AR Pistol Buyer’s Guide [2021]

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Look along the line of those shooting at the firing range, and I’m certain at least someone is using an AR pistol. It is popular for many reasons, and that is why there are so many to choose from. If you are considering buying one, to help you with that choice, we are going to review some of the best AR pistols, to see which of them hits the mark.

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AR Pistol Information

I am assuming most of you have heard of the AR rifle but not everyone is as familiar with the AR pistol. If that’s you, then you are missing out on a gun that has so much to offer.

To answer the question as to what the AR pistol is, it is an AR rifle that was never going to be a rifle but is designed to be a pistol from the outset. What I mean by that it has much of the appeal and many of the desirable features you’d want from an AR rifle, but because it is a pistol, the legal hoops you need to jump through and the administrative hurdles that you need to overcome with a rifle are negated.

Size is Everything

The reason for some of the legalities with respect to an AR pistol versus those for an AR rifle have very much to do with the length of its barrel. By law, anything with a barrel that is 16 inches or more in length is classed as a rifle, and that means that not only are the laws and regulations much tighter, it could even be illegal in your state.

This leads us to the bizarre scenario that a gun owner buying an AR-15 rifle with a barrel less than 16 inches, would still be required to pay a tax stamp, apply for approval, and then have to wait several months for authorization. Or, they could simply buy an AR-15 pistol, and avoid all the hassle.

Other Legal Regulations

It is not just the length of the barrel that defines which firearms are legal and which are not. It also depends on the specific components of the firearm. For example, weapons that have an exposed buffer tube are classed as a pistol, but they cannot have a stock. 

Another important differentiation applies to the vertical grip which is lawful for pistols that have an angled grip but not for those with a vertical grip. So for those of you that like a square on your stance, you may have to compromise.

Bear in mind, several states class rifles as illegal arms and so the only option you have in those states if you want to use a gun is a pistol. That is why AR-pistols are so popular as they allow you to follow your passion but also stay on the right side of the law.

Having to remember which state does and does not allow rifles can also be a problem if you tend to travel to different firing ranges across the country. That is another reason why an AR pistol is desirable as it eliminates this issue.

To summarize the legal differences between an AR rifle and an AR pistol in order for your weapon to qualify are:

  • Only when the overall length of the weapon is over 26 inches is a vertical foregrip allowed
  • A pistol buffer tube must be used instead of a rifle buffer tube
  • In terms of a stabilizing brace, an AR pistol is not allowed to have a shoulder stock

Incidentally, if you were thinking that you could simply remove the shoulder stock from an AR-15 rifle and call it a pistol, you are way off target. That is not allowed given that the rifle was, is, and always will be considered to be a rifle in the eyes of the law.

See the Differences

Now I assume most of you out there aren’t lawyers, and nor am I for that matter, and I accept that even reading about the legal differences, some of it still may not be completely clear. So, here is an excellent video which shows and explains the main differences between an AR-15 rifle and an AR-15 pistol. Hope it helps.

The Appeal of Customization

A significant part of the appeal of AR pistols is the fact that in most cases you are able to customize your weapon. In other words, rather than having a ‘one size fits all’ scenario, you can build and adapt your pistol to your ultimate Gun Made setup.

Variables that you can customize include the length of the barrel, the caliber of the weapon, mounting points, the brace, and even the size of the magazine can all be adapted to suit your own personal preferences. 

One thing to bear in mind is that many of the parts attached to an AR-15 rifle can also be used on an AR pistol which could save you money by not having to buy new parts.

Despite the appeal of customization for many gun enthusiasts, it is not for everyone, because it does have some drawbacks. The major one is cost because having your weapon adapted with the addition of other parts is obviously going to take the price of the pistol northwards compared to the base price.

Best AR Pistols

PALMETTO STATE ARMORY 10.5” AR-15 PISTOL

Palmetto State Armory (PSA) has built itself an excellent reputation for manufacturing outstanding firearms and accessories at prices that I consider reasonable. That reputation extends to their AR pistols, and with their 10.5-inch PA-15 pistol, it is clear to see why. 

PSA 10.5 CARBINE-LENGTH 5.56 NATO NITRIDE LIGHTWEIGHT M-LOK MOE EPT SBA3 PISTOL

>>Palmetto State Armory (Buy Here)<<

I’ll start with the cost, which is low in comparison to other similar weapons, and it begs the question,  how can PSA price their AR pistols as low as they do. 

Well, one of those reasons is that they manufacture all their products completely in-house, so they control every cost. This gives them an advantage over other gun manufacturers and means they can offer those looking to buy an AR pistol some excellent value for money.

The overall appearance of the pistol is impressive with a consistent finish along the length of the weapon from the handguard to the upper receiver. 

The handguard attachment system consists of two detents, three screws, and ears for alignment, and when everything is in place you can tell that it is going to remain secure.

This PSA AR pistol has a longer carbine than others, including PSA’s own 7.5 inch version of this weapon. The longer gas system means that recoil is reduced compared to the shorter pistols, plus it helps enhance the reliability of the pistol.

Pros

  • Cost effective
  • Excellent appearance
  • Superior recoil absorption and control

Cons

  • Somewhat bulky

RUGER AR-556

Ruger has always been an immensely popular source of AR-15 rifles, and so it was only to be expected that when they produced an AR pistol, the same high standards would be present.

Ruger AR-556 5.56mm NATO 10.5in Matte Black Pistol - Colorado Compliant

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That is the case with their AR-556, which has a 10.5 inch barrel, and while it may not come with a ton of additional extras or options, it is certainly one to consider if you are looking for a no-nonsense AR pistol that won’t cause your credit card to go into meltdown.

I particularly like the handguard which is free-floating and can be attached at clock face positions of 3, 6 and 9 o’clock. The upper allows you to connect your chosen optic at any point along its rails.

The stabilizing brace is standard for this type of pistol, and once the entire weapon is assembled, it weighs 6.2 lbs. and its overall length is 27.9 inches. This makes it comfortable when it’s being held, allows you to maneuver the weapon easily, and also makes it suitable for shooting at longer ranges.

For those who are buying their first firearm or for beginner gun enthusiasts, I reckon the Ruger AR-556 pistol as an ideal starter weapon, thanks to its simplicity, ease of use, and the fact that it offers great value for money.

Pros

  • Amazing accuracy
  • Free floating handguard for versatility
  • Cost effective
  • User friendly

Cons

  • No special features – entry level

SPRINGFIELD ARMORY SAINT AR-15 PISTOL

The Springfield Armory AR-15 rifle is a weapon that has a lot of fans … including me. It was therefore exciting to get a chance to see how their pistol version performed.

SPRINGFIELD ARMORY - SAINT PISTOL 5.56 30+1

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In terms of the barrel, there are two options. The first, is the 5.56 version which has a 7.5″ barrel, and the other is the .300 blackout, and this has a 9” barrel. In each version, the barrel has been treated with Melonite®, which provides a level of durability that exceeds even chrome.

For those that are not fans of noise, you’ll love the muzzle which incorporates a blast diverter. When you fire the pistol, this takes the sound away from you and towards the target, and thus minimizes the assault on your ears.

It is interesting to note that in producing the Saint AR-15 pistol, Springfield partnered with Bravo Company when it came to manufacturing the trigger, trigger guard, and pistol grip. 

The result is a single-stage, nickel born coated trigger, that fires smoothly, plus the ergonomics of the design mean holding and aiming the pistol can be done almost effortlessly.

Again, we have an AR pistol that is priced very competitively. Those who are cautious about spending too much on their first weapon can relax, and more seasoned enthusiasts have a value for money option to add to their armory.

Pros

  • Multiple barrel options
  • Fairly quiet
  • Competitively priced
  • Excellent level of durability

Cons

  • Limited penetration power

FLIGHTLITE INDUSTRIES SCR PISTOL

Of all the pistols I have looked at, I can safely say that this Flightlite Industries SCR Pistol seemed the most distinctive visually. 

FIGHTLITE INDUSTRIES - SCR PISTOL 5.56 M-LOK 7.25

>>Brownells (Buy Here)<<

The reason for that is that it looks akin to a sawn-off shotgun due to it having a bird’s head Shockwave-style of grip, instead of a stabilizing brace. This genuinely sets it apart, and do not be surprised if you get some looks from those not familiar with this weapon, who might think you are on your way to rob a bank. 

Despite how it looks, be assured it is legally classed as a pistol and I doubt there can be a cooler, nor more fun AR pistol around. You are bound to be the talk of the firing range when you start using it.

Apart from its cool design, the other features that this SCR pistol offers include a 7.25” barrel which means its overall length is only 20.5”. That coupled with the fact that it weighs a mere 3.9 lbs., you then have one of the lightest and most maneuverable pistols you could wish for.

Now, due to its grip, there is no stabilizing brace, so you will feel greater recoil, but I, and I hope you too, can certainly live with that, just for its awesome looks.

Pros

  • Compact
  • Lightweight
  • Very innovative design

Cons

  • Not great at absorbing recoil

SIG SAUER MCX VIRTUS PISTOL

Do you want to feel fancy owning a pistol that was designed to be used by the US military’s special forces? If so, then look no further than the SIG Sauer MCX Virtus Pistol.

SIG SAUER, INC. - MCX VIRTUS PISTOL 5.56 11.5 MLOK

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Its concept is that SIG Sauer took all the most impressive facets of their rifle designs and incorporated them into the MCX Virtus pistol. This puts it up near the top of the pile in terms of features, and also in price, so my thoughts are that this is a pistol more suited to those with some experience, rather than complete beginners starting out.

The controls on this pistol are ambidextrous, and it also has an M-LOK handguard which is free-floating, and thus aids accuracy when you are firing. It also comes with a stabilizing brace too.

With the MCX Virtus, recoil is reduced thanks to its internal recoil system and this also helps your accuracy.  As the pistol is modular in nature, you have multiple options for customization such as barrel lengths and calibers. 

They say if you want the best, you have to pay for it, and while you are certainly paying top dollar for the SIG Sauer MCX Virtus Pistol, you are also buying one of the top AR pistols that exists.

Pros

  • Rich in features
  • Low recoil
  • Highly customizable
  • Ambidextrous

Cons

  • Expensive

Conclusion

I thought long and hard about which of these AR pistols would be my top choice, but in the end, I thought about the title of the review. It says the ‘BEST’ AR pistol, and head and shoulders above the rest is the SIG Sauer MCX Virtus Pistol.

Its recoil system, ambidextrous control, free-floating M-Lok compatible handguard, and stabilizing brace are just some of the features that make this customizable pistol a class apart.

I understand its price may be a stretch for some, but if you can buy it, you will be the owner of an AR pistol whose core features are deemed good enough to be used by our Special Forces.

Now I am not suggesting that you are going to head off to foreign lands to free hostages with this pistol, but at your firing range, there is no doubt who will have the classiest, most accurate, and finest AR-pistol. 

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Author

Brady

Hi there, I'm Brady and I'm the owner of GunMade.com. I have been an avid gun enthusiast and hunter since I moved to the Midwest over 15 years ago. It's my passion to share my knowledge and expertise to help you find the best guns in your price range.

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