Personal defense weapons, commonly referred to as PDWs, are 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 delivers the accuracy and firepower of a rifle. The PDW category is generally made up of AR-15-style pistols and National Firearms Act (NFA) tax stamp-registered short barreled rifles (SBRs), but Glock pistols with stocks and fore-grips also fall into the SBR category. The H&K 9mm MP5 and 4.6x30mm MP7, 5.7x28mm FN P90 and AR-15 SBRs are exemplars of the PDW, but now prevalent short barreled AR-15-style pistols also fill the needs of the PDW concept as well.

Customers are quickly realizing that purchasing an AR-15 pistol is the same as any other handgun and decide to work through the six month NFA Tax stamp SBR registration process to configure/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 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 right for a factory-built, NFA-stamped SBR.

According to discussion with the ATF, they believed the “AR-15 pistol-to-SBR registration conversion process” represents a huge wave of sales and NFA firearm registrations in 2016-17. A informal poll of dealers revealed an overriding comment — “We cannot keep AR-15 pistols in stock,” and similarly, “Customers love being able to shoot the AR-15 pistol while they wait for the ATF NFA Tax Stamp process to complete.”

Indeed, the SB15 Sig Brace, which requires no ATF registration red tape, matured the AR-15 pistol market overnight and 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 are a few concerns and several strong retail trends observed over the past two years.

The SBS (top) and Sig Sauer SB15 (middle) braces with Shockwave Blade stabilizing brace. (Photo: Max Archer)

Concern Over Legalities of Constructive Intent

There has been concern that if you buy an AR-15 pistol with even a partial intent to legally convert it to an NFA-regulated SBR, that a buyer is somehow in the wrong. We consulted legal counsel on this topic to put retails minds at ease.

According to attorney Adam Kraut of the Firearms Industry Consulting Group (FICG), a division of Prince Law Offices, “The process for a customer to convert an AR-15 pistol (or other pistols on the market) to an SBR is no different than that of converting a rifle or receiver. While the customer waits for approval, there is nothing that would prevent them from using the pistol as a pistol. It is advisable 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.

“After the customer receives the approved Form 1, they must engrave their information on the receiver and then may reconfigure the pistol as an SBR,” Kraut continued. “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.”

In short, he noted that it is OK to buy an AR-15 or similar pistol with the intent to legally convert it to an SBR.

The Sig MPX is one of the most popular PDW available. (Photo: Max Archer)

More Factory-Built AR-15/PDW Pistols

Beyond the huge firearm names, it seems every other manufacturer is offering some type of AR-15 pistol. The list of factory built AR-15 pistols is too long to list all, however LWRC, POF, Anderson, YHM and Primary Weapons Systems are just a few manufacturers that first-time AR-15 pistol dealers would recognize.

The large OEM manufacturer, Barnes Precision Machine, offers the SB15-equipped, $1,310 AR-15 pistol complete with free float handguard and match chambered barrel. Andrew Barnes noted it is one of their 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,” noted Barnes.

At a top custom tier, Battle Arms Development attempted to break the internet with images of its tricked out $900 custom PDW lower receiver kit. George Huang, CEO of Battle Arms Development, noted, “We decided to go all in with the most custom lower receiver PDW kit available and the sales response has been amazing.” The Battle Arms Development PDW is dripping with their 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 available in the marketplace.

AR-15 pistols may be the most obvious product option in the PDW category, but other non-AR format guns such as 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 are all specifically designed to provide for easy compatibility and upgrades from a base pistol, to a SB15/SB-X to a NFA SBR stamped converted stock system. Sig Sauer’s team specifically noted that the MCX/MPX line is designed to be completely user-configurable including calibers, handguard, barrels and stock/brace options with only a single hex wrench.

Along with the flood of pistol-classified PDWs, there certainly is a huge explosion of factory made SBRs targeted to SOT licensed dealers of NFA firearms. Many standard FFL dealers are discussing adding a SOT license to be able to sell suppressors and SBRs.

Personal defense weapons come in a wide variety of sizes and options. Finding the one you prefer along with accessories is up to each individual. (Photo: Max Archer)

New PDW Parts and Accessories

Beyond the purpose-built PDW models, the AR-15 design is so adaptable that a PDW format AR-15 really is due to the availability of stocks, stabilizers and short forends and barrels. The credit for the capabilities of the AR-15 pistols and SBRs in the PDW market is directly related to all those cool parts that make these giant sized pistols practical shooting tools.

The SB15/SB-X admittedly transformed the AR pistol market, but newcomers including Thordsen CAA Pistol Builder’s Kit and the Shockwave Blade provide 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.

Some unique accessories originally developed specifically for the NFA-regulated SBR market are heavily integrated into factory rifles and SBRs. The patented MBV ARC collapsible stock and patented LAW Tactical folding stock adapter were heavily featured on tricked out SBR rifles at the last SHOT Show. The MBV ARC stock is the first extremely rugged collapsible stock offering a 4 7/8-inch collapsed position using an existing standard sized bolt carrier. Troy industries has its Tomahawk collapsible stock on its own line of SBRs that uses a modified short bolt carrier. The Battle Arms Development PDW receiver kit is yet another example of a rifle that features its own integrated collapsible stock.

The $229 LAW Tactical Folding stock adapter is a highly unique product that allows a standard buffered AR-15 tube to fold to the side while not in use. The adapter does not allow the gun to fire with the tube folded, but it does add a welcome 2-inch extension to the buffer tube on 7 1/2-inch barreled AR-15 pistols to increase stability. My 25 1/4-inch Aero Precision 7 1/2-inch-barreled AR-15 pistol with a Brigand Armament Carbon Fiber handguard and lightweight Ballistic Advantage barrel folds to a scant 17 3/4-inch size, which easily slips into any messenger bag or small hydration pack and is still “just a handgun.”

Final Thoughts

Just a few short years ago, many “regular” tactical buyers likely scoffed at the AR-15 pistol concept and most would have done the same about registering an NFA controlled suppressor, SBR or even machine gun. Today, firearm trusts and owning NFA-registered items is becoming extremely widespread beyond the tactical markets extending into sporting competitions and hunting.

The national media has unintentionally pushed the concept of firearm trust ownership. There is also a rush with the changes to trust-based NFA holders. The PDW market is growing both with NFA-regulated SBR rifles and large pistol formats. The AR-15 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 past few years. The factory SBR market has matured along with it.

Now buyers even have a good selection of new non-AR-15 pistol and SBR options. Those innovative AR-15 accessories are the base of factory-built AR-15 pistols and SBRs, all of which are driving the entire PDW retail market forward for retailers.

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