Here's What You Need To Remember: The creation of arm braces created an interesting loophole in federal firearms law.
The AR pistol is a relatively new concept in firearms. Federal law classifies a firearm without a shoulder stock as a pistol, a firearm with a shoulder stock is considered a rifle. The advent of arm braces, meant to allow stabilized one-hand operation of a rifle caliber pistol created an entirely new category of firearm, the AR pistol.
Many AR pistols resemble short barrel rifles, a firearm restricted under the National Firearms Act. Perhaps not coincidentally arm braces can typically double as shoulder stocks--while meant to be fired braced from the arm, there it is not illegal to place the brace against the shoulder. As a result, AR pistols often resemble short barrel rifles not only in form but also function. Although the initials AR initially stood for “ArmaLite Rifle”, the term AR pistols has expanded to cover non-AR-15 type “pistols”.
Here is a quick guide of the 5 best:
Bravo Company Recce-11 QRF Pistol:
One example of the original AR pistol type is the BCM Recce-11 QRF Pistol. The Recce 11 Pistol is descended from the company’s Recce-16 Carbine. The main difference between the two is barrel length, 11.5 inches in the case of the Pistol, and 16 inches in the case of the Carbine. The Pistol version a SBA3 arm brace and carbine length gas system while the Carbine features a proprietary Bravo Company shoulder stock and midlength gas system.
Other than those two differences, the Recce Pistol is identical to the Recce Carbine. The Recce-11 features a U.S. GI profile barrel chrome lined to ensure longer a longer effective lifespan over thousands of rounds. The bolt carrier group is made from Carpenter 158 steel and is magnetic particle inspected and high pressure tested. The upper and lower receivers are made from 7075 aluminum for durability and strength, and hardcoat Type III anodized. The pistol includes a 10 inch free float handguard and M-16-style flash hider. It weighs only 5.6 pounds with a 27 inch overall length.
Noveske Gen III Shorty Pistol:
At the high end of the AR pistol market is the Noveske Gen III Shorty. The Shorty is similar to Noveske’s line of rifles but with a shorter 10.5-inch barrel and a company marked SBA3 shoulder brace. The pistol is available with chrome hammer forged or stainless steel barrels, in both .223/5.56 and .300 Blackout calibers. The .223/5.56 caliber pistols utilize a carbine length system, while the .300 Blackout calibers use a pistol length gas system.
The Gen III Shortly also uses 7075 aluminum for its receiver set, cerakoted black for long lasting protection. The barrel is topped off with a Noveske KX5 flash suppressor, although as a short-barreled 5.56 it might be better served with a muzzle brake (accompanied with increased ear protection.) An ALG Defense ACT trigger is a substantial improvement over a stock mil-spec trigger, with greater trigger pull consistency.
Sig Sauer MCX Virtus Pistol:
The Sig Sauer MCX Virtus Pistol, like the other AR pistols in this lineup, is also a scaled down version of one of the company’s rifles. In this case, the Virtus Pistol is handgun version of the Virtus Patrol Rifle. The two are almost identical, again save for the barrel length and shoulder stock/arm brace. The Virtus Pistol is built with Sig Sauer’s in-house Pistol Caliber Brace, or PCB.
The Virtus Pistol comes in two sizes, .223/5.56 caliber version with an eleven inch barrel and a .300 Blackout version with a nine inch barrel. The barrels are topped off with a three pronged flash hider. A Sig Sauer Matchlite Duo trigger is a two stage trigger system with a crisp break at five pounds. Although the Virtus looks like an AR-15 it actually uses a gas piston operating system, not the gas impingement method common to the AR-15 platform.
PTR51 PDW Pistol:
One of the more ambitious AR pistols is far from the actual ArmaLite Rifle platform. The PTR51 is descended from the original Heckler and Koch G3 pattern battle rifle, and is produced by PTR Industries. Unique among AR pistol types, the PTR51 is a .308/7.62 caliber pistol, a combination sure to provide exception levels of both energy and recoil.
The heart of the PTR51 is the same recoil-operated delayed blowback operating system that powered the H&KG3, MP-5 submachine gun, and PTR-91 battle rifle. The pistol takes twenty round magazines. The eight inch barrel features a threaded tip for the use of flash hiders, muzzle brakes, compensators, or even a suppressor. An end cap allows the user to fit a pistol stabilizing arm brace.
Arsenal SAM-7K Pistol:
AK pattern rifles in the United States are a mixed bag, with some importers producing decidedly better firearms than others. Arsenal of Bulgaria is one of the better companies, and its SAM-7 rifle is considered reliable, well-made, and accurate. The SAM-7K Pistol follows the lead of other countries in converting, and in some cases downsizing the SAM-7 to a pistol configuration.
The SAM-7K Pistol is, like most AK-pattern rifles chambered in 7.62x39 caliber. The SAM-7K Pistol barrel length is 10 inches, considerably shorter than the SAM-7K rifle’s 16.25 inches. Unlike the rifle, which features plum shade wood furniture, the pistol version is all black with black plastic. The SAM-7K features a milled receiver and can be fitted with a SB tactical brace.
Kyle Mizokami is a writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in The Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and The Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch.
This article first appeared in November 2019.