Here is where it gets interesting for rifles…whether or not it can have a detachable magazine.  Most FFL bought new rifles take the “No” detachable magazine path to Section B.
  • Section B: You might have heard of the term “bullet button” which is just a branded name for magazine locks that require a tool (and a bullet is considered a “tool”) to remove the magazine.  When you just use your finger…you cannot release the magazine like normal.  The .gif shows some ingenuity in adding a little protrusion to the bottom of a magazine to active the bullet button.
Ultimate Bullet Button Tool, Ben Sharmak
Ultimate Bullet Button Tool, Ben Sharmak
  • Section C+D: This is where “featureless” comes into play since we will not have the features dictated in CCR 11 § 5469 and Penal Code § 30515.  
    • Pistol Grip
    • Thumbhole Stock
    • Folding/Telescoping Stock
    • Grenade Launcher or Flare Launcher
    • Flash Suppressor
    • Forward Pistol Grip

Still with me?

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Things You Can’t Have on a Featureless Rifle

Pistol Grip

What you see on all normal AR-15’s.  It allows you to hold it in a pistol fashion where the web between the thumb and the finger rests below the exposed trigger when firing.  Yea…I had to think about that for a minute too.

A2 Grip
A2 Pistol Grip

Thumbhole Stock

This monstrosity below is an example of a thumbhole stock where the thumb of the trigger hand can go through the stock when firing.

Thumbhole Stock, ar15.com
Thumbhole Stock, ar15.com

Folding/Telescoping Stock

The folding stock allows you to fold the stock over to the side so the overall gun is much smaller when not in use.  While the telescoping stock is very standard and more often known as a collapsible stock.

Folding Stock, gunsandtactics
Folding Stock, gunsandtactics
AR-15 Lower
AR-15 Lower with Collapsible Stock

Grenade Launcher or Flare Launcher

The big tubes underneath the standard barrel.  Not seeing a whole lot out there, so yea…

Predator Grenade Launcher
Predator Grenade Launcher

Flash Hider/Suppressor

Device attached to the front muzzle that reduces the flash from shooting.  They are mostly for preventing the user being blinded by the flash at night, rather than hiding the flash from spectators, although that happens too.

There’s a lot of muzzle devices, and the big difference is that flash suppressors have a bigger cavity at the exit end than the bullet caliber when compared to muzzle breaks or compensators.

Flash suppressors usually come in two flavors…birdcage and multi-prong.

A2 Birdcage Flash Hider
A2 Birdcage Flash Hider
Smith Vortex Flash Hider
Smith Vortex Flash Hider

 

Muzzle Brake Compensator
Muzzle Brake Compensator

Forward Pistol Grip

Commonly known as the vertical foregrip since they can be grasped in a pistol-like fashion.

DDM4 V1/V5 16 Inch FSB
DDM4 V1/V5 16 Inch FSB

Why Would I Want a Featureless Rifle?

Seems like you miss out on a lot of cool stuff, so why would you want a featureless AR-15?

The big reason was hidden above in Section A…the ability to not have a bullet button and use your magazine release as it was intended.

And for those who have standard/high-capacity magazines, you are only allowed to use them in “featureless” builds.  Bullet-button rifles have a maximum of 10 round magazines.

However, this is set to change in California with the new Gunmageddon Laws.  Now the primary bonus of making a featureless rifle is so you do not have to register it as an assault weapon.

Those standard/high-cap magazines I talked about above…they are illegal in CA as of July 1, 2017.

California Assault Weapon Laws (2017)

Oprah, You're a Felon
Oprah, You’re a Felon

Again, I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.  Also, this doesn’t cover all the “Gunmageddon Laws,” just the main ones that deal with AR-15’s and featureless rifles.

General

  • As of January 1, 2017, you can no longer buy/make/import the standard bullet-buttoned AR-15 as we know it since it is now an assault rifle.  The definition of a “fixed magazine” was changed from having to use a tool to something that requires disassembly of the firearm action.
  • For those of you who got one before…you have until January 1, 2018 to either register it as an assault weapon or make it featureless.  Or you can also surrender it, sell it outside of CA, etc…basically stuff you probably don’t want to do.
  • Registration is here (currently not up) and costs around $20.
  • If you register, there’s all sorts of fun things that come along with it…travel restrictions, inability to sell in CA, inability to lend, inability to transfer to family even if you die, etc.  Essentially it will die with you.
  • However, if you make a registered assault weapon (RAW) into a featureless one, you should be able to “de-register” it later.
  • More info here and here.

Featureless & New Bullet Buttons

  • You can avoid registering as an assault weapon if it no longer meets the requirements…aka a “featureless” build.  Find out how to do that after this law section.
  • You should also be able to keep the evil features and not register if you adhere to the new definition of “fixed magazine”…aka use one of the new bullet buttons that require disassembly of the action such as the Patriot Mag Release and the ARMagLock.
  • I haven’t tried them out yet but I’d like to wait and see what happens to the laws near the end of 2017.  Since you have until Jan 1, 2018 to register or put on the new kind of bullet button.

AR Pistols & 80%-ers

  • AR pistols must follow the new laws PLUS not have a threaded barrel nor handguards.  So you’ll have to pin/weld an approved muzzle device and somehow not have handguards.  Basically…you’ll have to register or use the new type of bullet button.
  • 80% builds are still legal.  But you have to stay afloat the new laws.  Any new builds cannot be made into an AW.  AB 857 requires that by Jan 1, 2019 all completed firearms have a serial number.  If you engrave prior to July 1, 2018, you do not need to notify any government entity.  But if you do it after, you’ll have to apply to the state (pay fees, get a serial number, etc).  More info here.

Ready to build or upgrade (or rather…downgrade) to one?

How Do I Build a Featureless AR-15 Rifle?

Let’s go through each of the features again with our suggestions of how to make them compliant.

Featureless AR-15 Rifle
Featureless AR-15 Rifle

A. Flash Hider/Suppressor

On the easier side to fix…just don’t have one.

Opt for a muzzle brake/compensator instead.

If it talks about flash hiding or suppressing in the description, just err on the safe side and don’t get it.  Here are three of our favorites that did really well in this muzzle device shootout.

Precision Armament M4-72 Severe Duty: #1 in reducing recoil.  ($90)

Precision Armament M4-72 Severe Duty
Precision Armament M4-72 Severe Duty

Competition Muzzle Brake: Based off the venerable Miculek brake.  Probably the best bang for the buck.  And boy, is it going to bang the eardrums of anyone caught to the side of you.  ($18)

Hybrid Compensator and Muzzle Brake
Hybrid Compensator and Muzzle Brake

I also really like the Strike Industries J-Comp ($26) compensator since it did very well in TTAG’s test…plus it’s affordable.

Aero Flash & J-Comp
J-Comp on Left

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B. Pistol Grip

The biggest aesthetic and functional change you’ll do in your quest to go featureless.

It might look really odd/ugly, but I’ve found that I quickly adapted to the different grip (almost like a hunting rifle grip) and I don’t find myself at a disadvantage during a match.

Exile Machine Hammerhead Stock: What I use in my featureless builds since it lets you have a hunting rifle grip.  Looks funky, but less funky than the other examples.  ($30)

Hammerhead Grip
Hammerhead Grip

Thordsen FRS-15 Stock: Complete kit to solve the issues of the pistol grip and a telescopic buttstock.  Pretty much out of stock in most places.  ($140)

Thordsen FRS-15 Stock
Thordsen FRS-15 Stock

Solar Tactical Grip Wrap: Kydex wraps for a variety of guns that go around your existing grip.  Makes it easier to swap out if you are going out of state.  ($40)

Solar Tactical Grip Wrap
Solar Tactical Grip Wrap

Ambidextrous Safety: Highly recommended since all your fingers will be on the right side of the gun so it will be more difficult to engage and disengage the safety. ($18).  More models and upgrades in our Best AR-15 Upgrades section.

Ambi Lever, Rousch
Ambi Lever, Rousch

C. Stock

Many internet people say you can blind pin and epoxy your current collapsible stock so that it can no longer move, but again, I like to err on the safe side with a fixed stock.

Magpul MOE Fixed Stock: What I used to run in my featureless rifle.  Affordable, sturdy, and there’s no questioning that it is fixed.  Another source.  ($28)

Magpul Fixed Stock
Magpul Fixed Stock

A2 Buttstock: Very standard A2 buttstock for a more retro look and with storage compartments.  ($60)

A2 Stock
A2 Stock

Ace Skeleton Stock: One of the lightest stocks out there but still with tons of strength.  What I plan on using in my next competition build.  ($90)

Ace Skeleton Buttstock
Ace Skeleton Buttstock

Blind Pinning and Epoxying: If you really love your current buttstock or really want to save money, you can go ahead with blind pinning and epoxying your buttstock.  All it takes is drilling through the buttstock and some of the buffer tube, putting in a roll pin, and epoxying it over.  Some people even do it on both sides as an extra measure.

Drill Through Stock and Buffer Tube
Drill Through Stock and Buffer Tube

I detail what I did for a new build here: How to Blind Pin an Adjustable Stock

Thumbhole Stock, Grenade/Flare Launcher, Forward Pistol Grip

These last three are easy to take care of…just don’t have them!  There’s some debate on whether or not the Magpul AFG is considered a forward pistol grip, but again…I’d just be safe and not have it.

Magpul AFG: Probably not a forward pistol grip since it’s more angeled…but why risk it.  ($33)

Magpul AFG
Magpul AFG

Conclusion

So there you have it, how to make a “featureless” AR-15 or other rifle in California.

87 Comments

  1. Thanks. This is also quite handy in New Zealand where we have a “sporting rifle” which can be owned on a basic firearms license, and a “military style semi-automatic” which like the “assault weapon” is basically a set of cosmetic features, pistol grip, collapsible/folding stock, bayonet lugs, flash suppressor.

    An AR-15 with the Thordsen stock, a silencer fitting instead of a flash suppressor (silencers are considered good manners here) and a magazine of no more than seven rounds is a sporting rifle, and doesn’t require the extra cost endorsement.

    Proof positive that gun laws are made by people who know nothing about guns.

    1. Hi Jason, thanks so much for your comment and insight into New Zealand firearms licenses. Wish we had your silencer laws!

  2. “All it takes is drilling through the buttstock and some of the buffer tube” Why must the buffer tube be drilled through? Can’t we just make the stock non-adjustable without damaging the buffet tube?

    1. Just for piece of mind. Some people just disable/take-off the lever that lets you easily adjust the stock, but I just always skew towards making it really unadjustable.

  3. So with all the new crazy Gun laws.. is the frs stock California legal?? I just purchased a UTAS xtr 12 shotgun..and I’m so worried it won’t be legal come Jan 2017.

    1. Hi Mars, it currently is and should be, but I would always ask someone that can give you a concrete answer. It might differ since yours is a shotgun as well.

    1. That’s a good question. As of now the guns named specifically on the list, the two you listed included (oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/firearms/forms/awguide.pdf), cannot be bought in CA but I’m unsure if the recent laws would fix anything. My money is on no still.

  4. so with the new law coming 1/1/2017 we will still be able to have Featureless AR Rifles?
    Will be we need to register these AR’s in Featureless configuration as AW?

      1. Most likely I will convert all my rifles to featureless.
        But, if I register my rifles as AW what type of mag release will I be able to have?
        Free State Mag Release, Bullet Button or Bullet Button Reloaded?

        1. Hi, definitely double-check with a lawyer since I am not, but as far as I understand you should be able to use any release if you register as an AW. But it seems like an unintended consequence that my change.

          1. Don’t register… You will have to take pictures of it and won’t be aloud to alter it… It will be useless at that point… Featureless is the ONLY way to go until OUR NEW President can give Komifornia a spanking…

  5. What do you think of the armaglock alternative? It seems a lot easier thank mangling and taking apart an expensive ar 15 or 10 and takes just a few seconds to load and reload.

    1. Hi Mike, I’ve seen some videos of it but haven’t had a change to personally handle it (will update when I do). It could work but I still like the featureless route just for ease of use during competition.

  6. So if I make all the above changes to my AR and make it “featureless”…..am I good with leaving the “bullet button” as is??

      1. What if your Are 15 was pre ban but then registered it when we were required to back in 98 or99 do I have to register it again since already have to carry that piece of paper where ever i take that rifle?

  7. Eric, really good information although I’m still a bit confused on what Californis will do next. For all 80% builds, will you have to register them even if they are featureless ? AND are they looking to ban 80% builds ? Will featureless be banned ? Will 80% lowers be banned ? Thanks.

    1. Next they will go after people that register their ‘Assault Weapons’. Registering the weapon gives the CA DOJ rights to enter and inspect your property any time they want to look for ‘safety violations’.

  8. hi eric, thanks for all the info for us californians. just wondering, i’m trying to follow your chart but where is appendix A, B etc….. Also i own a PCC, 45acp. it has a bullet button where I need a tool. So as long as any AW has this type of mag release that requires a tool, does the chart imply that i’m legal? and don’t have to go featureless? thanks, hope you can answer. doug

    1. Hi Doug, it’s on the second page of the Calguns flowchart. Click the link I have in the article since I did not take a screenshot of it.

    1. Thanks for the heads up. I downloaded the PDF and it looks like a list of states and a little blurb. Here is what they say for CA:

      Working within the guidelines set forth in a letter from the California Department of Justice Bureau of
      Firearms, Thordsen Customs LLC (with guidance from legal counsel) has determined that the FRS-15 stock,
      when installed on a semiautomatic center fire rifle with NO OTHER RESTRICTED FEATURES listed in
      California Penal Code 30515(a)(1)(A-F), DOES NOT meet the definition of an “assault weapon” and therefore
      may be configured with a detachable magazine.

  9. Eric, thanks for the information.

    If I were to build an AR using something like the ARMagLock (so, basically fixed mag), does this then mean that I could have BOTH a pistol grip AND a collapsible buttstock? Or would I be limited to either/or?

    Thanks in advance!

    1. I believe if you go with a fixed mag you can have an unlimited amount of the features (that are still legal…you might not get away with a grenade launcher without a lot of permits lol).

      1. So once putting a ARMagLock on my ar15 while keeping all my evil features do I then register with the DOJ that my rifle has a ARMagLock?

        1. It’s one of those things that no one is really sure of.

          It SHOULD make it ok since it requires disassembly of the firearm action. I personally went with making all my rifles featureless.

  10. What if i keep my rifle locked away? Would i still have to make it featureless or register it? I don’t see how they would know unless they go house to house checking everyone’s weapons.

  11. So I’ve been kind of looking around the internet on this topic and by looking at the different grip options supposedly compliant. Some such as the rifle grip, hammerhead, and the such looks like you can still have your thumb over the grip which I’m not sure of that vs the kydex type were the thumb is essentially same side as trigger finger. I did read some where that it depends on how high said thumb rides in reference to the trigger.

    Also removing flash hider and replacing with a brake , does the brake need to be pinned?

    And again with all these things being done you cane remove the bullet button to standard mag release, is that correct?

    Also this all comes into affect in 2018 or am I wrong? California

    Clarification on these much appreciated

    1. The brake does not need to be pinned unless you have less than a 16″ barrel.

      For now (2016) in CA going featureless should allow you to remove your bullet button. Currently most people believe that going featureless will exempt you from the new AW registration laws in California.

      1. Thank you,

        Here’s the flow chart might clear up things. Looks like if yours are not on the appendix lists on page 2 you really need not worry if your magazine is considered non detachable meaning you’re using a bullet button, radlock or similar device

  12. Getting close to the deadline.

    If i go featureless does it become a ghost gun, or is it registered as a long rifle?

    I dont understand the difference between a reciever with a serial and an unserialized 80%.

    80% is unserialized, what happens if i get pulled over by a cop?

  13. No doubt, thousands of California AR-15 owners will be modifying to a fixed mag configuration in order to avoid registration and the inevitable confiscation that will follow. Fixed mag options create a safety issue. I’m concerned about clearing a jammed receiver with a fixed mag. Transporting a jammed rifle is not an acceptable option. Perhaps someone will design a quick release mag floor plate? or clearing assist tongs?
    Going featureless seems to be a safer option though replacing a pinned suppressor will necessitate a dreaded trip to an overwhelmed gunsmith. Anyway, I will install an ARMaglock and wait until I have some experience with a jam before I make the installation permanent with red thread-lock and drilled out hex head.

  14. If I change my AR to featureless, does it mean I can do a PPT at FFL? Would some FFLs refuse to PPT certain featureless rifles since there are many ways (and many interpretations) to turn an AR into “featureless”?

    Thanks in advance.

    1. It will depend on your FFL…some are more risk adverse than others since there’s some interpretation of the featureless laws.

  15. Hey Eric!

    First off, your website is awesome! Didn’t know you had one.

    Just was looking for clarification; the magpul PRS stock, while being adjustable, is not “folding or collapsible” so it is legal, right?

    also, for people with m4-style carbines (pinned and welded flash hider on a barrel under 16″), the Franklin Armory DFM 10 round magazine may be the way to go without altering or swapping the barrel. it drops in from the top, making the rifle with a “fixed” magazine. buy two and it makes swapping out much quicker while still staying legal.

    Lastly, is shooterbowl Sunday still going down and will you bring your AR despite the potential hassle? I wanna try that pistol run.

    1. The PRS stock is in the iffy territory.

      Haven’t tried out the Franklin Armory magazine but its ounds like it could work.

      All of mine are featureless now so it’s ok to me!

  16. Eric,

    I’m having issues withave making a San Tan Tactical lower CA compliant since it has ambi bolt and mag releases. Gonna see if the AR MagLock works but now I’m thinking it won’t clear the ambi bolt release. To be clear I can build the rifle as featureless (no pistol or forward grip, fixed stock, no flash suppressor (muzzle breaks are ok) and I can leave my regular (non bullet button mag release in place and have all the advantages of ambi controls? As long as it is featureless I do not have to register as an AW? Detachable mags 10 rounds or less are ok? What about ‘blast mitigation devices’ like the Lantac that force gasses forward instead of left/right?

    Thanks in advance for your answers,

    TC

    1. Hi Todd, I’m not familiar with that lower. For now until the end of the year it should be good to go. Featureless should negate needing to register in 2017. Not sure about those kind of devices. Do they list if they are flash hiders?

  17. Just wondering if you or anyone reading this signed the VETOGUNMAGEDDON.ORG petitions that were circulating in August and September?

    1. I believe it has to never been made into something with the “evil” features. You might also have to build it featureless. I would definitely double-check with your local gun store.

  18. Love the website and the great info! Would love to get your opinion on featureless muzzle devices…Would a Krinkov style “Krink” brake be considered featureless in CA since it’s main function is to redirect the blast down range and not suppress the flash?

    1. I’d look at the description of the device and/or double-check with the manufacturer/seller. I’ve heard some of the older versions (especially 4-piece designs) are categorized as flash hiders.

    1. Hi Josh, it’s true but there’s so many effective brakes out there for reasonable prices. Which gives me an idea for another article…

  19. True. Most seem to be around 2” or greater in length and costly. In an attempt to keep the barrel length as short as possible, its between a thread protector or the S&J micro linier comp. it’s at 1.5” and might help keep the peace at the range. $50 ish

  20. I am confused about the deadline to register for AW. The start date for registering for AW is 1/1/17? And the deadline is 12/31/17? Does that mean that we can still use our pre-ban AR15 up to the deadline date of 12/31/16? Or we have to convert it to featureless starting 1/1/17?

    1. Hi, AFAIK it will be illegal to buy or sell AW after 1/1/2017 and you have until 1/1/2018 to register or make featureless/fixed mag (that requires opening up the action instead of the regular bullet button).

    1. Hi Jack, AFAIK it will be illegal to buy or sell AW after 1/1/2017 and you have until 1/1/2018 to register or make featureless/fixed mag (that requires opening up the action instead of the regular bullet button).

  21. If the bullet button ban begins Jan 1, 2017…
    And we have until Jan 1, 2018 to register as an AW…
    Does that mean between Jan 1, 2017 and Dec. 31, 2017 we can keep our “evil features” and with out a bullet button?

  22. If you have a unserialized ar and we have a permanent mag installed, do we still need to be featureless and have it still be legal w/o registering?

    1. Hey Damon, I’d ask a lawyer for advice since your question has some special cases. I’ll try to update the article with what comes out about 80% projects.

  23. Eric,
    Thanks so much for the How-To article for the featureless build for us in Southern California.

    I purchased my stock AR M&P Sport II in 2016 and I’m in the process of making it featureless.

    – Telescopic buttstock (Swapping to FRS-15 – Finally back in stock!)
    – Stock Pistol grip
    – Stock flash hider (Swapping to a compensator or muzzle break)

    If the following components are removed from the rifle, are we required to register as an AW? and of the rifle is completely featureless is the bullet button required?

    Trying to get my head wrapped around the flowchart.

    I also found this video from Chris X on YouTube:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18o5iUL3Tls&t=2s

    Thanks!

    1. Hey KM, not lawyer but if you remove all the “evil” features I listed in the article you are should not be required to register it as an AW and can currently take the BB off.

      1. Eric,
        Absolutely – Appreciate the reply and noted your not a lawyer :).

        Thanks again for putting this guide together to help make sense of all of the new regulations for 2017.

        Enjoy Shotshow!

        Cheers!

  24. California is madness in action. Not just the gun laws either. Everything costs 40% more then anywhere else, traffic jams 365 days a year, smog checks, damn near everything is illegal. It’s a mess. I’m going featureless since i guaranty you, this registration WILL lead to confiscation – always does! That is the reason they do it in the first place. Truly the only thing to do is GTFO and don’t look back.

  25. Hello Eric have a question about ar pistol if i install the AR maglock on my pistol will i still have to pin the muzzle break on the barrel.?
    Thanks KC.

  26. Hi Eric, thanks for all the great info. Do you have any similar advice for AK’s? Sorry in advance if there are some obvious sources that I just haven’t had the time to dig for yet.

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