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December 30, 2012

Quick Suggestions on Buying an AR

Last night I noticed that one of the Facebooking Morons was looking for suggestions on "how to go about buying an AR". Considering that I bought a kit to build one myself about a year ago (back when stripped lower receivers were going for less than $100, rather than the $300 or even $800 that people are asking for them right now), I'm going to try to give some advice.

Two things to remember: I wrote this off the cuff with no edit, just stream of consciousness. If I start talking about longbows, just smile and nod. Second, IANAGOAL (I Am Not A Gunsmith, Or A Lawyer). Caveat Emptor, people. Live it, learn it, know it.

OK, you want a Eeeevilllllllllll Black Assault Rifle? You have to decide if you want a used gun, a fully assembled new rifle, or a builder's kit. It's not like the kits require you to machine the rifle out of a block of metal, they're more "assembly" kits than "building", but build kits is the common term. A used gun will be more affordable (depending on configuration), but it's a used gun. Much like used cars, they are in varying condition. A new gun will be GENERALLY the best deal, but the current panic pricing might have them priced out of your budget. Then there's the kit option. Here's my ideas for going with the kit option.

First, you need a stripped lower receiver. That's the bare-metal lower portion of the gun (where the trigger is). This part of the gun is where the serial number is located, so it needs to be bought from an FFL dealer. By "stripped" I mean that this part has NONE of the internal parts needed for operation of the rifle. It's just one piece of metal. You have to buy through a dealer in your state (transactions over state lines need to go through a local dealer to stay in compliance with the labyrinth of laws that David Gregory didn't bother to look into), so start looking for one. If you get one, you don't have to build the gun right away. The last one I bought was a "blemished" lower from Del-Ton I bought at a gunshow last fall. Price? $60 plus tax. And you can't even see the damn blemish unless you hold it just right under a light. It will be okey-dokey on the shelf until I either decide to build a gun around it or sell it to someone else who wants to build a gun (and NO, I'm not looking to sell any of you this stripped lower, so don't even bother to ask).

You can either buy the stripped lower from a local dealer who already has them in stock, or arrange to purchase one from a manufacturer & have it shipped to a local dealer who has agreed to complete the transaction for you. Dealers charge you a transfer fee to do transactions even if you did all the legwork lining up the purchase. This is how they feed their families. Pay what they ask & smile. My go-to guy charges $20 per transaction, but that's my situation. Your mileage may vary.

(IMPORTANT UPDATE): If you want to build an AR-platform pistol, make sure you purchase a stripped lower that's marked "PISTOL". If you build a completely legal pistol AR using a stripped lower that's not marked as a pistol, you're in violation of Federal Law, and are elgible for an internship at your local Federal Pound Me In The Ass Prison. Don't make this mistake. It might seem like a nitpicky little detail, but I assure you, the ATF will NOT agree with that opinion.

Build Kits are split into 3 groups: "Complete kits", "lowers" and "uppers". The complete kit is everything but the stripped lower, the "lower" kit is the parts needed to complete the lower receiver with a buttstock (some lower kits don't include the buttstock, just the internal parts for the stripped lower), and the "upper" kit is the upper portion of the receiver with the barrel & handguard already attached to one another (I have never seen an "upper" kit that includes the buttstock. Just something to think about). You might be able to get a better deal on all the parts for the upper that haven't been assembled yet: but I would say DON'T DO IT. Assembled uppers have the headspace set by trained technicians (GOD I HOPE SO), and, as Joey "Plugs" Biden would say.....that's a big effing deal. Don't try to do this yourself unless you're an expert who's reading this blogpost to laugh at the amateur giving advice to even bigger amateurs. Like I said before, these kits do NOT require you to purchase them through an FFL dealer, at least not in my jurisdiction.

Don't buy the whole kit from a dealer or someone at a gun show right away (unless you get one HELL of a deal). Look into getting it directly from the manufacturer. I know, I know. They're all sold out right now. So get your name on the waiting list and get it coming. DiFi's assault weapons ban ain't gonna pass right away (Dems get more support/donations from bitching about how Republicans & the NRA keep them from passing gun control bills than they do from actually PASSING the bills), but even if it does, there will be some lag time. Check manufacturer's prices, ask about backorder times, and research which configuration you want to get. Then, when you have all that info, you can check with the manufacturers, the dealers and everyone else trying to squeeze a few dollars out of a panicked population. Once you've done the research, do whatever you decide to do. You're big boys/girls. I trust you to do it right....or at least to not screw up TOO bad.

If you've decided to buy a builders kit, there's an option that keeps you from paying panic prices right now: the "Johnny Cash Method". One Piece At A Time. Normally, that would be wicked expensive, but with stripped lowers going for up to $750 right now (a number I just heard referenced on the AOS FB group for a current Gunbroker auction), that might be better. If you're doing this, you're looking to get an AR before they either go sky high in price, or get banned. You shouldn't go running out to get an AR for your first gun (unless that's what you want to do, like I say, I ain't your parents, do what you wanna do). If you want to get a rifle right now, consider a used hunting rifle or a surplus military rifle (the M91/30 Mosin Nagant is a heavy pig of a gun, but it's better than a long pointed stick & you can train with it fairly cheaply with surplus ammo for now).

With the "Johnny Cash Method", you can buy a stripped lower, a lower parts kit (to fit the trigger, mag catch & other parts on the bottom of the rifle), a buttstock (fixed or CAR extendable), and then an upper and any sights or optics you want to add to the rifle. The only time you need to sign the Gub'mint forms at your local dealer is for the stripped lower receiver. The other parts can be ordered through a supplier through the mail (CAUTION: Check you local laws to make sure you can purchase gun parts, magazines or ammo in your area).

Before you spend your money, do some research. You can find a list of kit suppliers through google, or through the pages of a magazine like Shotgun News. Google the manufacturers & look at message boards to see what their customers are saying. If people like their gun, they will brag about it. If they don't.....well, that could either be operator/owner error, or the guns might be lemons. Remember, in order to get a bad reputation, not EVERY gun from a particular manufacturer has to be a white elephant. If the good guns outnumber the turds from a particular manufacturer by maybe 10%, that could be a problem. Look at all the reviews, consider the problems (a gun that won't shoot MOA - minute of angle, look it up - is less of a problem than a gun that jams every 3 rounds) and weigh your options. Not every bad review is a dealkiller, and not every good review is a guarantee that your rifle will be the same. It's the preponderance of the evidence. I don't want to advocate for any particular manufacturer, but I've had good luck with Del-Ton.

One thing I've noticed: Pay attention to the contents of the kit, especially if you're buying an "upper". Some of them don't include the bolt, bolt carrier group & the charging handle. These parts can run you $150 or more (and that's pre-panic pricing), so keep it in mind so that you're comparing apples to apples price-wise.

So you're going to get a kit, and you've never assembled a rifle before. Welcome to the club. If you have a college degree in mechanical or civil engineering, you can probably muddle through with instructions you print off the internet. If not? Check with your local gunsmiths to see if any of them offer kit building services. If you get stuck, don't be afraid to ask for help. It's better to pay extra money to get the job done right than it is to slap together a potential hazard. Even if you do finish the build yourself, consider taking the gun to a gunsmith with AR experience for a check-up if you have any doubts. If you did it wrong, that might save you pain & suffering. If you did it right? You'll get to hear the expert tell you "You did a pretty good job, for a moron". Which is always a good thing.

As far as "what caliber do I get?", "do I get a CAR or a full-length rifle?", or "should I get a chrome lined barrel?"............that's a question for someone who knows what he/she is talking about. The great thing about the AR rifle platform is that you can customize it to fit whatever you want to do with it. You can build a target rifle to shoot coyotes at 400 yards, or you can build a "blaster" that will decimate empty paint cans out back of your barn. It's all about what you want to do with it. This includes optics and other add-ons like tac lights, bipods and big stickers that say "KILL 'EM ALL, LET GOD SORT 'EM OUT" to put on your handguard or buttstock.

And don't forget that you'll need magazines. I know they're pretty scarce right now, but don't settle for crap. A top-notch rifle with crap magazines is like a bottle of fine scotch with one single drop of sewage added: it might have been expensive single-malt at one time, but now it's ALL sewage. Get good mags, and if you ask me? Don't bother with those "Beta Mags" and the other ultra-high capacity magazines. Unless you're going to be mowing down zombies from a fortified position, high capacity magazines are more trouble than they're worth. Don't get me wrong, if you WANT one GET one. Just don't think that it's a necessity. I have 20 and 30 round magazines, and I don't feel undergunned.

So to summarize:

1. Don't panic. This current round of panic buying reminds me of the panic buying following Clinton's first AWB, the lead up to Y2K, the aftermath of 9/11, and the 2008 Presidential Election & damn near every day since. It will pass......and if it doesn't, sucks to be you. I already got mine.

2. Do the research.

3. Don't let anyone browbeat you into buying a certain configuration because "all the cool kids are doing it".

4. If you choose to build your own, do more research, take your time, and build it right. If you have any doubts, bring in an expert to doublecheck your work.

5. Once you have an "evil black rifle", go to the range & become proficient with it. If the fecal matter DOES hit the fan, that rifle won't do all the work itself. It will require an operator that knows which end the bullets come out of.

6. Have fun. That's the most important thing here. If you stress yourself out over the fate of the country, you'll probably stroke out before Operation Let It Burn kicks off. Assemble a rifle for yourself, work to become a good shot, and have fun doing it.

Let's face it, the one thing we can all do to totally piss off the gun banners is have fun & live our lives to the fullest. That shit makes them CRAZY.

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posted by Russ from Winterset at 02:21 PM

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