We’re always glad to get a box from Windham, Maine, because it usually contains a Windham Weaponry variation on the nation’s favorite rifle—the AR. This time, we received a box of controversy: specified, fabricated and assembled in the form of the infamous AR pistol. We say “infamous” because this particular configuration was at the eye of the storm in BATFE’s recent attempt to ban an extremely common, popular and inexpensive type of 5.56x45 ammunition. How we get from there to Carry Life is not quite a train wreck, but close.
It will pay to understand a few details about AR pistols. The forward 23 inches are typical and very good Windham stuff—solid upper/lower fit. And there are the traditional and positive controls: Selector, mag release, forward assist and charging handle hold no surprises. The grip is simple A2-style, but the handguard is a nice upgrade—a Midwest Industries KeyMod free-float. Windham quality is evident in the bolt and bolt carrier assemblies as well, with the trigger somewhat north of six pounds, pretty standard for a non-match configuration.Most reliable AR pistols are still longer than the NFA definition of a legal rifle, so the “pistol” label manages to be both technically correct and obviously preposterous.
A Brownells/EOTech holographic sight topped the pistol for our range tests (no stock sights provided), and it easily went onto the Picatinny rail and shot well from the start. A Windham hallmark reared its head early and all through our tests: Our Magpul (polymer), Brownells (aluminum) and E-Lander (steel) reference magazines performed flawlessly with three different ammunition types. (We didn’t test any M855, in case you’re wondering.)
We didn’t have an ideal optic (probably a long eye-relief pistol scope), but could still get it to group just over two inches at 50 yards off a rest, and well inside the edges of 18” gongs at 200. The pistol grip makes you want to handle it like, duh, a pistol (excellent, we discovered, for knocking over cups of coffee), but it’s long enough, heavy enough and concussive enough due to that 11.5”, heavy-profile barrel that follow-up shots with precision at any real speed defeated us. This is also a truly demanding firearm for new shooters: A proper “grip” is elusive and highly stature-dependent. Without the counterbalance of a stock, the potential to sweep the lower extremities with the muzzle is also pronounced. Finger-off-the-trigger discipline is therefore a big, big deal.
Technically, that’s it. But you may recall we’ve only accounted for the forward 23 inches of the AR. And the remaining four is where the trouble with AR pistols begins.
AR pistols can legally have their shorter barrels because they have no stock. (The National Firearms Act of 1934 says anything with a shoulder stock must have a barrel 16 inches or longer; anything shorter must be unstocked, and becomes a pistol by definition.) Poof! The NFA just created a 27-inch-long pistol.
If 27 inches—two-and-a-quarter feet—doesn’t sound very pistol-like, join the club. It’s more than three times as long, roughly twice as tall, 40 percent thicker and nearly 2.5 times heavier than a standard 1911, which many people would also consider too large/heavy for concealed carry. It isn’t the sort of thing you stick in the waistband of your jeans and head out to party.
All of which brings us to the M855 “armor-piercing” bullet brouhaha. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest best displays the bureau-panic as he asserts AR pistols are “easily concealed” in this transcript and this video clip (at ~45 seconds). The theory, then, is that M855, combined with these administratively conjured pistols, constitutes a new threat to law enforcement personnel, though it’s never happened in the decades M855 has been available. It is, then, balderdash on so many levels that we simply don’t have space or time to refute it here. The short version is that virtually any rifle cartridge is a threat to non-plate body armor, no matter what it is fired from. Most reliable AR pistols are still longer than the NFA definition of a legal rifle, so the “pistol” label manages to be both technically correct and obviously preposterous, especially in comparison to what most anyone would actually carry.
There’s a cost component to all this, too: MSRP on our sample is $1,680. As tested, it would be well over $2K. Our law enforcement friends tell us that it’s an unlikely candidate for straw purchase movement into the criminal arms market.
Still, Carry Life questions remain: First, what function would an AR pistol perform, aside from being interesting and—we readily admit—fun? If you explore, you’ll certainly find people suggesting these as defensive firearms, and, occasionally, even for carry. We reply with an un-embroidered “poppycock.” Added to the kit of workday realities in auto, office and grocery store, there are many safer, less provocative and much wiser choices.
That isn’t remotely the same thing as saying the Windham AR pistol is any sort of bad firearm: Some AR pistols are turkeys (we’ve found a few the hard way), but not this one. Windham carbines represent the finest rifles in their price/feature class, and we have a very promising 7.62 AR in evaluation right now, too. Here’s the point: These would all be poor carry choices (though not poor home-defense choices, with proper training and ammunition), and for many of the same reasons.
There’s another Carry Life component to this that it will pay us all to note. If you think gun-haters despise the AR, just wait until they get dialed in on AR pistols. So trouble yourself to be educated and alert for the next end-run at your Second Amendment rights: Every indication is that anti-gunners like the attack-the-ammo approach (1993, for instance) and will try it again.
Now Carry on.