AR-15 Pistol vs SBR [Platforms Explained]

by Travis Pike

July 25, 2022

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The AR in AR 15 stands for Armalite Rifle, but as you know, ARs come in more configurations than just rifles. Today we are talking about two different configurations that aim to make the AR 15 a little shorter and a little sweeter. We are taking the concept of an AR 15 pistol and AR 15 SBR and comparing and contrasting the two. We aim to provide you with a comprehensive evaluation of each platform and hopefully guide you to make the right decision that suits you. 

We’ll be covering;

Before we jump into the conversation, let’s make sure we define the terms AR pistol and SBR to make sure we’re all on the same page. 

Chapter 1 What is an AR-15 Pistol

What’s an AR 15 Pistol

An AR 15 pistol meets the definition of a pistol or handgun not due to its caliber but its configuration. These rifle caliber or pistol caliber pistols feature a barrel less than 16 inches and lack a rifle stock. These AR 15 pistols are only pistols because they lack a rifle stock and vertical grip. 

They’ve become quite popular in recent years and come in all manner of calibers, barrel lengths, and configurations. As a testament to the AR 15’s popularity, you can get an AR-15 pistol in almost any configuration you want. 

Chapter 2 Whats a Short Barrel Rifle

What’s a Short Barreled Rifle 

Short barreled rifle, or SBR, is a legal term that applies to rifled firearms designed to be fired from the shoulder. According to the United States law: 

The term “short-barreled rifle” means a rifle having one or more barrels less than sixteen inches in length and any weapon made from a rifle (whether by alteration, modification, or otherwise) if such weapon, as modified, has an overall length of less than twenty-six inches.

Essentially an SBR is a firearm with a rifled barrel that’s less than 16 inches and fits with a stock so it can be fired from the shoulder. An SBR can also be a rifle with a stock with an overall length of less than 26 inches. This means the barrel could be sixteen inches, but if the overall length is less than 26 inches, it’s still an SBR. 

Chapter 3 Legal Considerations

Both of these firearms have some interesting legal considerations you need to consider. I’m not a lawyer and do not take this as legal advice. It’s merely my understanding of the laws. Plus, state laws vary wildly, so you’ll need to understand your own particular situation and take your locality into effect. 

If you want a AR 15 pistol, you’ll need to remember it’s considered a pistol or handgun, and handgun laws will be applicable to that firearm. Under the Gun Control Act, you need to be 21 years old to purchase a handgun from a licensed dealer. Some states may also require a three-day wait on handguns, but not rifles and shotguns. 

Additionally, once purchased, you may have certain laws you have to abide by in regards to the storage and transportation of pistols. These laws can be beneficial, like allowing the loaded transportation of handguns with a concealed carry permit, or not so beneficial when it comes to hunting laws and regulations. 

A short-barreled rifle is a federally legislated item that requires a tax stamp. To purchase or make an SBR, the owner needs to file the appropriate forms with the ATF, submit fingerprints and a passport-style photo, and pay 200 dollars and a long wait for approval. 

Some states may have laws that also prohibit the ownership of SBRs regardless of your complicity with federal law. Make sure you look into those state laws and understand those laws before applying, and waste a fair bit of time just to be in a state that prohibits SBR ownership. 

SBRs are subject to restrictive laws based on who can be in possession and ownership of the weapon. You can’t loan someone an SBR or leave it at someone else’s home. In fact, the registered owner must be in the vicinity to supervise the SBR’s use by non-registered owners. 

Trusts do allow for multiple people to own or possess SBRs and other NFA items, and a trust can be made specifically for this purpose. It simplifies NFA ownership a bit in this regard. 

Chapter 3 Why Go Short

Why Go Short? 

What’s the point of either an SBR or an AR-15 pistol? Well, under current law, your average rifle is a fairly large weapon. An AR 15 pistol or SBR allows you to go shorter and shorter, increasing maneuverability and mobility while decreasing weight. Short AR 15s make excellent home defense tools and give you a competent and capable weapon. 

Home defense is a good reason, but so is finding a good suppressor host. Equipping an AR rifle with a suppressor makes it even longer. A user with an AR pistol or SBR can toss on a ‘can’ and still have a platform shorter than your average rifle and much easier to shoot indoors. 

Finally, last but not least, short weapons are fun. They are smaller, louder, and seemingly meaner. In reality, fun is a big part of gun ownership, and these guns can be quite fun. 

Chapter 5 Benefits of the AR-15 Pistol

Benefits of the AR 15 Pistol 

When comparing an AR-15 pistol to an SBR, the most immediate advantage is simpler legal logistics. Sure, it’s a handgun and restricted to those 21 years and older for purchase from an FFL. However, an adult under 21 years of age can build their own AR pistol or buy one from a private seller within their own state. 

NFA weapons like SBRs can only be purchased, constructed, and registered by those 21 years or older. There is also no tax stamp and no multi-month waiting period required. You trim off 200 dollars without the tax stamp too. 

If you choose to cross state lines, there is no need for an ATF Form 20 to be filed and sent away. You can just go, as long as it’s legal in the state you are traveling in. 

Chapter 6 Benefits of the SBR

Benefits of the SBR 

Once an AR-15 becomes an SBR, the gloves are off in terms of how you can use and shoot the platform. AR pistols can be equipped with braces, but braces are not stocks. Stocks offer more support and control ultimately, and this can be translated into an easier-to-shoot and more accurate weapon. 

Stocks rule, and while braces are great, they are a band-aid. A band-aid that the ATF keeps looking to rip off. The ATF has flip-flopped extensively on the use of pistol braces. Once an SBR is an SBR, you don’t have to worry about the brace conversation. (Although you should still resist ATF efforts to ban the devices.) 

Beyond a stock, you can toss on a forward grip on the gun and go. An AR 15 pistol can be equipped with a forward, vertical grip, but an SBR can. A shorter barrel means you have a shorter rail, and there is less room to mount accessories. A vertical grip helps you maintain control with all those mounted accessories taking up rail space. 

Chapter 7 What about Ballistics

What About Ballistics? 

Well, the absence or presence of a stock doesn’t affect your ballistics. That’s more of a measure of the barrel, cartridge, and such. If you have a 10.3-inch barrel SBR and a 10.3-inch AR 15 pistol, you won’t see much difference unless they’re of different calibers. 

When you compare like with like, there isn’t a difference. 

Chapter 8 What about Accuracy

Control and Accuracy 

At the end of the day, when you compare two similar guns, the SBR’s biggest advantage will be the stock. Stocks provide greater control, more surface against your shoulder, a better cheek weld, and ultimately more recoil mitigation. 

An SBR with a stock will outperform an AR-15 with a brace. It might be a small deviation between the two, but it’s worth noting. With all the awesome stocks on the market, you can find a wide variety of options that might apply to your build more than any brace. 

Precision-oriented stocks, PDW style stocks, and more offer you more options than any brace can, plus no length of pull restrictions. 

Chapter 9 Getting Both

Getting Both 

One of the best to get the SBR you want is to just build it. You can be picky with all your parts and pieces to construct your very own awesome SBR. However, before you slap a stock on a rifle with a barrel shorter than 16 inches, you gotta get the stamp. 

While waiting for the stamp or while filling out the paperwork, you can construct a AR 15 pistol. Use a brace if you wish, and then file your paperwork and start the waiting game. While you wait, you have an AR pistol you can shoot, enjoy, and accessorize. 

Once the stamp comes, slap the stock on, and boom, you have your SBR. One of the best things about having an AR-15 stamped to an SBR is the ability to swap uppers and calibers with ease. If you only make one SBR, it might as well be an AR-15. 

Regardless of which route you take, an AR 15 pistol or SBR, you get a short, easy-to-use weapon in a world that’s dominated by the AR 15 genre. You can go any route you want, and with that said, what route have you taken? Let us know below. 

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About Travis Pike

Travis is a former United States Marine Corps Infantryman and currently a firearms writer, instructor, and works in Emergency Management.

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