Gene Stoner’s revolutionary lightweight gas-operated rifle almost became a footnote in the history of firearms. Were it not for a determined band of marketers, a hard charging Air Force general, and a certain sordid little war in Southeast Asia, the AR-15 and the M-16 it spawned might never have grown legs. However, the M-16 and subsequent M-4 went on to become the longest-serving combat rifle in American history.
The M-16 was a product of the Space Age. By combining materials science had drawn from the aviation industry and a novel small-caliber, high-velocity cartridge along with some truly world-class human engineering, Stoner and a few others designed the most modular and adaptable firearm in human history. The end result is a gun that can be configured for most any conceivable mission.
Every responsible American citizen should own at least one AR-15. There are already around 20 million in circulation. Some of the latest iterations are actually classified as pistols.
“THE REAL FORTE OF THESE NOVEL SHORTBARRELED FIRE-BREATHING MONSTERS RESTS IN THEIR PORTABILITY. PROPERLY CONFIGURED SUCH A GUN WILL FIT COVERTLY WITHIN A RUCKSACK YET STILL ALLOW ITS OPERATOR ACCESS TO PARADIGM-SHIFTING FIREPOWER IN A CRUNCH.”
Alex Bosco is the guy who developed the revolutionary Pistol Stabilizing Brace. The PSB was originally intended to allow disabled veterans returning from the kinetic festivities overseas to run a short-barreled firearm safely and well. BATF ultimately ruled that inclusion of a PSB with a short barrel did not change the handgun status of a host firearm no matter how you ran it, and a whole new genre of tactical guns was born.
The real forte of these novel short-barreled fire-breathing monsters rests in their portability. Properly configured, such a gun will fit covertly within a rucksack yet still allow its operator access to paradigm-shifting firepower in a crunch. There’s really no better tool in a true survival situation than one of these stubby little AR pistols.THE BUILD
Our mission was to craft a compact AR-based survival firearm using common sources without spending too much money. The resulting gun needed to be portable, maneuverable, and concealable while remaining both accurate and effective downrange. We stipulated that the gun had to be within financial and mechanical reach of the typical American gun nerd handy with tools.
You could squander the kids’ college fund tricking out a proper tactical weapon. By contrast, most of the components of our handy little Frankengun came from places like Amazon. The end result is both cute as a button and mean as a snake.THE HOST
We used a SIG Sauer P516 pistol as a starting point. This base gun was admittedly expensive. The same weapon could easily be crafted from a $70 lower receiver and a $260 no-frills parts kit from Palmetto State Armory. We used the SIG gun because it was awesome and it was handy.
The P516 is no longer listed in the SIG catalog. It has been replaced by the MCX Virtus and Rattler series. At its heart the P516 is a gas piston-driven AR pistol with a 7.5-inch barrel and all the bells and whistles. This includes a bilateral safety and magazine release along with an adjustable gas system. I’ve run a zillion rounds through this tiny little gun and never had a stoppage.COOL-GUY STUFF
Starting at the back we mounted up an SB Tactical SBA3 Pistol Stabilizing Brace. This remarkable bit of kit features a sliding arm brace akin to a standard M-4 stock. The SBA3 weighs less than 7 ounces, features five different adjustable positions, fits on a standard carbine receiver extension, and comes in four colors. It is the inclusion of this PSB that allows us to legally keep the short barrel without running into any NFA registration requirements.
“ALEX BOSCO IS THE GUY WHO DEVELOPED THE REVOLUTIONARY PISTOL STABILIZING BRACE. THE PSB WAS ORIGINALLY INTENDED TO ALLOW DISABLED VETERANS RETURNING FROM THE KINETIC FESTIVITIES OVERSEAS TO RUN A SHORT-BARRELED FIREARM SAFELY AND WELL.”
The optic is an inexpensive CenterPoint sight from Amazon. Yes, you can spend as much as you might for a beater used car on a proper name brand tactical optic. I actually own a couple of those. However, I’ll not be toting this rig through the Hindu Kush. Using something more reasonable for this mission leaves money left over for ammo and incidentals. I have knocked this thing around for about five years, and it hasn’t failed me yet.
The CenterPoint scope features a circle over a dot reticle that is user selectable to a variety of brightness levels in both red and green. The sight is readily zeroed with a small screwdriver. The optic was a bit low to the rifle for a proper sight picture so we set it up atop an inexpensive riser mount we also found on Amazon.
You can legally mount up an angled fore grip on a handgun but not the vertical variety. That doesn’t make any sense to me, either. However, the Magpul AFG is the best I have found. Rounded stops keep your sensitive digits away from the muzzle under recoil, and the AFG fits the human anatomy like a glove.
An inexpensive green laser sight set us back a mere $20 on Amazon. Green and red lasers put out the same amount of power, but the green sort registers more intensely with the human eye and therefore seems brighter. This sight runs off of an included CR123 battery and features both a push-button tail cap as well as a pressure switch on a squiggly cord.
Once you have your primary optic zeroed, just pick a handy distance and move the laser dot until it coincides with the sight reticle. As each device is offset from the bore and converging, you will only be able to pick one range at which both sights and the bullet strike are coincident. I zeroed everything at 15 meters. Anything closer and the bullet strike will be within an inch of the sight. Anything farther and I wouldn’t actually be shooting anything for real.
I mounted a long slotted M60 flash suppressor up front just because it looked cool. Only afterward did I find out that the thing really works great, too. You can order GI surplus M60 flash suppressors from Sarco in New Jersey. An M60 flash suppressor does a splendid job of minimizing the chaos out front, and it gives you enough standoff to help keep your fingers away from the nasty bits.
The M60 flash suppressor is threaded ½-24, so it won’t fit this ½-28 muzzle without an adaptor. A ¾-inch thread adapter set me back $13, also on Amazon. Set everything with a drop of Loctite thread locker, and it won’t come off until you want it to.
The end result is simply festooned with sling sockets. Push-button sling swivels are inexpensive, and there is a near-infinite supply of sling options. I whipped up a simple loop single-point sling mounted on the near end of the receiver. A set of decent backup iron sights was cheap on Amazon as well.TRIGGER TIME
Our AR Frankenpistol has been completely reliable with everything we shoved down its gullet. I have built several inexpensive direct impingement parts guns that were comparably reliable as well. Whether you feed it with GI metal mags, Magpul PMAGs, or a 100-round Beta C-MAG twin drum, the gun just won’t quit. The manual of arms is identical to that of any AR you’ve ever run. With a little practice, magazine changes are fast and smooth.
“EVERY RESPONSIBLE AMERICAN CITIZEN SHOULD OWN AT LEAST ONE AR-15. THERE ARE ALREADY AROUND 20 MILLION IN CIRCULATION. SOME OF THE LATEST ITERATIONS ARE ACTUALLY CLASSIFIED AS PISTOLS.”
That’s the good part. The downside to that stubby little barrel is that this compact monster is incredibly loud. A lot of the chaos is not yet consumed by the end of that 7.5-inch barrel, and this equates to noise you can hear from the International Space Station.
The muzzle blast and flash were not nearly so bad as I had anticipated, presumably because of the effectiveness of that long machinegun appendage on the snout. Running such a cool beast at a public range will make you friends fast. However, I honestly cannot imagine how horrible it would be to touch this thing off for real inside a car or a closet without hearing protection.
Once you take the measure of this stubby little gun, you can absolutely shred a closerange target. Nothing moves faster. I ran it out at a football field and found that I could ring steel with monotony.
Much hay has been made over the deleterious effects on velocity and subsequent downrange performance wrought on 5.56 mm rounds by running them through these little pistol tubes. I appreciate the physics behind the argument and have written about it myself many times. However, I have also seen a lot of people shot. None of them seemed terribly happy. At appropriate ranges, I just cannot see some evildoer engaging in spirited technical debate on the sundry dicta governing muzzle velocity and terminal performance once center-punched by half a dozen of these zippy little rascals.PRACTICAL TACTICAL
So you’ve burned a delightful evening with your laptop and your credit card outfitting your own homebuilt concealable AR pistol, and the Brown Truck of Happiness finally dropped off the parts. You bodged everything together on the dinner table, took your new creation out to the range, and invested 300 rounds or so taking its measure. The resulting homebuilt DIY pocket blaster runs reliably and well and will blow the bejeebers out of a Bad Guy at any reasonable defensive range. Now what specifically is it good for?
With a spot of creativity, this DIY beast could be the most versatile gun in the safe. Nothing moves faster for home defense if you can stomach the racket. The gun will tuck behind the seat in your pickup truck or in the back of the minivan if you ever have to run the zombie gauntlet enroute to the safe zone. Any time the threat level is truly serious, it will even ride unobtrusively in public nestled within a tidy backpack like the Vertx Gamut Overland. I have run the electronics long enough to have to replace the batteries a time or two. The remote switch on the laser sight is fairly cheesy, but everything else has rendered fine service.
“WITH A SPOT OF CREATIVITY, THIS DIY BEAST COULD BE THE MOST VERSATILE GUN IN THE SAFE. NOTHING MOVES FASTER FOR HOME DEFENSE IF YOU CAN STOMACH THE RACKET.”
There is a certain satisfaction involved in building something yourself. Indeed this project is much more assembly than manufacturing, but the end result is a unique reflection of your mission and personality. Whether your goal is to get out of the hot zone, defend the hacienda, or just serve as insurance when you have to traverse the sorts of places where the Wild Things roam, this FrankenAR pistol is easily portable, tire-iron reliable, and just bad to the bone.SIG 5.56 mm P516 Pistol Performance Results
AMMUNITION VELOCITY (fps) GROUP SIZE (inches)
SIG 40gr Varmint 2,569 0.6
SIG 60gr FMJ 1,888 0.5
Fusion MSR 62gr FMJ 2,242 0.4
HSM 55gr Sierra Blitz King 2,182 1.0
Notes: Group Size is best four of five shots measured center to center fired from a simple rest at 30 meters. Velocity is the average of three rounds fired across a Caldwell Ballistic Chronograph oriented ten feet from the muzzle.The Vertx Gamut Overland ONE SERIOUSLY COOL RUCKSACK
The Vertx Gamut Overland Backpack is designed from the outset to pack heat while looking cool. A Rapid Access Pull Tab allows instant entry to the main compartment via a 180-degree flap. There’s room for ballistic panels if desired, and it has dual pass-through holes for a hydration system. A 3-D molded foam back panel keeps things cool, while generous padded shoulder and sternum straps along with a waist belt distribute the load comfortably. There are pouches everywhere, and an adjustable laptop sleeve within the entrails. Tactigami loop panels on the inside let you set your kit up just the way you like it. There are abrasion-resistant compartments that will safely pack your shades and YKK self-repairing coil zippers throughout. Bonded nylon thread secures critical seams, and attachment points are bar tacked for extra studliness. The Gamut Overland will pack enough firepower, food, water, and gear to keep you going for an age without making you look like some kind of commando. The Vertx Gamut Overland looks innocuous in the field, on the trail, or in the subway. You can land a cheap colorful book bag on Amazon, stuff it full of sensitive stuff, and hope it doesn’t rupture in public when you push it a bit. Or you could spring for the same Vertx gear the pros tote. Brilliantly executed and rugged as Chuck Norris’ beard, the Vertx Gamut Overland is the good stuff.
Palmetto State Armory
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the January, 2020 print issue of American Survival Guide.