[Review] Palmetto State Armory (PSA) AR-15 Pistols

Want lighter, shorter, and more maneuverable AR-15?

But don’t want to deal with a SBR (short barreled rifle) tax stamp and months of waiting?

Enter…the AR-15 pistol.

Best AR-15 & AK Pistol Braces
AR-15 & AK Pistols

With a pistol lower and legal pistol brace…you can skip the line and get a sub-16″ barreled AR.

One of the most affordable entries for everything AR-15 is, of course…Palmetto State Armory (PSA).

PSA AR-15 Pistol Uppers
PSA AR-15 Pistol Uppers

We’ve loved their normal length AR-15 offerings…but how do their pistol uppers fare?

We’ll cover their popular 7.5″ & 10.5″ pistol uppers for fit, feel, finish, shootability, accuracy, and more.

549
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best Budget AR-15 Pistol
549
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

And now…a full YouTube review brought to you by Johnny!

By the end you’ll know if they are for you…and which length is perfect for your end application.

Table of Contents

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Who Is It For?

  • Budget conscious buyers who want to venture into the world of short AR-15s without the time, money, and legality of getting an SBR
  • Someone who doesn’t need a ton of options in their upper and can wait a little for it to be in stock and ship
PSA AR-15 Pistol Uppers vs 16 Inch
PSA AR-15 Pistol Uppers vs 16″ Inch

Why Is It So Cheap?

PSA got so big because it created good products at awesome prices.  And how did it do that?

Vertical integration.  Everything after raw materials they do it in-house.

That’s how they make complete ready-to-shoot ARs for around $500…even with aftermarket furniture.

PSA 5.56 & .223 Wylde
PSA 5.56 & .223 Wylde

I’ve done a couple reviews of their stuff and everything has been reliable.  Some coloring issues here and there but I can overlook it due to the price.

We’ve pretty much hands-on reviewed all their stuff…from AR-15s to AR-10s and their AKs.  Check all our PSA Reviews out.

HOWEVER…AR-15 pistols are a different beast because of their short gas systems.  I’ve always had some trouble with my home-built versions so I was very curious to see how PSA made theirs reliable (or not).

But first…

Legality

Check your local and state laws before buying an AR-15 complete pistol or upper.  We’re not lawyers and this is not legal advice.

Some cases you will need a specific Pistol lower…but for the most part you need a virgin lower that hasn’t been built into a rifle yet.

And if you don’t have a suitable lower…it might be illegal to have a sub-16″ upper.

ATF Meme Guy
ATF Meme Guy

As for AR-15 braces…the current consensus from the ATF is that it’s A-OK to shoulder.  However, I’d still recommend against it since local departments might not be working off current knowledge.

Check out our in-depth legality post in Best AR-15 Pistols and Best AR-15 Pistol Braces.

Fit, Feel, & Finish

Everything looked fine with PSA standards.

The sometimes purple-ish hue I’ve received before was not there.  Each handguard matched the black color of the upper receiver.

PSA AR-15 Pistol Uppers
PSA AR-15 Pistol Uppers

The 10.5″ and 7.5″ barrel uppers had drastically different handguards.  And I liked some elements from each.

In the 10.5″…I liked the overbuilt attachment system with three screws, two detents, and alignment ears.  That sucker is not coming off unless you want it to…

PSA 10.5 Upper
PSA 10.5″ Upper

However, it was a little sharper than the 7.5″ upper.  But not so much that it bothered me…it just wasn’t beveled.

I’d also rather have the entire rail for such a short upper in case I wanted to run lights/lasers.

PSA AR-15 Pistols Handguards, Top
PSA AR-15 Pistols Handguards, Top

The slope of it feels good in hand but would make it kind of difficult to run a pressure pad.

In the 7.5″ upper…the cutouts were beveled and felt nice in hand.

PSA 7.5" Upper
PSA 7.5″ Upper

But it didn’t have any alignment ears.  Nothing moved since the tension screws were ok during testing…but I’d rather have something to keep it aligned.

I did appreciate the full rail…especially on a shorter handguard/barrel setup.

Taking off the handguards…you can see the differences between the 7.5″ and 10.5″ gas systems.

PSA AR-15 Pistol Uppers, Gas Lengths
PSA AR-15 Pistol Uppers, Gas Lengths

The 10.5″ is running a carbine length while the 7.5″ is running a pistol length.

General rule of thumb is that the longer the gas system…the milder the recoil impulse and the better the reliability.

You can see them compared with a mid-length gas system (my favorite for a 16″ barrel).

PSA AR-15 Pistol Uppers vs Mid-Length Gas System
PSA AR-15 Pistol Uppers vs Mid-Length Gas System

Barrels are Nitride coated which has a nice smooth black color but isn’t too shiny.  PSA’s nitride barrels are their middle-of-the-road barrels.

The gas blocks were attached with correct torque…they aren’t coming off unless you want them too.

PSA AR-15 Pistol Uppers Gas Blocks
PSA AR-15 Pistol Uppers Gas Blocks

BCG (bolt carrier group) and charging handle were mil-spec (military specification) and ran fine.

I do like that the bolt is marked “MP” for magnetic particle inspected…and that the BCG gas key was property staked.

PSA AR-15 Pistol Upper BCG and CH
PSA AR-15 Pistol Upper BCG and CH

And in all…everything was where it should have been.

Now onto what really matters!

Shootability

I’ve had bad luck with AR-15 pistols…at least the ones my friends and I have built.

Something always goes wrong with the gas system.

I’m glad to say that I experience no failures with the two PSA uppers in over 500 rounds total.

Of course…the recoil was a little more than a standard 16″ barrel AR…but that was to be expected.

Here’s the 10.5″ in action with a standard A2 flash hider.

Not bad at all.

It got a little hairier with the 7.5″ upper.  Check out the increased recoil and gases coming out.

But still not unpleasant to shoot if you have a decent brace like the SB Tactical SBA3.

135
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Accuracy

Time to see if a shorter barrel equals less accuracy…

I used a variation of my standard testing rig:

PSA AR-15 Pistol Testing
PSA AR-15 Pistol Testing

It was pretty hilarious to mount my precision scope on the 7.5″ AR pistol…

PSA 7.5 AR-15 Pistol with SB Tactical Brace
PSA 7.5 AR-15 Pistol with SB Tactical Brace

After about 200 rounds through each upper with no cleaning or break-in…I set up 100 yard targets.

I shot at a brisk pace of one shot every 3-5 seconds or so…whenever I got my sights back on target.  I let the barrel rest about 5 minutes between each new load.

Here’s the 7.5″ pistol upper:

PSA 7.5" AR-15 Upper Groups
PSA 7.5″ AR-15 Upper Groups

The Wolf Gold (cheapest plinking round) was all over the place…likely 10 MOA (1 minute of angle = roughly 1 inch at 100 yards).

PMC fared the best in terms of affordable rounds with around 4 MOA and American Eagle was a little worse at ~6 MOA.

Match ammo Federal Gold Medal did the best with around 2-3 MOA.

Let’s see how adding 3″ to the barrel does…

PSA 10.5" AR-15 Upper Groups
PSA 10.5″ AR-15 Upper Groups

A LOT more consistent…the plinking rounds of Wolf, PMC, and American Eagle all scored around 4 MOA…which is military specification for the longer 14.5″ M4.

And the match ammo was a solid 2 MOA.

Good for human sized targets up to 300 yards which is more than acceptable for an AR pistol.  Check out Best AR-15 Ammo for my go-to choices for self-defense and plinking rounds.

Recommended Models

For me…I liked shooting the 10.5″ a lot more.  If you value a better shooting experience and probably more reliability…opt for that.

Best Budget AR-15 Pistol
549
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

If you want the shortest possible AR-15 pistol…get the 7.5″.

549
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

There’s a couple models, and they go in and out of stock a lot…but I like the SBA3 brace versions since it has a good cheekweld and is adjustable.

Check out our full review in Best AR-15 Pistol Braces.

SBA3 Pistol Brace
SBA3 Pistol Brace

But, if you’re new to PSA…my normal advice and the best option is to split up the upper and lower so you don’t pay a complete firearm tax.

Again, I like the SBA3 Brace and would probably get the MOE pistol grip and EPT trigger (PSA’s decently crisp mil-spec version).

199
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

For the uppers:

259
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices go from $259 for shorter barrels to $369 for 10.5″ versions.  I’d opt to include BCG (bolt carrier group) and CH (charging handle) unless you already have those.

Most will come with flip-up sights and the choice of flash hider or fluted flash can (which projects noise/gas forward…good for clearing rooms but will create a fireball at night).

I like the flash hider option.

And for you builders out there…

AR-15 pistol build kits that save you a couple bucks:

299
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Be sure to add on a stripped lower receiver.

40
at PSA

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Recommended Upgrades

An AR-15 pistol is basically an AR-15.  So the standard Best AR-15 Upgrades apply.

Except don’t add a traditional vertical grip since it moves it from pistol to AOW (any other weapon) category.

My advice is to get a hand-stop since if you usually shooter longer guns…you might straighten out your arm.

Couple of AR-15 Pistol Uppers
Couple of AR-15 Pistol Uppers

Not the end of the world if you have a 16″+ gun.  But finger-losing-bad in a short barreled gun.

My go-to is the Magpul Handstop that you can install complete or only the larger section.  Both ways shown above in the first and last upper.

23
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

By The Numbers

Reliability: 5/5

500 rounds with 4 different types of ammo and three different magazine brands…no malfunctions.  Which is saying something for a short gas system AR pistol!

Accuracy: 4/5

Merely OK if we’re comparing with 16″ variants…but great for 7.5″ and 10.5″ inches.  You’re going to be fine hitting torso-sized targets out to 300 yards.

Ergonomics: 4/5

Handguards come in a couple different styles depending on what PSA has in stock.  But they all do their job.

Looks: 4/5

Coloring matches up for both my uppers and I like the Nitride barrel compared to Phosphate (bumpy and dull).

Customization: 5/5

It’s an AR…and all the handguards are M-LOK so you can do almost anything (no vertical grips unless you’re applying for an AOW).  Trigger if you get the EPT is decent for a reliable mil-spec and the SBA3 brace is comfy. Opt for an optic (Best AR-15 Optics) to wring out all the accuracy.

Bang for the Buck: 5/5

Great deal if you build from the kit…but even if you do the complete upper and lower…you’re getting an AR-15 pistol for ~$500.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Conclusion

There you have it…quite possibly the most affordable (and reliable) option to start into the world of AR-15 pistols.

PSA AR-15 Pistols, 7.5 & 10.5 Inch
PSA AR-15 Pistols, 7.5 & 10.5 Inch

I recommend getting the complete upper in 10.5″ for better recoil management and reliability…plus the flash hider unless you’re working with teammates in close quarters.

259
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

And the lower with the SBA3 brace.

199
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Are you getting a PSA AR-15 pistol now?  Or if you already have one…how does it perform in terms of reliability and accuracy?  See more in our Best AR-15 Pistols Guide.  And for more PSA stuff…check out our PSA Reviews section.

30 Leave a Reply

  • DOUGLAS PRATO

    I tried a PSA AR15 in 7.62x39 and had really bad feed problems with all of the magazines they suggested would work with the firearm and I returned it to the dealer and bought a radical firearms pistol in that caliber and I love it.

    1 second ago
  • Richard

    Can you tell me what of grip is allowed on a pistol fore grip? is it just the afg or can i use the BCMGUNFIGHTER Vertical Grip Mod 3 or must it be the Magpul Afg or nothing?

    4 days ago
  • DAN III

    I am running a PSA 6.5mm Grendel, 12" barrel using 100 grain, Wolf steel ammo (about .25/rd). At 100 yards it is shooting 2 MOA for me. The Grendel round was designed off the .220 Russian/7.62 Soviet round. I use exclusively CPD/DuraMag magazines in 6.8 SPC or 6.5 Grendel (if you can find the Grendel mags) calibers. Both work fine. Plan on getting one of CPD's 7.62 Soviet mags to see how that works. Sorry, got off on a magazine tangent. My PSA Grendel upper has performed flawlesly with more than 1,000 rds down the barrel.

    2 months ago
  • Bibnutz

    I've built three PSA AR pistols ranging from 7.5-10.5 inches, and have had nothing but outstanding experiences with them. 1 out of the 3 had a coloring issue, but that was turned out to be a paint candidate for a Soviet paint scheme I wanted. All 3 were 300AAC builds and zero issues after a total of 1500 rounds through them. PSA is definitely the best and most bang for your buck.

    2 months ago
  • Merril

    One of the bigger considerations I would have liked to have known before buying my 10.5 psa upper would have been the difference in muzzle blast and sound. A 14.7" pinned and welded to 16 seems like a better option for most people.

    4 months ago
  • Corrigan

    Great write-up, man. I built a 10.5" pistol years back when the Sig brace first became a thing and I'm now in the market for another one. Very glad I found your article. Might give PSA a look for the new truck gun I 'absolutely need'. :)

    6 months ago
  • pascal

    Hi Eric do you live in CA? Just curious to know if you do, how you managed to do the AR pistol in CA? Not looking for legal advice. Just remembered you did the Featureless AR15 post and a lot of your AR15's in reviews seem to be fixed magazine or featureless. I've been looking to do an AR pistol in CA but theres so many grey areas and what seems like major hoops to jump through.

    8 months ago
  • M Rod

    I want to build a 10.5 pistol but want a decent trigger then the standard ones. So mostly would get a stripped lower. Want one for 9mm though.

    10 months ago
  • Bob

    Why are you needing to reset your sights back on target when you're using a lead sled? That's literally the point of using one to take all human elements out of the equation.

    10 months ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hey Bob, good question. It keeps it on target but there's still some movement after each shot.

      10 months ago
  • Kris

    Thanks for the revue Eric.I just completed a PSA pistol build in 300 blackout . 8.5 inch barrel with Anderson lower from my local FFL. Came with a SOB pistol brace and it took 20 minutes with lots of dish soap to get it fully on the buffer.Have not had the chance to fire it yet but I think it will go well.Your site is one of my favorites.And by the way, I reside in snohomish co WA .Have you ever been to Cowlitz county public shooting range ? If so how is it?

    10 months ago
  • Chuck

    Thanks for the excellent article. I recently built a PSA 10.5 inch pistol with the SBA3 brace, MOE furniture, standard A2 front sight, and an EPT trigger assembly. I also went with their mil-spec carry handle and added a Blitzkreig Components luminous chevron front sight post. A slant button streamlined flashlight completed the package. I wanted a truck and home defense weapon with clean lines and a rugged setup. No batteries needed and no optics to get easily misaligned if banged around. It has been flawless in operation so far. It’s well balanced and accurate enough for closeup work and on out to a couple hundred yards. The luminous chevron sight really performs daylight and darkness. I ended up with less than $700 total. You can hardly go wrong with PSA for a dependable ar-15 platform with exceptional bang for your buck.

    10 months ago
    • Eric Hung

      Very cool, Chuck! I'll have to check out the luminous chevron sight.

      10 months ago
  • MICHAEL

    I am wondering why the gas block on the 7.5 inch isn't closer to the position of the 10.5 inch, it looks like there is plenty of room and wouldn't that be better for recoil? Love this web site, Thank you for all the info.

    11 months ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hi Michael, I don't have the scientific answer...but I think you need enough space after the gas block for things to run smoothly. Thanks for reading!!

      11 months ago
  • Brett

    I dont know how i started getting your reviews emailed to me but i read mostly all of them, I like that you have been reviewing the PSA products lately, because i have a couple uppers from them, and its really unbelievable the deals they have and i tell everyone about PSA. My most recent complete upper is awesome but was 349$ in February and new for 2018, and i was just on thier site complete magpul rifle kits are now as low as 249$! With the same upper! And right now just completed pistol anderson lower/lpk with shockwave brace now waiting for my 10.5 upper to come back in stock. P.S.- check out Anderson Manufacturing* mil-spec, very cheap, perfect quality, and Match PSA very well.

    11 months ago
    • David L

      Glad you like them! I agree on Anderson, good fit!

      11 months ago
  • dwest

    Great review. I wish I knew now what I learned the hard way a few years ago. I built an AR pistol before they were trending and spent a lot of time & money tuning it. Then earlier this year purchased an upper from PSA (the 10.5" with a flash can) and wow what a difference. It worked right away and has never been anything but easy. PSA is awesome.

    11 months ago
    • Eric Hung

      Yup...always had trouble with really short barrels. If you want short go with a piston upper (review coming soon of a PWS 7").

      11 months ago
  • Stephen

    Great review! I have both and love 'em. Reliable and the best bang for the buck. Have you tried them with suppressors?

    11 months ago
    • Eric Hung

      Thanks Stephen! I haven't with the 5.56 but PSA AR pistol in 300 BLK was super quiet.

      11 months ago
  • PANDAZ3

    I have two AR pistols, both 10.5, one a Aero Precision upper and the other a PSA upper. The Aero has a Kaw Valley Precision compensator as a muzzle device, supposedly it directs more blast and noise forward. I have only shot it about 90 rounds, but I seems to work well. My PSA is a newer build and as yet is unfired, it has the same birdcage flash hider as in the review. I will shoot both likely next month when the fire danger locally wanes.

    11 months ago
    • Eric Hung

      Let me know how it goes!

      11 months ago
  • PFJ

    What weight buffer was used in both pistols?

    11 months ago
    • Eric Hung

      Yup...what everyone is saying...H2 on mine.

      11 months ago
    • CJL

      NiB BCG, 7.5 with a standard spring and H2 shooting 55 and 62 gr Federal, no issues.

      11 months ago
    • CJL

      I use a standard spring with an H2 using Federal 55 and 62 gr.

      11 months ago
    • dwest

      I use an H2 and a blue sprinco action spring in the finicky 7.5, and an H with standard action spring in the 10.5.

      11 months ago
  • Chris La Marca

    Nice article Eric. As usual. Question, have you shot the PSA marauder? I put one on a lower I built- Spikes billet, pistol buffer tube, built a custom cheek rest, and some other customizations. But the upper is all PSA. It comes with a proprietary flash can and Magpul hand gaurd. Put about 200 rounds thru it no issues. Curious of your thoughts on it. Is it the same system 7.5 inch system you tested in the article? Thanks Eric C-

    11 months ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hey Chris, I haven't since but it should be pretty close...it's 7" vs 7.5" of the one I tested. And slightly different muzzle device. Glad it's working out for you so far!

      11 months ago
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