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Brian Zerbian Feb 02 2023 7 min read

AR Pistol vs. SBR: Know the Differences and Legalities

Introduction

Admittingly, I facepalmed before writing this guide. If you know why you probably did the same thing. What could be so different when you compare an AR-Pistol vs. an SBR?

Laws, and a pistol brace. That’s it! Thanks for reading.

Just joking; there’s more.

Before we dive into this one, for those who don’t know, an SBR is a Short Barreled Rifle, which is any rifle with a barrel length of less than 16 inches. An overall length (stock extended) of less than 26 inches also qualifies as an SBR.

An AR Pistol is designed to be fired with one hand. Knowing the difference between the two can save you legal headaches and help you decide which is better for your needs.

Now that we have definitions out of the way, let’s get started.

Note: New laws have passed since the writing of this article (As of February 1st, 2023). Please refer to the “Laws and Regulations” portion of this article for the news. 

Overview of AR-Pistols

PSA Gen4 AR9
PSA GEN4 16″ 9MM 1/10 LIGHTWEIGHT M-LOK CLASSIC RIFLE

What makes an AR-Pistol?

By ATF standards, an AR-Pistol is designed to be shot with one hand. You usually see them with a pistol brace in place of a buttstock. It has a strap across the back of the brace for stabilizing the rifle by wrapping the strap around your forearm.

It’s an AR-15 with a shorter barrel and a pistol brace. Classified as a pistol. When buying one, you would submit a routine background check, just like buying any other firearm.

AR-Pistols are great for filling in the gaps that a normal AR-15 can’t, and they come in all shapes and sizes. If you want to see which are the best, we have a list of the best AR-pistols for you.

Overview of Short Barreled Rifles (SBRs)

daniel defense ddm4 sbr
DANIEL DEFENSE DDM4 PDW 300 Blkout 7″ SBR

What makes an SBR?

An SBR is an AR-9, AR-10, and AR-15 (or any other semi-automatic rifle) with a barrel length shorter than 16 inches.

However, if the barrel has a length of 16 inches but the overall length of the rifle is less than 26 inches, it is still classified as an SBR.

The measurement extends from the tip of the muzzle device to the end of the buttstock fully extended.

If you want to run a suppressor to your AR-15 but don’t want a barrel length equivalent to a musket, an SBR is the best route.

Differences Between an AR-Pistol and SBR

sbr vs pistol lucky gunner ar pistol vs sbr
AR Pistol vs. SBR. Photo Courtesy of Lucky Gunner

Laws and Regulations

The laws one has to deal with when buying an AR-Pistol, and an SBR are entirely different, no matter how similar the firearms are. They don’t make sense, so bear with me. As I stated, you must jump through a few hoops before owning an SBR.

First, you have to submit a Form 1 with the ATF along with $200 for theft; I mean an NFA tax. Then, you wait a year or so for the ATF to allow you to practice your 2nd Amendment right, and then you cross your fingers and hope they say yes.

They can say no to the SBR, but say yes to an AR-Pistol. And the only difference is a buttstock. Imagine that?

According to ATF guidelines, an AR-Pistol must not exceed 13.5 inches from the trigger to the rear edge of the buttstock. This means that as long as you have 13.5 inches between the trigger and brace, you’re in the green.

It has to do with being comfortable. Or, you know, shooting the firearm safely.

SBRs are not legal in California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, or Rhode Island. Some of these states don’t even allow pistol grips on rifles and shotguns. Solution: AR-Pistol.

Also, you may only transport an SBR over state lines if you notify the ATF and local authorities.

The ATF has proposed a ban on pistol braces. It has yet to pass; just a heads-up.

Edit: As of January 13th, 2023, the ATF and Justice Department have ruled that firearms with pistol braces now have to be registered with the NFA.

Attachments (And More Laws)

The attachments one is allowed to put on their AR-Pistol vs. an SBR are a bit different as well. For example, you can not put any 90-degree foregrips on an AR-Pistol because it is designed to be shot with one hand. You can add an angled foregrip to an AR-Pistol, though. As long as there is an angle to it, you should be okay.

You can also mount a red dot, scope, or any other optic to an AR-Pistol. I recommend you get a red dot. Trust me; it’s fun. Anything more defeats the purpose of having something as compact as an AR-Pistol.

You can mount any attachments you want on an SBR. Treat it as you would treat any AR-15. Just be wary of the barrel size since it may limit your abilities to reach far with the 5.56.

2019 Law Allows You to Shoulder an AR-Pistol

Yes, it is true. The ATF frequently goes back and forth as to what they will allow you to do with your AR-Pistol. Albeit not as comfortable as shouldering an SBR, you are permitted to shoulder an AR-Pistol.

What does this mean for SBR laws? Shouldn’t that NFA tax stamp be removed? Your guess is just as good as mine. As I stated above, the ATF is proposing a pistol brace ban, which means they are looking to play with what you and I are allowed to do with our AR-Pistols.

ATF, what gives?  

Which Is Better?

Being that the only real difference between both the AR-Pistol and the SBR is the stabilizing brace, I would say that the AR-Pistol is better financially than an SBR. Not only can you legally shoulder an AR-Pistol in case of an emergency or by “accident,” but you do not have to pay the NFA tax of $200 when buying one.

You can pick out an AR-Pistol and take it home once your background check passes. This is state-dependent, though; some states do not process background checks on the same day.

You can add attachments to an AR-Pistol the same as you would an SBR, so long as the foregrip has an angle to it.

The barrel lengths are the same, depending on your choice. If you ever wanted to change your AR-Pistol into an SBR (legally), all you have to do is pay the $200 tax and get yourself a traditional buttstock. In the meantime, save yourself the money and get an AR-Pistol.

AR-Pistol Pros & Cons

Pros
  • No need for an NFA tax stamp
  • All the benefits of owning an SBR (minus the stock)
  • Legal in states where SBRs are not
Cons
  • It can get you in legal trouble if you add a traditional stock
  • Can not add a vertical grip (90 degrees)
  • Pinned and welded muzzle device

SBR Pros & Cons

Pros
  • Can add attachments as you wish
  • Shorter barrel for easier manipulation
  • Short enough to add a suppressor and still be maneuverable
Cons
  • Illegal in some states
  • Can not take across state lines without notifying ATF 
  • $200 tax stamp

FAQs

Can you legally turn an AR Pistol into an SBR?

You can. As long as you satisfy all of the NFA requirements, you can turn your AR-Pistol into an SBR. If you’re looking to do so, fill out an ATF Form 1 and once they give you the go-ahead, just swap your pistol brace for a traditional stock (it is that easy)

Can an AR pistol be loaded in my car?

Depending on the state you live in, you can have a loaded AR-Pistol in your car. Please check your state laws before doing so. In some states, you need a concealed carry permit to carry any loaded firearm in your vehicle.

What caliber is best for SBR?

A 9mm is best for an SBR. Once you start shortening the barrel on a rifle, the bullet loses its efficiency. Anything below 14.5”, you will start noticing a drop in performance for the 5.56 round. But, if you’re shooting close range and don’t have to worry about reaching out, you can use the 5.56 for extra stopping power.

Conclusion

That’s it. If you didn’t know what the difference is between an SBR and an AR-Pistol, I hope you have a better understanding of what they are and the subtle differences they have.

With the looming ban on pistol braces, it is essential to know what you’re up against so you can stay on the right side of the law. Like the venerable Walter Cronkite said, “And that’s just the way it is.”

Written by Brian Zerbian
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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