At a Glance: The Top AR-15 Pistols
Comparison of Best AR15 Pistol
Our Top Pick
|Wilson Combat – AR-15 Tactical Pistol
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Our Top Pick
|Wilson Combat – AR-15 Protector Pistol/td>
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Our Top Pick
|Ruger – AR-556 Pistol 350 Legend 9.5″
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There are many reasons why AR-15 pistols have grown in popularity over the years. It can be very practical to have a pistol that has the abilities of an AR-15 rifle, especially for home defense. They are compact, lightweight, accurate, and precise without requiring any extra paperwork or tax stamps. If you’re a beginner to AR-15 pistols, you’re going to be in for quite a treat.
Our list of the top three AR-15 pistols on the market
In this list of outstanding AR pistols, we will be focusing on quality, durability, ease of use, performance, and so on. However, we will also get into details about what an AR-15 pistol is, how to build your own AR-15 pistol, what accessories to pick, and more. So sit tight and read on.
Wilson Combat – AR-15 Tactical Pistol
Wilson Combat is known for its high-end 1911s, a legendary handgun design and one of the most popular in America. The brand’s reputation for attention to detail on their high-quality 1911s applies to their AR-15 pistols as well. They are an outstanding choice for home or vehicle defense thanks to their accuracy and reliability. The Tactical model is legally defined as a pistol in most states. It features:
- A billet upper (flat top)
- A lower receiver marked as “pistol”
- A carbine length gas system with low profile gas block
- A threaded muzzle (⅝ x 24)
- Shockwave arm braces
- Wilson Combat T.R.I.M. handguards
- A bravo Company Manufacturing Pistol Grip
- A Wilson Combat TTU (Tactical Trigger Unit) single-stage 4# trigger
- An 8″ or 11.3″ match grade barrel
- A mil-spec hard-anodized finish on upper / lower receivers
This AR-15 pistol has one of the most diverse selections of caliber on offer. It is available in 5.56, .300 Blackout, .300 HAM’R, 6.8 SPC, and 7.62×40 WT. Due to brand recognition and their reputation for high-quality firearms, the price is also quite steep, but you get what you pay for. There are plenty of upgrades available for this model so you can customize it to work just the way you want. This firearm is legally defined as a pistol in most states.
When testing this AR-15 at the shooting range, this Wilson Combat proved to be pretty accurate for a tactical AR-15 at a distance of 100/150 yards. It has great stability and the stock is perfect for quick follow up shots.
- Designed for the rugged demands of combat
- Lightweight and hard coat anodized handguard
- An enlarged trigger for easy shooting even in gloves
- A great pistol grip
- High price
Wilson Combat – AR-15 Protector Pistol
The Protector Pistol is a great addition to the Wilson Combat AR-15 tactical pistol lineup. This AR-15 pistol will make a great home-defense gun, especially when used with a suppressor. It can also make a great “backpack” gun without a suppressor as it is small and light enough to fit in your backpack. It features:
- Length – 30 inches with brace extended; 27.5 inches with brace collapsed
- Weight 5lbs 10oz
- Barrel length – 11.3 inches
- Barrel twist – 5.56 1-8, .300 BLK 1-7; 300 HAM’R 1-15
- Pistol length gas system
- Magazine capacity is 20 rounds
The Protector Pistol uses a CNC-machined, mil-spec forged upper and lower for weight reduction and reliability. It comes with a free-floating M-LOK handguard for a slim, ergonomic profile that provides the gun with an ample rail for attachments while shielding the black nitride finished non-adjustable gas block. The greatest part of the AR-15 protector pistol is the match-grade, precision, button-rifled barrel. The stainless-steel barrels are very accurate. The Protector Pistol also includes a Q-Comp muzzle device that provides recoil control without a blast back to the shooter. The two-stage tactical trigger unit provides a crisp trouble-free pull. The trigger unit features a modular construction that makes takedown and cleaning easy. This pistol is available in three calibers, 5.56, .300 Blackout, and .300 HAM’R. The bolt, bolt carrier, and gas key are coated in nickel boron, a hard finish possessing lubricating properties. This finish keeps carbon from sticking to these parts, building up, and causing fouling. Its low friction coefficient ensures reliable operation, even after most of the lubrication has burned off.
When shooting this beauty you will find out that the trigger is an amazing aid at getting tight groups. Recoil is very minimal, and noticeably lighter with the subsonic loads.
- High quality
- Stainless-steel barrel
- Q-Comp flash hider/muzzle brake combination to mitigate muzzle rise and flesh
- Nickel boron internal coating
- Free-floating M-LOK handguard
- Cheaper than the Wilson Combat AR-15 tactical pistol
- The price might be still high for some shooters
Ruger – AR-556 Pistol 350 Legend 9.5″
This is the most affordable AR-15 pistol we are reviewing today. Its specifications are:
- A black hard coat anodized finish
- Folding stock
- Tactical SBA3 PSB
- Weight of 5.6 lbs.
- Chambered in .350 Legend
- Includes one magazine
- 9.5″ barrel length
- Overall length of 24″ to 26.60″
- 1:16 twist rate
- Ruger flash suppressor
- Pistol length gas system
- M-Lok Free float handguard
It is made from forged aerospace-grade 7075-T6 aluminum. The flattop upper receiver includes a forward assist, dust cover and brass deflector. The lower receiver is fitted with an adjustable SBA3 pistol stabilizing brace for more accuracy, balance, and recoil management. It includes a slim, 9″ long free-floating handguard for enhanced ergonomics and support. There are Magpul M-LOK accessory attachment slots along the 3:00, 6:00, and 9:00 positions and a full-length 1913 rail on top for mounting sights, backup irons and anything else you want. The bolt is machined from steel alloy and is shot peened and pressure-proof tested to ensure strength, structural integrity, and durability. The pistol-length gas system allows for smooth operation and reduces felt recoil.
The barrel is cold hammer-forged from chrome-moly steel with ultra-precise rifling for exceptional accuracy and longevity. It is also easy cleaning. Optimized feed ramps ensure reliability, and the matte black oxide finish provides corrosion resistance but not as much as a nitride finish. The bolt carrier and gas key are chrome-plated to protect them from hot gases and fouling. The gas key is staked so that it will not loosen after extensive firing. Standard muzzle accessories can be installed thanks to the threaded barrel, which comes with a factory-installed thread protector. The handguard can heat up after heavy shooting. The solution is to get an M-LOK rail cover that does not burn your hand or at least wear a glove on your left hand (if you are right-handed)
- Black oxide finish
- M-LOK slots and full length 1913 rail on top
- SBA3 adjustable pistol brace
- Staked gas key
- Upper with a forward assist
- Great price
- The trigger is heavy and gritty
- The handguard heats up fast
What makes a short-barrel AR-15 a pistol?
- An AR-15 rifle has a barrel over 16 inches long and a buffer tube with a traditional buttstock.
- If an AR-15 has a shorter barrel (under 16 inches) but still has a buffer tube with a stock, such a firearm is classified as a “short-barreled rifle” (SBR) for which the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) requires filling out a BATFE Form 4 and the payment of $200 NFA Tax Stamp.
- In order to take advantage of a legal loophole and have neither an AR-15 rifle nor SBR, the barrel has to be shorter and the buffer tube can not allow for the attachment stock. And now you have an AR-15 pistol. They are built on an AR-15 receiver that allows the shooter to have the size, weight, and maneuverability of a short barrel rifle, but without the NFA regulations. Shouldering an AR-15 pistol is uncomfortable, with the elimination of the buttstock, but they are meant to be shot like a typical handgun, held in one hand with your arm extended. That has changed with the introduction of arm braces for AR-15 pistols.
Barrel sizes of AR-15 pistols are usually 7 inches and 10.5 inches, which provides for a vast amount of flexibility in close-quarters shooting, making them great home defense firearms. It also makes storage and transportation easy due to the small size. Just remember these parameters are only how federal law applies to AR-15 pistols. State-by-state regulations may be different.
Why would you want an AR-15 pistol?
AR-15 pistols are portable, lightweight, and versatile in all the ways a gun owner needs. There are many reasons you should want one:
- It is a perfect “trunk gun” for your truck.
- With modern optics, an AR pistol can reach out and touch medium-range targets with ease while still being able to maneuver in tight spaces.
- There is a wide range of optics you can mount on your AR-15 pistol.
- Since the AR platform is customizable, it’s very easy to build an AR pistol to suit your needs, possibly with an alternative caliber.
- You can build your own AR-15 pistol. From uppers, optics, trigger, brace, to handguards, there’s not a single thing you can’t customize on your AR pistol.
- AR-15 pistols with barrels as short as 4 inches are the ultimate trade-off between handguns and rifles without the need for extra stamps and taxes.
How to choose the best AR15 pistol
If you are new to the AR-15 pistol game you should first ask yourself why you want to buy an AR-15 pistol. Different people have different reasons.
- Most people want an AR-15 pistol for self-defense, which means they need a very reliable firearm.
- Other people are looking into competing, so accuracy is super important for them.
- And then there are people who just want to have the latest AR-15 accessory to talk about at the range and on the online forums.
However, no matter what your reason is, you should always look for
- Good quality,
- Durability and reliability,
- Decent accuracy,
- Fun shooting, and
- A reasonable price.
Legality – AR-15 pistols are illegal in many states
Although AR-15 pistols are legal under federal law, some US states have made their own laws prohibiting assault weapons or not allowing the new purchase of new assault weapons (some assault weapons can be grandfathered in some states). The states in which you are currently not allowed to buy or make an AR-15 pistol are:
- New Jersey,
- New York,
- Washington, D.C.,
Shouldering an AR-15 pistol
As described above, the AR-15 pistol was meant to be shot with one hand like a typical handgun, and shouldering is not even considered due to the lack of a stock at the end. The AR-15 pistol brace was developed to be attached to the shooter’s arm for more stability. However, the design of a pistol brace reminiscent of a buttstock made it possible to shoulder it while shooting. This brought about some interesting legal issues.
- The ATF shared its first opinion about pistol braces in 2014. It determined that “firing a pistol from the shoulder would not cause the pistol to be reclassified as an SBR: The FTB classifies weapons based on their physical design characteristics” not based on how an individual is using a weapon. That cleared things up and many shooters kept shouldering their AR-15 pistols.
- However, in January2015, the ATF changed its opinion and said that any person who wants to use a stabilizing brace to shoulder a pistol needs to first fill out ATF Form 1 and pay the applicable tax because such a firearm is subject to the NFA. So we lost the right to shoulder with pistol braces.
- The final letter from the ATF came in 2017 and it determined “incidental, sporadic, or situational use” of a pistol brace as a shoulder stock is legal.
Based on the interpretation of the final letter, if you get an AR-15 pistol brace you should not modify it in any way (do not even take away the straps) as it could be viewed by the ATF as changing it to a shoulder stock. The same applies to permanently installing the brace. That’s not allowed as it could be seen as turning the pistol into an SBR. Also, the pistol brace should not be equal to or longer than 13.5″ as it would justify classification as an SBR. However, you can shoulder your AR-15 pistol brace but don’t do it all the time.
Should you buy a complete AR15 pistol or build your own?
The beauty of the AR-15 is its modularity and the interchangeability of its parts. The only component which is registered and sold as a gun is the lower receiver. You can have only one lower and multiple uppers that go with it. Officially, you own only one gun but have many to play with. However, you have to make sure those uppers fit well with the lower as that is an essential part of building a reliable AR-15 pistol.
Building your AR-15 pistol could be a good monetary decision. If you get all the required pieces and build it yourself that means you don’t have to pay somebody to do that. You will also learn a lot by building your own AR-15 pistol. It will give you a great sense of pride. The money you save by building an AR-15 pistol yourself can go towards another gun. On the other hand, when you get better at building AR-15 pistols you’ll want higher-end parts for it or you might get addicted to building AR-15 pistols and that will drain your wallet.
What will you need to build an AR-15 pistol
AR-15 pistol lower receiver
This is the main component of your future AR-15 pistol. It is the only part that needs to be registered. A new factory-made AR-15 lower receiver that has never been part of a firearm can be used to build a pistol, carbine or rifle. If a lower receiver is built into and registered as a pistol first, it can be stripped down and converted into a rifle in the future. However, if the lower was built into a carbine or rifle first, it must always remain part of a rifle and cannot ever be used to build a pistol.
AR-15 pistol upper receiver
The upper is easily the second most important part of building your AR-15, after the barrel. Uppers have not changed much throughout the history of the AR-15. The first models had a carrying handle with an integrated sight that disappeared with the rising popularity of optics. The type and designation of AR-15 uppers depend on which stage of the evolution of the platform they adhere to. Some AR-15 uppers include:
- A forward assist that helps seat rounds and resolve jams.
- A dust cover that keeps debris and dirt from entering the action. Although not necessary, they are nice to have to keep the gun functioning reliably.
A good pistol upper will have a flat top and some form of a rail system on the handguard. That allows the mounting of grips, sights, optics, and even flashlights and lasers.
Customizing your AR-15 pistol
Customizing your AR-15 pistol should not just make your gun look badass but should also improve its functionality. Based on that we recommend the following parts:
- An AR-15 pistol brace. Because AR 15 pistols lack stocks you lose a bit of the stability necessary to shoot them accurately with one arm only. Being stable is one of the keys to accurate target engagement. The AR-15 pistol brace was developed to just do that, add stability. Since its back end looks like a typical stock, people started to shoulder it, as described above.
- An angled foregrip. It makes handling the weapon easier and provides a more stable platform for shooting your AR-15 pistol. Angled foregrips are legal to attach to an AR pistol, unlike vertical foregrips.
- Good magazines. They will help with the reliability of your AR-15 pistol.
- A sling. A good sling allows you to keep your AR-15 pistol attached to your body. A single point sling will allow you to use the SAS style shooting method designed for stockless rifles. Simply attach the sling over your body and attach it to the gun. Push the weapon as far out as possible. The tension from the sling works great for a tight and stable firing position.
- Sights. Flip-up sights are lightweight, compact, and great for elevation/windage adjustment. They can be folded down and out of the way for easier storage and to use optics unobstructed. These are an affordable option for your AR 15 pistol.
What kinds of accessories are best for AR15 pistols?
There are a lot of accessories you can add to your AR-15 pistol. The most common ones are:
- Optics. Since the AR-15 pistol is not meant for long-range shooting, there is no need for a scope. A better solution is to get good quality short-range optics which are more about target acquisition and the ability to hold the target in view. The goal is to capture the target quickly in your sight and be able to follow movement without the necessary scope adjustments. The AR-15 pistol itself is made for short-range shooting so it pairs well with a red-dot optic sight.A red dot sight, equipped with an illuminated dot or reticle, makes it far easier to track sudden movements at close to medium ranges because the field of view is much wider. Also, remember to look at the weight of the optics as you don’t want to get tired of carrying your AR-15 pistol.
- Rail covers. Installing rail covers on your AR-15 pistol handguard is a great idea for an improved grip, comfort, and mainly heat resistance. If you shoot a lot you will notice that your handguard can get quite hot. That will be the moment you are going to appreciate a rail cover.
- A laser sight. You need a reliable laser sight with good battery life that is not going to conk out on you at the worst possible moment. Just remember that the green lasers typically use a bit more juice than red lasers. Otherwise, most lasers will last about the same length of time on a battery. The brightness of the laser is very important. Green laser sights will generally be easier to see than red lasers, especially in daylight conditions. Last but not least, weight is very important because you don’t want to have a laser sight weighing down a rifle that you have built to be lightweight.
- A flashlight. If you have to shoot in low-light conditions, you’ll need good light for your AR-15 pistol. You want to get a flashlight that you can mount directly on your AR-15 pistol. The reasons for getting a flashlight are obvious when you:
- Do some night or dusk hunting (but only where it is legal!),
- Defend your home and don’t want any accidents to happen, or
- Participate in night time competitions.
You should choose a flashlight which is durable, easy to use, has good battery life, and produces a light of at least 300-600 lumens. You also do not want it to be too heavy. A flashlight is usually mounted under the barrel since the top of the AR-15 pistol is used for the optics.
If you are on the hunt for a great AR-15 pistol remember that its barrel has to be less than 16 inches and the buffer tube can’t have the stock attached to it. Before you buy or build your own AR-15 pistol make sure you live in a state which actually allows possession of an AR-15 pistol. If it is allowed, the next step will be to make sure your AR-15 pistol is
- Good quality,
- Made from quality components, and
- The lower receiver was not used as part of any carbine or rifle before.
If you are going to use an arm brace with your AR-15 pistol, just remember that occasional shouldering is allowed but you can’t fix the brace permanently to your AR-15 pistol. There are a lot of accessories and parts you can use to customize your AR-15 pistol. It all depends on your creativity and the size of your bank account.
All three AR-15 pistols we reviewed today are the top of the line, have great accuracy, and they are all rather light and compact. Wilson Combat belongs to a higher price bracket than the Ruger but you will understand why when you start shooting it. I personally like the Wilson Combat protector AR-15 pistol the most as it seems to provide the most bang for the buck.