Short-barreled rifles (SBRs) and pistol versions of popular rifle platforms are interesting niche firearms that are designed to bridge the gap between your pistol and your rifle.
Traditional rifles provide excellent long-range accuracy and firepower, but are not as effective for use in close quarters. Conversely, pistols are not considered effective beyond 50 yards, and even that can be a stretch for most shooters. This middle ground is where SBRs and pistol variants shine. They are roughly the size of a sub-machine gun, giving the user greater magazine capacity and accuracy than their pistol, without the size and weight of a full-sized rifle.
What is legally considered a pistol, rifle or short-barreled rifle can be somewhat confusing to the uninitiated. In a nutshell, the standards are as follows:
- A rifle has a total barrel length (including muzzle devices) of 16 inches or more, an overall length of 28 inches or more, and a stock.
- A short-barreled rifle has a barrel length (including muzzle devices) of less than 16 inches, and a stock. SBRs are regulated by the National Firearms Act (NFA); they require a background check and tax stamp from the ATF to own. Not all states allow ownership of SBRs.
- A pistol has a barrel length of less than 16 inches, and does not have a stock. If a stock is added to a pistol, it becomes a short-barreled rifle, and is subject to ATF regulations under the National Firearms Act. However, the use of a stabilizing brace is permitted on a pistol. Pistol variants are more popular than an SBR, because they are legally pistols, but fulfill the same purpose as an SBR without the extra paperwork and legal hassles.
While an SBR is the ideal midpoint between a pistol and a rifle, not every state allows you to own one. Furthermore, the process of getting an SBR takes months to complete, and having to purchase a tax stamp for the weapon adds hundreds of dollars to the cost of ownership. Consequently, many people will buy a pistol version of a rifle as an alternative to an SBR. While it’s not quite the same thing, it’s close enough for most shooters.
When considering a SBR or pistol variant, barrel length and caliber are important deciding factors. Most AR platforms come chambered in .223 Remington or 5.56mm NATO, but there are some models available in pistol calibers such as 9mm, .40 S&W, or .45 ACP. Other platforms, including the Sig MPX, CZ Scorpion, and variants of the venerable H&K MP-5, are offered almost exclusively in 9mm.
You should select your weapon’s caliber and barrel length based on the maximum distance you may need to engage a threat. In terms of rifle calibers like .223 or 5.56mm, the shorter your barrel is, the less effective your bullet will be over great distances. Comparatively, pistol calibers are most effective inside of 50 yards. If you want a weapon that is effective out to 150 yards, a 5.56mm pistol with a 10.5-inch or greater barrel would be ideal, whereas a 9mm with a 7.5-inch barrel would be perfectly adequate for 50-yard engagements.
An SBR or pistol with stabilizing brace makes a great addition to any bug-out bag or 72-hour kit. They are ideal for maneuvering in confined spaces, such as the inside of a home or vehicle, and are easily stored in a bag or backpack when not in use. Many people keep a pistol variant as a trunk gun, just in case they find themselves in a hostile situation while on the road. When placed in a bag designed for concealed weapon transport, such as the 5.11 Select Carry Sling Pack or Blackhawk Diversion Carry Racquet Bag, a pistol variant or SBR can be stored discreetly while still being readily accessible when needed.
Before attempting to purchase a pistol variant or SBR, consult your local gun store to find out what is legal to own in your state. While pistol variants are technically pistols, open carry of this type of firearm is strongly discouraged, as it will likely cause concern among members of your community, result in unnecessary attention from local law enforcement, and identify you to criminals as a potential target. If you intend to carry this sort of firearm in a bag, you may need to obtain a concealed pistol license. When going on a road trip with this type of firearm, research gun laws in the states you will be crossing.
Have you ever owned a short-barreled rifle or pistol variant? What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below: