For some, the years between 1994 and 2004 seem like ancient history. For others, they are a vivid, nightmarish memory. It was between those years that Bill Clinton’s Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994—known better as the Assault Weapon Ban or simply AWB—was in full swing.
“Evil” features such as flash hiders, bayonet lugs, folding/collapsible stocks, pistol grips and “high-capacity” magazines (more than ten rounds and applied to pistols as well as rifles) were banned on any rifles manufactured after 13 September 13 2004 and were called “post-ban” rifles. Rifles manufactured before 13 September that had the “evil” features were grandfathered under the law and became known as “pre-ban.” The cost of pre-ban rifles and high-capacity magazines made before 1994 skyrocketed. (There was no noted reduction in drive-by bayonetings, even though pre-ban rifles still had bayonet lugs.)
Luckily, the AWB had a sunset provision written into it. In effect, if Congress did not vote to renew the law after ten years, the AWB would cease to be the law of the land. They didn’t, and gun owners rejoiced.
Fast forward to the present.
Democratic candidates at almost all levels have stated they will push for another AWB—this time without a sunset provision—if elected. Several Republican candidates for the Presidency have been less than sympathetic to gun owners in the past and have stated they would sign an AWB if it came to their desk. When it comes to “black rifles,” things don’t look good…
As this is written, my grandson Austin has just turned seven. While Austin often accompanies me to the range with his .22 Chipmunk Rifle, my son Flint and I have looked forward to the day when we can give Austin his first AR-type rifle. If a new AWB is like the last one—and it will be unless politicians want a repeat of what happened at Lexington Green and Concord in 1775—existing rifles will once again be grandfathered as “OK.”
With that in mind, we decided to obtain an AR-type rifle for Austin and set it aside until he is a bit older. While it is easier to buy a fully assembled rifle—and sometimes less costly depending on parts used—than to assemble one, Flint and I decided to go the build route.
Tools And Knowledge
Before attempting to build an AR-type rifle, it is critical to get the right tools for the job. These include the correct pin punches, armorer’s wrench, brass and Delrin® (or other plastic-faced) hammers. When it comes to quality tools for the AR—or any other firearm, for that matter—I have one word: Brownells. If Brownells does not make or sell a tool for gunsmithing, it’s either not made or you don’t need it. While cheaper tools may be substituted, proper tools will make the job a lot easier and you will end up with a better rifle in the long run. One small example of this is that armorer roll pin punches, as opposed to common machine punches, have a small nipple at the front to avoid damaging the roll pin during assembly.
If you have not attended an armorer’s course—such as the excellent class given by Greg “Sully” Sullivan of Defensive Edge/SLR15 Rifles—and this is your first attempt at putting together an AR, I highly recommend the videos available from the American Gunsmithing Institute. There is a particular order that some parts need to be assembled in, and having the information to do the job right in the first place will be a huge asset.
To begin, we went to Bravo Company USA and ordered a Stag upper receiver. The 16-inch, M4 profile barrel has a chrome-lined bore and chamber and is chambered for 5.56mm NATO with a 1:9 twist and has M4 feed ramps. It is a T-marked flattop receiver and comes with a forged, milspec “F” marked front sight base and side sling mount.
Quality bolts are critical for a properly functioning AR, and this is not a part to skimp on. To complete the upper receiver, I purchased an upgraded BCM carrier group from Bravo Company. This bolt is Magnetic Particle Inspected (MPI), shot-peened and includes a tool-machined extractor, BCM extractor spring, the correct (for a carbine) black extractor spring insert and milspec O-ring. Although the carrier key was probably sufficiently staked, I restaked it with Ned Christiansen’s excellent MOACKS tool to ensure it does not come loose.
I swapped the large M4 handguards for handguards with a smaller diameter for my grandson’s smaller hands.
Flint and I are both firm believers that one should master iron sights before progressing to a red dot sight or scope. With that in mind I installed an SLR15 carry handle onto the flattop receiver. SLR15 uses the older A1-style sights, which I personally prefer over the A2 type.
Also, since Austin will still be fairly young when he begins shooting his rifle, to keep the weight down we chose not to add any rails, lights, etc. at this time. Those can always be added at a later date.
For the lower, I purchased a Stag Arms receiver from SARCO, Inc., along with a parts kit to assemble it. (Actually I purchased three lowers—it pays to be careful.) The parts kit included everything needed to assemble a complete lower with the exception of a pistol grip and stock assembly.
[Note: Greg Sullivan of SLR15 Rifles told me he and gunsmith Randy Hengl have had to return many lower receivers since they began manufacturing, due to out-of-spec parts, and they have decided to manufacture their own. Greg showed me one of the first at the 2008 SHOT Show in Las Vegas and they appear to be quality in all respects. Custom serial numbers and/or logos will be available for a minimum up-charge—I have ordered a receiver that will bear the serial number “AUSTIN-1” and it will replace the Stag Arms receiver when it arrives.]
Since I have a box full of pistol grips that I have evaluated/switched out over the years, I had Austin pick the one that felt the best to him. He chose an A2-type grip.
As expected, all of the parts went together easily, and I let Austin help by tapping in some roll pins (while I held the punch in place) and had him turn the screwdriver to attach the pistol grip.
We decided to go with one of TAPCO’s T6 collapsible stock assemblies for four reasons: The first, obviously, is so the stock can expand and “grow” with Austin as he matures. Secondly, the TAPCO stock fits in with our plan of keeping the carbine light in weight. Third was to keep the initial cost of the build down and, finally, collapsible stocks were on the list of banned parts of the AWB, and may not be available a few years from now.
Speaking of things that may not be legal if another AWB is enacted, we need to mention magazines.
Magazines wear out. Period.
Right now, so-called high-capacity magazines are plentiful and reasonable in price. If another AWB is passed into law, that will not be the case. To avoid paying exorbitant prices in the future, the best advice I have is to get what you may need now. My first choices for magazines at the current time are the polymer P-MAGs manufactured by MagPul Industries or genuine USGI mags such as those offered by Bravo Company USA.
JUST COULDN’T WAIT
OK, I said early on that the rifle would be put away until Austin is older, and for the most part that is what will happen. After the build was complete, however, Flint and I were like kids on Christmas morning and took Austin to our range to test drive the new carbine.
After putting half a magazine downrange just to make sure nothing unexpected would occur, Austin was allowed to shoot his new AR. While not world-class shooting, he hit the target every time from 25 yards. When finished, he told us, “I like it, but it’s a little heavy. I think I like my .22 Chipmunk better.” Fair enough, and for the time being I would not want it any other way. (To tell the truth, my favorite rifle is still the first my Dad ever gave me—a Winchester Model 60-A .22 bolt-action, single-shot.)
Some may believe this article is analogous to Chicken Little screaming, “The sky is falling!” On the other hand, something did hit Chicken Little on the head. For law-abiding gun owners, that something could be another Assault Weapons Ban.
It is a sad fact that to be able to own, use and enjoy AR-type rifles in the future, we may have to buy or build them before politicians enact more nefarious laws.
Do it for the children—do it for your children, their children and for generations to come—and do it before it’s too late.
American Gunsmithing Institute
1325 Imola Ave. W #504
Napa, CA 94559
Bravo Company USA, Inc.
P.O. Box 341
Hartland, WI 53029
200 South Front Street
Montezuma, IA 50171
Defensive Edge/SLR15 Rifles
P.O. Box 682
Anoka, MN 55303
Magpul Industries Corp.
400 Young Court
Erie, CO 80516-8440
55017 Flatbush Rd.
Three Rivers, MI 49093
(269) 273 4867
P.O. Box 98, 323 Union Street
Stirling, NJ 07980
P.O. Box 2408
Kennesaw, GA 30156-9138