.223, AR-15 pattern rifles, Boulder attack, Close Quarters Battle, collapsible stocks, Glock 19, John Moses Browning, National Firearms Act, Rifle/Pistol hybrids, Ruger AR-556 Pistol, stabilizing braces, Virginia Tech
I recently wrote about the Boulder, CO supermarket shooting In Boulder Prayers. In that article, I wrote in part:
The exact type of weapon used by the shooter, who was injured, though captured, remains unconfirmed, but it’s an article of faith it must have been an AR-15, which is the gun used in all such crimes, except that it’s mostly not. I’ll not mention the shooter’s name, which is a long-standing policy here at SMM.
Multiple news outlets are now reporting the weapon used was a Ruger AR-556 pistol, which the shooter apparently legally purchased outside Boulder some days before the attack at a supermarket. He reportedly also carried a handgun, which has not been identified, but apparently did not use it. Can the media be trusted in firearm reporting? While it is reasonable to approach any media account involving guns with absolute skepticism, there is no real way to know with certainty, but since the purpose of this article is to inform, we’ll presume the AR-556 pistol was the weapon used. This is the model 8570 version of that “pistol.”
Ruger makes several variants of the same type of firearm (take the link), but I’m presuming the 8570 is the most widely distributed and likely—if media accounts are accurate—sigh—to be the weapon used. The Model 8570 is essentially a shortened version of Ruger’s standard AR-556, AR-15 type rifle. The “556” comes from the military designation of the civilian .223 cartridge, the 5.56 mm. It fires the same .223 caliber cartridge as its rifle cousins—an intermediate, not high-powered, cartridge–uses the same standard 30 round magazines, but has only a 10.5” barrel. It is 27.9” in length, weighs app. 6.2 pounds unloaded, and the MSRP is $899.00. It is a semiautomatic firearm, not a machinegun.
This is Ruger’s AR-556, Model 8514 rifle. It is very much like a great many other standard AR-15 pattern rifles on the market, and Ruger makes a number of different models. It too fires the .223 cartridge, uses standard 30 round magazines, and has an 18” barrel. AR-15 carbine barrels are usually from 16” to 18”, but more about that shortly. It is 38.25” long, weighs app. 6.8 pounds unloaded, and the MSRP is $899.00. It too is a semiautomatic firearm, not a machinegun.
Under Federal law, all rifles must have at least a 16” barrel, and be no less than 26” in overall length. A rifle shorter than 26” and/or with less than a 16” barrel is considered a National Firearms Act firearm, and must be registered, and a federal tax paid, as though it were a fully automatic weapon. This is why all AR-15 pattern rifles on the market are nearly identical in overall length and barrel length.
Keep in mind most AR-15 pattern rifles feature collapsible stocks. These are not evil devices that allow a rifle to be easily concealed. They commonly move—collapse—no more than 3.5”. The point, for a general issue, military weapon, which is what civilian, semiautomatic versions are based on, is to make adjusting the length of pull easy. Shorter soldiers, female soldiers, troops wearing body armor or load bearing equipment, all have need of shorter stocks to properly fit their rifles. That 3.5” of adjustability fits most.
Notice the obvious difference in the stocks on the AR-556 rifle and pistol. The pistol version has what is commonly known as a “stabilizing brace,” which may be pressed against the forearm, or even attached to it with various straps, usually using Velco closures. Also keep in mind the design of the AR family requires an aluminum tube on which the collapsing stock slides. Inside that tube is the main action/recoil spring and buffer. Early attempts at making an AR pistol commonly had only the necessary length of recoil spring tube with no stabilizing brace.
Therein lies one of the primary problems with a rifle/pistol hybrid. Pistols—we’ll get to several examples shortly—are much smaller and lighter and are designed to be used with one hand, though two-handed grips like Weaver greatly enhance recoil control and accuracy. Try to turn a rifle into a pistol, and a variety of problems immediately become apparent. Such hybrids weigh many times the weight of an efficient pistol, and the balance is terrible. AR family rifles are famous for having excellent ergonomics and balance, very little recoil, mild muzzle blast and report. AR pistols, on the other hand, have terrible balance, much greater recoil, and much greater muzzle blast and report, due to the much shorter barrel not allowing efficient burning of all of the powder of the cartridge. Long-range accuracy also suffers, as does relative power. Short-barreled rifles, particularly in intermediate cartridges like the .223, reduce the power of the rifle cartridge into the range of more powerful pistol cartridges. Arguably, the effective employment range of rifle/pistol hybrids is essentially handgun range.
Simply put, trying to shoot an AR pistol, particularly one without a brace of some sort, is difficult at best. A brace somewhat addresses the balance and accuracy issues, but there are still seven or more pounds of weight—loaded magazine inserted—hanging out there on one arm, which becomes heavy fast, and follow up rounds are difficult to bring on target. Even a double handed grip doesn’t help much.
Why do such guns exist in the first place, if they lack the positive qualities of the rifles from which they are designed, and they also lack the ease, concealability and convenience of quality handguns, many of which are also much less expensive? Remember the federal length requirements. Many police agencies and military special ops units use carbines with shortened barrels for Close Quarters Battle, simply because they’re easier to maneuver indoors. Some also add suppressors to deal with the muzzle blast and increased report, which ironically often restores the overall length of the original, non-suppressed barrels. This would, of course, be better than sticking a foot or more of suppressor on the end of a 16” barrel. Keep in mind these weapons are usually M-4 based, in other words, fully automatic.
People see these weapons on TV and in the movies, and they look cool, tacticool, which they are, in a sense. Even with the muzzle blast and report issues, there are reasonable arguments to be made for short-barreled carbines. Home defense scenarios come to mind. But there is federal law with makes a semiautomatic rifle with a 15.99999” barrel, or less, essentially a machinegun, and which also requires an overall length of 26”. But they look cool, and wouldn’t they be fun to shoot?
So why not just go for a 4” barrel? Wouldn’t that be even cooler? Not with the AR system, which requires a gas system of a minimum length to ensure reliable functioning. Pistol/carbine hybrids based on carbines using non-gas, blowback systems, don’t have the same design limitations, and shorter barrels may be employed, particularly if they’re pistol caliber weapons, like the 9mm.
Stabilizing braces are something of a solution, inspired by the barrel length requirement. Cut the barrel down below 16” and remove the stock, and you have a pistol that looks cool, kind of like a submachine gun, and it fits the legal definition of a pistol, sells for about the same as the rifle from which it is adapted, is made on the same machinery, using most of the same parts, and keeps the feds off everyone’s backs. But the problems of balance, recoil, weight, and the rest remain.
The solution was stabilizing braces, which–gasp!–people use like short stocks. Isn’t that a less than optimum solution? Sure it is. Proper stock design, which includes length of pull, is essential to fitting a rifle for maximum comfort and accuracy. But anyone can use a short stock and still get reasonably good results. Don’t the feds know that’s how people use them? Sure they do, but everything is within the language of the law, which really annoys D/S/Cs and D/S/C sympathizing federal bureaucrats.
The BATF has, of late, attempted to reclassify stabilizing braces as stocks, which would render every “pistol” by every manufacturer not a pistol under the law, but a short barreled rifle, which means everyone owning one would have to register them as NFA weapons, and/or surrender them to the government. This would pretty much instantly collapse the market for these “pistols.” For the moment, that effort has failed, but considering the Temporary Biden Administration’s burning lust for anti-liberty/gun legislation, that kind of rule making is certain to be revived.
Just for the sake of comparison, this is a Ruger SR 1911 pistol, a 1911 pattern pistol. It fires the .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) cartridge, has a magazine capacity of 8 rounds, has a 5” barrel, is 8.67” long, weighs 2.4 pounds, and has a MSRP of $939.00. Since it’s 1911 based, it is made of heavy steel—some companies make versions with aluminum frames in an attempt to shave some weight—and requires intensive machining. It has been one of the most popular handguns made since John Moses Browning, a genuine American genius, introduced it in 1911.
This is a Glock 19. It’s the mid-sized standard pistol in the Glock line. Every other manufacturer has pistols in this class. It fires the 9mm, has a 15 round magazine capacity, though magazines up to 33 rounds may be used, has a 4.02” barrel, is 6.85” long, and normally sells in the $550.00 dollar range at retail. It weighs only 1.3 pounds, owing to its innovative polymer frame. A much more recent design, it’s an industry standard.
Both of these handguns are reliable and well balanced, have low muzzle blast and report, particularly in comparison with rifle/pistol hybrids, and recoil is easily controlled with proper technique.
But aren’t rifle/pistol hybrids like the Ruger pistol much more “deadly?” The deadliest school shooting—in numbers of dead and wounded–remains the Virginia Tech attack. The killer used only two handguns with standard magazines: a Glock 19, and a Walther P22, a .22LR caliber pistol with 10 round magazines.
Congressional Democrats/Socialists/Communists are using the Boulder shooting, as they do any other, to scream for disarming the law-abiding. None of the anti-liberty/gun measures they propose would have stopped the Boulder killer, or any other. I do not own a rifle/pistol hybrid for the aforementioned reasons. I prefer to use rifles for rifle applications and pistols for pistol applications. However, such rifle/pistol hybrids remain perfectly legal to own, and there seems little or no practical reason to ban them. And now, as Paul Harvey used to say, you know the rest of the story.