At the 2016 Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show, personal defense weapons, (PDW) were a red-hot category of immense interest by retailers and distributors.

The concept of the PDW is broadly defined as any short highly maneuverable firearm that can deliver the accuracy and firepower of a rifle. The PDW category of weapons is generally made up of AR-style pistols and short-barreled rifles, but Glock pistols with stocks and foregrips are also increasingly falling into the SBR category.

The Heckler & Koch 9mm MP5 and 4.6x30mm MP7, the 5.7x28mm FN P90 and AR-15 SBRs are some of the most popular PDW platforms, but short barreled AR-15s set up as pistols also fill the needs of the PDW concept, as long as the customer is not unlawfully shouldering it.

Even after the flurry of the SHOT Show died down, PDWs continue to be big sellers. Customers are quickly realizing that purchasing an AR-15 pistol is the same as any other handgun. Many customers are deciding to work through the six-month NFA Tax stamp SBR registration process to make their pistol into a SBR after the tax stamp is received.

The important sales point for retailers is that there is a strong surge of customers who are using all pistol formats as easy legal gateways to begin NFA SBR tax stamp registration — all while having something fun to shoot during the arduous waiting period. Other customers are going for a factory-build NFA-stamped SBR.

According tho the discussion with the ATF at the 2016 SHOT show, the “AR-15 pistol to SBR registration conversion process” represents a huge wave of sales and NFA firearm registrations in 2016 and 2017. An informal poll of dealers at the show revealed that retailers cannot keep AR15 pistols in stock.

Similarly dealers say that customers love being able to shoot the AR-15 pistol while they wait for the ATF NFA tax stamp process to complete.”

The SB15 “Sig” Brace, which requires no ATF registration red tape, seemed to mature the AR-15 pistol market overnight. However, it arguably remains one of the biggest ATF ruling fiascos in recent history. With still a few states forbidding ATF regulated SBRs, the SB15 brace and the new Sig SB-X brace serve a legal option to NFA regulated SBRs.

Beyond the giggly squeals of happy customers purchasing AR-15 pistols in droves, there were a few concerns and several strong retail trends observed over the last two years.

Is It Legal?

There has been a lot of concern that if customers buy an AR15 pistol with even a partial intent to legally convert it to an NFA-regulated SBR, the buyer is somehow in the wrong.

However, some attorneys who specialize in firearms law disagree.

According to lawyer Adam Kraut of the Firearms Industry Consulting Group in Pennsylvania, the process for a customer to convert an AR-15 pistol, or other pistols on the market, into an SBR is no different than that of converting a rifle.

“While the customer waits for approval, there is nothing that would prevent them from using the pistol as a pistol,” Kraut said. “It is advisable that they don’t possess any parts that would allow them to convert the pistol into an SBR, such as a stock kit to avoid allegations of constructive intent. Pistols are proving to be a top choice of consumers to register as SBRs as they are frequently found in desirable barrel lengths and configurations that simply require the addition of a stock.”

Manufacturers Respond

Beyond the huge firearm names, even small companies are getting in on the PDW trend. The list of factory-built AR-15 includes LWRC, Patriot Ordnance Factory, Anderson, YHM and Primary Weapons Systems. The large OEM manufacturer Barnes Precision Machine was offering the SB15-equipped $1,300 AR-15 pistol featured here complete with free-float handguard and match-chambered barrel.

Andrew Barnes, the owner of Barnes Precision Machine, said the brace-equipped pistol has been one of his hottest models for mobile security teams and home defense.

“Customers are now realizing that a confidence-inspiring AR-15 pistol is perfect for home defense and requires no more purchasing effort than a Glock,” Barnes said.

At a top-custom tier, Battle Arms Development attempted to break the internet during SHOT Show with leaked pre-show images of its tricked-out $900 custom PDW lower receiver kit.

“We decided to go all in with the most custom lower receiver PDW kit available and the sales response has been amazing,” said Battle Arms Development CEO George Huang.

The Battle Arms Development PDW is dripping with its custom parts, including an integrated collapsible stock. For the retailer, it is now easy to offer quality personal defense AR-15 pistols with the huge variety now available in the marketplace.

Beyond The AR Pistol

AR-15 pistols may be the most obvious product option in the PDW category, but other non-AR format guns like IWI’s Uzi line, Century Arms AK pistols, CZ’s 9mm Scorpion pistol and Sig Sauer’s 5.56 MCX and 9mm MPX pistols are forging new territory for customers.

IWI and Century Arms are now both offering incredibly comfortable shooting models with retrofit SB15 kits to add stability. Representatives from both companies noted many customers are buying these pistol models with the intent to work through the NFA SBR process. Conversely, the Scorpion, MCX and MPX were all specifically designed to provide for easy compatibility and upgrades from a base pistol.

Sig Sauer’s team specifically noted that the MCX and MPX line was designed to be completely user-configurable with calibers, handguards, barrels and stock or brace options with only a single hex wrench. Judging from the lines at the IWI, Century Arms, CZ and Sig Sauer booths at SHOT, any of these options would be strong considerations for retailers.

Along with the flood of pistol-classified PDWs, there was certainly a huge explosion of factory-made SBRs targeted to SOT licensed dealers of NFA firearms. This was one of the first years I noticed how many standard FFL dealers were discussing adding a SOT license to be able to sell suppressors and SBRs.

Parts To Make It Happen

The main reason the AR pistol is popular for converting into an SBR or PDW is the availability of high-tech accessories. The SB15 and SB-X admittedly transformed the AR pistol market but there are also some newcomers, including the Thordsen CAA pistol builder’s kit and the Shockwave Blade, providing similar pistol stabilizing functions.

The Thordsen CAA kit provides a large cheek stabilization perch. The Shockwave Blade pistol stabilizing brace provides a similar stabilization feature as the original Sig SB15, but it does so with about half the bulk and weight. The quick observation is that with several strong ATF approved pistol stabilizing devices on the market, the pistol PDW market growth is just beginning for retailers.

A foldable pistol brace can make for an even smaller package. Just be sure to inform your customers that they could be violating some laws if it’s not used as brace. If the above pistol is shouldered, then it would become an unregistered NFA firearm.

A foldable pistol brace can make for an even smaller package. Just be sure to inform your customers that they could be violating some laws if it’s not used as brace. If the above pistol is shouldered, then it would become an unregistered NFA firearm.

Some unique accessories originally developed specifically for the NFA-regulated SBR market have become heavily integrated into factory rifles and SBRs. The MBV ARC collapsible stock and LAW Tactical folding stock adapter were heavily featured on tricked out SBR rifles at SHOT. The MBV ARC stock was the first extremely rugged collapsible stock to offer close to a 5-inch collapsed position that uses an existing standard sized bolt carrier.

Troy industries also was showcasing its Tomahawk collapsible stock on its own line of SBRs as well as industry partner guns that use a modified short bolt carrier. The Battle Arms Development PDW receiver kit is yet another example of a rifle which features its own integrated collapsible stock.

The $229 LAW Tactical Folding stock adapter is a unique product that allows a standard buffered AR15 tube to be folded to the side while not in use. The adapter does not allow the gun to be fired with the tube folded, but it does add a welcome 2-inch extension to the buffer tube on 7.5-inch AR pistols to increase stability. My Aero Precision 7.5-inch barreled AR pistol with a Brigand Armament carbon fiber handguard and lightweight Ballistic Advantage barrel folds to a scant 17.75 inches — easily slipping into any messenger bag or small hydration pack and is still just a handgun.

Solid Market

Just a few short years ago, many regular tactical buyers likely scoffed at AR15 pistol concept, and most would have done the same about registering an NFA controlled suppressor, SBR or even machine gun. Today, owning NFA-registered items is becoming extremely widespread beyond the tactical markets, extending into sporting competitions and hunting.

The PDW market is growing both with NFA-regulated SBR rifles and large pistol formats. The AR pistol has matured beyond its “frat boy” image to a strong, viable, short-length personal defense weapon system thanks to a number of innovative products released over the last few years.

Likewise, the factory SBR market has matured along with it. Now, buyers have a good selection of new non-AR pistol and SBR options. Those innovative AR15 accessories have become the base of factory built AR15 pistols and SBR’s, all of which are driving a the entire
Personal Defense Weapon retail market forward for retailers.