March 02, 2011
Buying or building an SBR is easier than you think--and well worth it.
SBRs are fun to shoot because they handle extremely well. They're legal in most states, although there's some paperwork and a $200 tax involved.
The "space gun" I shot in NRA Highpower was a wicked-looking wand. A Les Baer Ultimate Match, it sported a 24-inch barrel festooned with a six-inch "bloop tube." Overall length was Hindenburg-like, but my fading eyesight appreciated the miles of sight radius.
Without a doubt it was the right tool for the job. For more practical applications, though, a 30-inch tube is just silly.
To be honest, I have always gravitated toward short-barrel rigs. As a teenager, I thought few things were sexier than a bolt-action cavalry carbine, and more recently I've come to appreciate short-barrel ARs and AKs. Capped with a 71„2, 8.8, 101„2, 111„2 or 12-inch barrels, they not only look sexy but handle like a Fokker Triplane.
Now everyone knows that it's illegal to own a rifle with a barrel length less than 16 inches, right? Well, that's not entirely true. Short Barreled Rifles or SBRs are indeed legal in most states.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives regulates all such items. It considers a shoulder-fired, rifled firearm with a barrel length of less than 16 inches or an overall length of less than 26 inches to be an SBR. In the absence of state or local laws prohibiting ownership, lawfully armed citizens may legally own an SBR. It just needs to be registered with the BATFE, and a $200 tax paid, prior to taking possession of or building the firearm.
I always wanted a 5.45x39 AKS-74U with the short 8.8-inch barrel. So when a large number of kits came in several years ago, I went through the registration process and built one. I ended up with an eye-catching SBR.
Having done so, I can say the process is fairly easy; don't be intimidated by it. If you've always wanted a short-barrel AR, AK or other platform and you live in a state where SBRs are legal, the only thing stopping you from owning one is you.
The paperwork is relatively painless. It consists of little more than some basic questions on what is called a Form 1. You fill this out in duplicate and then attach two passport-type photographs of yourself.
Then you simply need to have it signed by the chief law enforcement officer having jurisdiction where you live. For me this required a trip to the sheriff's office. He'd never seen this type of form before, so he requested I leave it with him. I did, and he made a phone call to the BATFE to find out more about it. After doing so, he was more than happy to sign it for me.
Next, you'll need two sets of proper BATFE-approved fingerprint cards. When I went to pick up my paperwork at the sheriff's office I also had them fingerprint me. It didn't take long, and I was on my way.
I then submitted my paperwork with a $200 tax payment, and that was it. How long it takes for the paperwork to go through varies, but it usually runs about two months. Mine took longer at seven months, but it went through with no problems.
Stag Arms has entered the SBR upper market with 5.56-chambered barrels in 111„2 and 141„2-inch lengths.
Be aware that if you manufacture an SBR, certain information must be engraved. The frame or receiver must have the serial number. The frame, receiver or barrel must have the model and caliber. The receiver or frame must have your name and your city and state (which can be abbreviated with the official two digit state code).
All this information needs to be engraved, cast or stamped to a minimum depth of .003 inch and no smaller than 1/16 of an inch. You should have your receiver engraved before you submit your paperwork. This is very easy, and some companies offer this engraving service specifically for SBRs.
It is also possible to purchase a registered SBR by filing an ATF Form 4 and paying a $200 tax stamp. This also requires a signature from your chief law enforcement officer, fingerprint cards and passport photos. It then must be transferred by a Class 3 Special Occupational Tax dealer.
Why go through all this? My question is, Why not? Once I had my AKS-74U in hand and realized how much fun it was, I regretted not doing it sooner. SBRs tend to handle extremely well due to their short length. They swing from target to target in a flash, are light and easy to carry, stow easily out of sight and look sexy.
If I were to it over again I would have registered an AR lower receiver first because the AR is a much more flexible design than the AK. After registering and building my AKS-74U, I was constrained to an 8.8-inch 5.45x39 rifle. With an AR you can push in two pins and pop off your upper receiver. This allows you to not only easily swap between barrel lengths but also calibers.
Tired of the blast from that 71„2-inch 5.56x45? Slap on a 12-inch barrel. Want to have fun with the kids? Switch to a 101„2-inch .22 Long Rifle. Or maybe you're just in a 9x19 mood. Perhaps you can legally hunt in your state with an SBR, so you swap on an 111„2-inch 6.8x43 SPC upper or a 12-inch 6.5mm Grendel. The options are almost endless.
There are a host of options available to choose from when building a short-barreled AR. As just one example, Stag Arms recently announced it will be offering SBR upper receivers. These feature 5.56x45 NATO chambers, 1:7 twist rifling, M4 feed ramps and MP-tested bolts. They come complete with bolt carrier assembly and charging handle. The chrome-lined 4150 steel barrels are available in 111„2- and 141„2-inch lengths in a variety of fore-end configurations.
For more info, get a copy of Frank Iannamico's book Machine Gun Buyers Guide and Owners Manual from Moose Lake Publishing. This has some useful insights on the procedures and paperwork involved. You can also visit the forums at www.TacticalGunFan.com and www.ar15.com.