Are Short-Barreled Rifles Really Worth The Government Hassle?

[6/12/17]  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.

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.


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