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AR-15 Pistol vs. Rifle: Up Close vs. Far Away preview image
Jul 30 2023
7 min read

AR-15 Pistol vs. Rifle: Up Close vs. Far Away


An AR-15 Pistol vs. a Rifle – comparing the two of them may seem pretty clear-cut and dry, but when you dive into them, you realize that they are different in a few ways. For example, do you want a 20-inch barrel swinging around for home defense? Probably not, but you also don’t want to bring an AR-Pistol to a gunfight in the mountains.

They have their reasons for being. When you cut the barrel on an AR-15, the effectiveness of the 5.56 drops rapidly. When using an AR-Pistol, it doesn’t matter how short the barrel is since you don’t need to reach out that far (unless you’re Elon Musk or something).

Enough chatter; let’s dive in.  

Overview of an AR-15 (Rifle, Full Length)

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What makes an AR-15 a Rifle?

An AR-15 is considered a full-length rifle when the barrel length is 26 inches or more. The term rifle comes from the grooves inside the barrel, or “rifling,” that allows the bullet to start spinning in the barrel before exiting the muzzle, allowing for better accuracy.

But, an AR-Pistol has rifling as well. So it is merely about dimensions and the buttstock.

Overview of an AR-15 Pistol

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What makes an AR-Pistol?

An AR-15 Pistol is classified as an AR-15 with a barrel shorter than 16 inches and no buttstock. It is designed to be fired with one hand and usually has a pistol brace in place of the buttstock that stabilizes the AR by wrapping the strap around your forearm.

Mighty uncomfortable, but it serves its purpose as a great home defense solution since the ATF allows you to shoulder the weapon in case of an emergency.

Key Differences Between a Rifle and an AR-Pistol

ar15 rifle vs pistol vs sbr

Perhaps the biggest differences between an AR-15 rifle and an AR-Pistol are the dimensions, the buttstock (or lack thereof), and what you can attach to the firearm itself.

As stated above, the AR-Pistol has a barrel length shorter than 16 inches and uses a pistol brace instead of a buttstock or sometimes has no buttstock at all. An AR-15 rifle has a barrel length longer than 16 inches and uses a traditional buttstock so you can shoot the rifle from the shoulder.

On an AR-Pistol, you are not allowed to place a vertical foregrip on the handguard. This is because the ATF classifies it as a pistol and wants it to be used as such. You are, however, allowed to add an angled foregrip or hand stop, sling, and red dot if you wish. Change the pistol grip as well; the standard ones can be too aggressive.

Best Ways to Use an AR-Pistol vs. Full-Length AR-15

Besides appearances and laws, the uses for an AR-Pistol and a full-length AR-15 are different as well. An AR-Pistol is best used for close-quarters engagements where a complete AR-15 might be too big. For example, swinging a 20-inch barrel around a corner might be too much for many reasons, one being how easy it may be for an aggressor to grab the barrel and render it useless until you gain full control again.

Also, the longer the barrel length, the more velocity a 5.56 has when exiting the barrel. This could land you in legal trouble since a 5.56 with that much velocity can penetrate walls like butter and end up in the home of one of your neighbors.

But, in the mountains or any other area where you need the extra velocity, an AR-Pistol will fall short. Literally. That is where using a full-length AR-15 excels. For example, an AR-15 with a 20-inch barrel generates the highest velocity one can get out of 5.56 and is effective up to 800 yards. An AR-Pistol with a barrel length of 14 inches is effective to about 300 yards.

Shorter Barrel = Extra Gassy

The operation of both firearms is similar. No matter which configuration you choose, if you have fired an AR-15, the controls on the AR-Pistol are just the same. Before buying one, realize that AR-Pistols are gassier than their full-sized counterparts.

This can cause wear and tear to occur more quickly on the firearm and cause more gas to blow back into your face. For my friends in the military, do you remember the gas chamber? Yeah, not fun at all (for some). Neither is the gas from the AR-Pistol being blown into your eyes.

The best way to combat the gassiness of an AR-Pistol is to change out the charging handle. Why the charging handle, you may ask? Good question. Most of the gas blowback that comes from running a shorter barrel or a silencer is due to excess gas pressure being produced inside of the firearm. All that gas needs a place to escape, so it rushes out of the top of the charging handle between the crescent-shaped gap between the upper and the charging handle.

Charging handles built for suppressed use will do you wonders, even if you aren’t running a suppressor on your AR-Pistol (yet).

If you want to save money and do it yourself, you can buy a red RTV silicone gasket maker at your local automotive store or Walmart and fill in that crescent-shaped gap. Just be careful not to get it in the wrong places. Doing this or buying a charging handle built for suppressors will ensure everything you eat doesn’t taste like copper and lead.

Nothing worse than eating dinner and tasting the range. Trust me.

Do You Have Ear Protection?

One of the downsides that you get when choosing an AR-Pistol over a Full-Length AR-15 is ear-splitting sound. This is also due to the higher amounts of pressure you get when shooting a 5.56 out of a shorter barrel.

If you shoot the two side by side, you will notice a much more considerable amount of sound coming from the AR-Pistol. Unfortunately, the only fix for that is more gas (suppressor).

Either way, it’s probably best to get good ear protection.

Is that a flashbang coming out the end of your barrel?

No, seriously, it will feel like there is. To add to the extra sound, a smaller barrel also leaves more unburned powder, which leads to large amounts of muzzle flash. If you want to use an AR-Pistol for home defense, I recommend running a suppressor to minimize the flash. Otherwise, you will effectively flashbang yourself and let the intruder know precisely where you are.

Here is a video from Classic Firearms on the subject of AR-Pistols vs. Full Length AR-15

AR-15 (Rifle, Full Length) Pros & Cons

  • Capable of reaching further distances
  • Ability to build any way you desire
  • Buttstock for comfortable shooting
  • May be too big for home defense
  • Adding a suppressor may not be suitable
  • Harder to store

AR-15 Pistol Pros & Cons

  • Easily concealable
  • Better home defense alternative (not the best)
  • No $200 tax stamp like an SBR
  • Bullet performance quickly drops
  • Not capable of reaching longer distances
  • Not able to attach vertical foregrip


What length is an AR-Pistol vs. AR-15 Rifle?

An AR-Pistol has a barrel length of less than 16 inches or an overall length of less than 26 inches. A full-size AR-15 has a barrel length of 16 inches or more or an overall length of 26 inches or more.

Can an SBR have an overall length of more than 26 inches?

As long as the barrel length is under 16 inches, it is considered an SBR. No matter the overall length. So, yes, an SBR can have an overall length of 26 inches.

Is the ATF banning pistol braces?

The ATF goes back and forth on AR-Pistols. But yes, even though pistol braces have been legal for decades, the ATF is trying to ban them.


Now that you know the difference between an AR-Pistol vs. a full-length AR-15, you can make an easier decision when finding out which is best for your needs.

Remember, the ATF is planning on banning the pistol brace, so you might want to go lose it while fighting the winter skinwalker when the time comes. As the great Mr. Rogers said, “Be back next time, bye bye.”

Written by Brian Zerbian
Brian Zerbian photo Brian is a USMC Veteran and avid gun enthusiast from New Jersey who loves to spend his time shooting, writing, listening to classic rock, and learning new things. His goal is to help new gun owners and people who are getting into guns get all the best knowledge in the simplest ways. With no technical jargon and seasoned with fun.


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