The mainstream media is in a tizzy because the loser from Dayton used an AR pistol in his attack. These weapons are an alternative to paying the $200 short-barreled rifle (SBR) tax and waiting the better part of a year to put a proper stock on a rifle with a barrel less than 16 inches. An arm brace, be it the kind that goes around your arm or just literally braces against it, is legal to attach. Adding a vertical forward grip makes it into an “any other weapon” which requires a tax stamp.
The difference between these rifles and legally short-barrel rifles is that the idea is they are fired with just the dominant hand holding the pistol grip and perhaps the buffer tube pressed against the forearm. It is not as stable as a rifle or as accurate due to stability and the inherent loss of accuracy in a short barrel. Stability can be improved with braces which have been used by holding against the shoulder like a rifle, creating a “poor man’s SBR.”
Unfortunately, the claim is now being made by the anti-gunners and their complicit tools in mainstream media that these weapons are a “loophole.” We are seeing the bump fire stock playbook opened up once again. People said they though bump fire stocks were stupid and now we’re seeing the fruit of “giving something up.”
AR pistols are not a “loophole.” It is a precise definition of federal law of “pistol” that anti-gunners would find “problematic” and the determination, again derived from fact, that a “brace” is not a stock, even if can be used as one. The ATF determined braces, even if shouldered, were not stocks, changed their minds, then changed it back. With bump fire stocks as precedence, we could see political pressure ban AR pistols once again.
Such pistol versions of rifles exist because the National Firearms Act of 1934 originally was to apply to pistols, so sawed-off shotguns and cut-down rifles were included to limit the availability of concealable weapons. In the 1930s, America was about two decades past the height of the anti-concealed carry hysteria of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The rhetoric calling for the banning of “pistol toting” died down when the rise of “auto bandits” created the panic, combined with bootlegging crime, lead to the NFA.
Pistols were removed from the Act over strong protest from the NRA and the US Revolver Association (many influential persons were active members of both). The latter had written the model Uniform Pistol Act in the 1920s that sought to strictly regulate pistol purchase, acquisition, and carry that was an attempt to forestall total pistol prohibition. The Association was keen on keeping their pistols for matches and many members disapproved of defensive carry—an attitude far more widespread than today. In some states, the remnants of the Pistol Act continue to infringe on rights today.
Banning of AR pistols would not be a total confiscatory ban like with bump fire stocks (that saw little compliance from their owners). Using past examples, the ATF would likely require registration along with an amnesty. The pistols would then be NFA items (either “any other weapons” or short-barreled rifles). I don’t see room in the US Code to allow the NRA to create a new class of weapons to be registered, as California did when it created bullet-button “assault weapons” in addition to pre-1989 “assault weapons.”
Short-barreled rifles and shotguns are essentially anachronistic regulations, banned because there was no lobbying group to take them out of the Act once their purpose for being in it was removed. One could argue that short-barreled rifles and shotguns are more concealable than full-length variants and more deadly than pistols (accurate, longer-ranged, and more suitable caliber), so regulating them would put revolver armed officers on a more equal footing with criminals.
Of course, those arguments are dumb because criminals by definition don’t follow the law. Clyde Barrow stole M1918 BARs from National Guard armories and cut them down. Today, police and civilians both commonly carry weapons of equal parity. Most criminals, as in 1934 and today, use a cheap handgun or less commonly a cheap rifle or shotgun without half of the training that even officers for departments that place a low priority on marksmanship have. The SBR regulation is outdated, obsolete, and utterly pointless except to prosecute those dumb enough to be caught.
In a practical sense, people own AR pistols because they want a more powerful weapon than handgun that is also compact. A 24” inch not-legally-a-rifle is a better weapon in a fight than a true pistol. The 5.56mm round has better accuracy, better range, and greater effect on target than a pistol round. A rifle is what you should be fighting with; as the saying goes, a pistol is what you use to fight your way back to the rifle you never should have put down. This is why people like AR pistols, short-barreled rifles, and shotguns as “truck guns.”
Carrying a rifle into Walmart in case some bad dude with a rifle carries his gun into the store is not feasible. A gun in a vehicle or even in a bag for contingences when a full-size rifle can’t be carried is a good alternative for major trouble. Should one be caught in a mass shooting or terror attack and need to intervene, an AR pistol is a viable go-to weapon.
Sadly, the hype of these mass shooters has limited the practicality of these weapons in personal responses. Whipping out an AR pistol during an incident is likely to get one labeled a second shooter than a good guy. In a few incidents now we’ve seen reports of multiple shooters because citizen carriers draw their weapons.
In a defensive gun use that escalates or where one has time to access the AR pistol, or in a rural area where police response may be long in coming, may be much more viable. The shorter length and better handling makes these weapons an ideal weapon for home defense, especially in light of the fact that 5.56mm rounds tend to be less likely to over-penetrate residential walls.
In any event, whether or not AR pistols fall into the category of bump fire stocks or face a ban with ARs and semi-autos in general, more scrutiny is guaranteed. I don't see how the Supreme Court could realistically support a ban of these weapons. Short-barreled rifles are in common use by the military (the M4 has a 14.5” barrel and shorter weapons are common police and special forces weapons), so under the Miller ruling, they could not be regulated. Also with the legality of regular handguns the original reasons for regulating SBRs is pointless.
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