Donald Trump is president of the United States. It seems maybe three people in the country really saw that coming. The images of Hillary Clinton’s supporters rendered emotionally dysfunctional at the news are invariably good for a grin, no matter my mood.
While Trump’s election is undoubtedly the best thing to happen to American gun owners in a generation, he might not actually be the best thing for the American gun industry in the near term.
President Obama was the finest gun salesman in American history. The massive infusion of weapons, ammunition and tactical accessories into our society that we had seen over the past eight years was the direct result of his efforts to keep such stuff away from us. Every time the man stood behind a podium and said the word, “AR-15,” he pumped another quarter million of Stoner’s cool, black guns into the population.
With the apparently inevitable coronation of Hillary Rodham Clinton as Obama’s heir apparent, the American gun industry got tooled up to support the next big panic buy we all knew was coming. Everybody everywhere was churning out black rifles in an effort to get ahead of the curve. Then, Donald Trump won the election, and we sat there, gaping at our television screens, unable to comprehend what had just happened. Once we got over our initial shock, however, we came to realize that this was the best time in all of human history to be buying a gun. For the typical American gun consumer, these are, indeed, the good old days.
QUALITY PLUS PRICE EQUALS VALUE—THE AERO AC-15
There was a time you could not be certain of being able to find an AR-15 at almost any price. We took what we could find and were glad to get it. Nowadays, however, the most amazing thing has happened: The unexpected change in the political winds means it has become a buyer’s market for AR rifles.
Into this rarefied space steps the Aero Precision AC-15. You can buy an inexpensive AR parts gun with cheap, low-end parts and a trigger that feels as if it were packed with sand for a surprisingly modest cash outlay. You can also dump a month’s pay on a high-end, black rifle race gun. However, for a very reasonable amount of money, you can walk away with an exceptionally nice rifle from Aero Precision that sports some great features and still have enough cash left over for ammo, accessories, rent and diapers. The sweet-spot balance of top-end cool-guy stuff at a low-end price is the niche the AC-15 comfortably occupies.
Aero Precision AC-15
• Chamber: 5.56 NATO
• Barrel: 16 inches; 1:7 twist
• Overall length: 32.5 inches collapsed/36 inches extended
• Weight: 6 pounds
• Finish: Black anodized
• Sights: Magpul MBUS
• Magazine: Magpul PMAG
Morphologically, the AC-15 is pure, civilianized M4. That means a 16-inch, 1:7 twist, 4150 chromemoly vanadium barrel with a QPQ (quench polish quench) corrosion-resistant finish crowned with a standard A2 flash suppressor. The gas system is carbine length, although a midlength version is available, as well. The upper is MIL-SPEC standard M4. The lower receiver is Aero’s Gen-2 with a flared magwell for faster reloads. There is also a nifty upper receiver tensioning screw.
The AC-15 comes with a fixed, GI-standard front sight base, along with a folding Magpul MBUS backup sight. The handguard is of the typical, round GI configuration with double heat shields. The bolt carrier group is formed from 8620 steel and retains its M16 geometry. The carrier is also phosphate finished with a properly staked key.
The bolt is of the Carpenter 158 variety that is magnetic particle tested. The pistol grip is in the GI A2 configuration, and the buttstock is the same as those our grunts are currently wielding down range. Rifles shipped to the “free states” come with a 30-round Magpul PMAG. Aero’s professional gunsmiths test each rifle before it leaves the company’s production facility.
The AC-15 is made entirely in America by Americans, and it weighs just north of 6 pounds (empty). The gun is trim and tidy, striking that perfect balance between portability and power. The AC-15 will render fine service right out of the box; alternatively, you can adorn it with ancillary tactical bling until you cube out the gun or max out your credit card.
Aero Precision, as the name implies, has its roots in the American aerospace industry. This manufacturer cut its teeth making parts for airplanes. In aviation, there is no margin for error, and the only satisfactory end state is perfection.
Aero employs rail-guided robotic equipment, horizontal machining centers with sophisticated monitoring systems and hydraulic tooling for consistency and precision. Its mantra is that “better engineering builds better components,” and this comes through in its products.
Aero thoroughly engineers its manufacturing processes from good idea to finished product, and its receivers, in particular, are executed with the goal of holistic perfection. Aero makes a lot of stuff for a lot of folks, and there is a fair possibility you have already hefted the company’s handiwork sporting someone else’s brand name.
TURNING AMMO INTO NOISE
When compared to the M1 Garands and M14s our forefathers wielded in their fights for freedom, Eugene Stoner’s classic black rifle is almost weightless. Running the standard AC-15 will remind you just how lithe and maneuverable these tidy, little guns are before we start hanging so much junk on them. In this case, I did mount up a Holosun solar-powered red-dot sight, but I left the rest of the gun just as it came.
Holosun also strikes a nice balance. Its sights offer reliable quality, truly innovative features and a price that won’t leave you eating ramen noodles for a month to pay for them. Holosun’s designs are thoroughly rugged. Representative sights from each lot are extensively tested to ensure they remain hardcore enough to depend upon, and their solar-powered guts, along with a battery backup, mean they offer stupid-long run times on a single battery. Holosun sights are also smart enough to turn themselves down when you enter a house or throttle themselves up when you move into bright sunshine.
The HS510C we ran for this evaluation sports a titanium frame and three different reticle options. There are 10 daylight and two night vision settings, and the unit will operate for up to 50,000 hours on a single battery. You could spend a lot more, but you would be hard pressed to find a more useful set of features.
The AC-15 grouped like a champ out of a Caldwell Precision Lead Sled. I shoot a lot, but I’m not really a great shot. The Lead Sled takes the human out of the equation so that you can see what a rifle is really capable of doing. The AC-15 offers combat-grade accuracy out to the limits of the cartridge.
When you start to move, head indoors or run the gun out of an automobile, the tidy dimensions really shine. Within the confines of American firearms law, the AC-15 is the ideal package. The 5.56mm loading is adequately powerful for serious social work, while the compact chassis remains maneuverable and handy.
WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?
An autoloading firearm is the sum total of its parts. Crummy parts make crummy guns. Good parts make good guns—but those good parts usually come at a premium price. If this were a lawn umbrella, paper towels or a Happy Meal toy, quality might not mean much in the grand scheme. But if this is the tool you are going to grab at 3 o’clock in the morning when the dog won’t shut up, it needs to be dead-nuts reliable.
The AC-15 strikes a splendid balance. You could, indeed, spend a lot more on a tricked-out black rifle. If money is truly no object, you could just hire some ex-SAS mercenaries to keep an eye on things while you cavort about Aruba in the company of supermodels. However, for those of us out here in the real world who might be looking for a nice rifle on a budget, the AC-15 is exactly that.
The Aero Precision AC-15 offers the features you want without a lot of fluff you don’t—all at a price point that is at least a C-note less than the big-name guys. This basic rifle runs just fine as you take it out of the box. You can also do a little snooping around online and trick out the gun like the same heaters our young studs are using to dispatch Jihadi terrorists as I type these words.
With a conservative billionaire in the White House, and the socialists finally in the rearview mirror, the typical American gun nerd finds himself in the proverbial catbird’s seat. This is the perfect time to buy a gun, and the AC-15 is the perfect gun for the shooter on a budget with a penchant for quality.
BATTENFELD TECHNOLOGIES, INC.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the June 2017 print issue of American Survival Guide.