AR Pistol vs Rifle: Which is King?

AR Pistol vs Rifle: Which is King?


Mathew R Reed
August 17, 2021

A common choice that gun owners have to make is whether they want a pistol or rifle to suit their shooting needs.

With that choice in front of them, they might weigh up an AR pistol or an AR rifle, if they’re not lucky enough to get both.

Which is better, an AR pistol or an AR rifle?

An AR pistol is designed for concealment and maneuverability, whereas the rifle version is better at long ranges and may have more accuracy.

The decision then falls into the lap of the owner to determine which one is going to suit their needs.

In an ideal world, you’d equip yourself with both and be on your way, but if you were only allowed one, which would win in the AR pistol vs rifle debate?

To settle the feud once and for all, we’ve compared the two in pros and cons, suitability for defense, and overall precision, so you know the best firearm to suit the job.

What is an AR Pistol?

The AR pistol has seen a boom in popularity in recent years, and while it’s not a new type of firearm, it has become more widely used.

To classify an AR-15 pistol is somewhat tricky though, but it generally refers to a handgun that’s been created with AR-15 rifle components, including a lower parts kit, upper and lower receiver, and bolt carrier group.

The government has its own classification which states it’s an AR-15 that has no stock, is less than 26 inches overall, and with a barrel less than 16 inches.

When compared to a short-barreled rifle which requires owners to register and pay tax on, you can purchase an AR pistol of the same size without any of this red tape.

What sets the AR pistol apart is its size and overall appearance when compared to a rifle. These firearms usually have shorter barrels and are smaller overall, with measurements ranging from around four to eight inches, but there’s no minimum barrel size they have to meet.

AR Pistol Pros

  • The compact size of an AR pistol means it’s a dream to carry and a great choice if you want to be discreet but still need easy access. Because it has a shorter barrel, you can fit it underneath your clothes without it sticking out or use a number of holsters and slings available for these types of weapons.
  • The AR pistol uses the same magazines as a standard AR rifle so it’s got the renowned power that these guns are celebrated for. The obvious advantage here is that there’s no stock and it has a shorter barrel so it’s even better performance for its size.
  • Creating an AR pistol or purchasing one that’s ready-made gives you something unique from other rifles and pistols out there, and using it is just as fun. Firing one of these special pistols might be noisy and bright, but they’re easy to use and very enjoyable to operate.

AR Pistol Cons

  • The biggest drawback to using an AR pistol is that you’re limited in the accessories and add-ons you can use. This is due to legalities surrounding its configuration which means the buffer tube can’t have a stock attached, otherwise it loses this classification and then becomes a short-barreled rifle which comes with a lot of regulation and prohibition.
  • If you’re after a gun with long range, the AR pistol isn’t the best bet. Because it has a shorter barrel, the projectile doesn’t get as much speed up so it’s better suited for anything under 100 yards. You can add optics to help with accuracy but because of its size, you’ll be limited in what you can attach.
  • Because the bullet comes out with less force and slower velocity, it’s more likely to put a hole in tissue and may also fragment when it hits. In most cases, this would be seen as a disadvantage, but of course, it depends on the individual and their setting.

What is an AR Rifle?

An AR rifle is the larger of the two, and the official definition of a rifle means a firearm that has a barrel length of at least 16 inches.

Add to this the receiver which is usually eight inches, and various other parts, and you’ll see just how much larger they can be.

The AR rifle is a specific type of gun, and it has other features like a buttstock and fore-end grip that classify it as such. Although lengthy, a rifle is known for being large and in charge, and it also gives it the power and range that it’s famous for.

One look at a rifle and you’ll note its bulky body, and when stacked up against the AR pistol it towers over it in size. However, it’s the preferred option of the two, especially when shooting anything at a longer range.

Pros of AR Rifles

  • The power and range that an AR delivers goes above and beyond what you could expect from any type of pistol. You benefit from having the longer barrel and its improved velocity, as well as the sheer size of the weapon behind it. With the right load, your AR rifle could reach speeds of 3,000 feet per second.
  • Shooting an AR rifle is considerably more stable than its pistol counterpart, which is a huge advantage that rifles as a whole have over handguns. As you’re using three anchor points of the shoulder, support hand, and firing hand, you have a better chance at hitting your target even from far away.
  • An AR rifle is known as dependable, and a lot less finicky than the pistol version. If you take good care of it, there’s minimal chance of a catastrophic failure and it’s built tough enough to last for many decades of use.
  • There are so many ways to customize an AR rifle compared to an AR pistol, including accessory rails and optics. You also have the bonus of a buttstock and there are lots of configurations including vertical grips and hand stops so you really get the chance to make it your own.

Cons of AR Rifles

  • Portability isn’t the greatest with an AR rifle because of its size. If you want just one weapon that you can take wherever you go, including target practice or driving in your car, you’ll probably do better with an AR pistol.
  • There’s no way to conceal carry a rifle of this size which means you’ll need a backup handgun to keep on your person if you want to feel protected. Given the larger size and length of the barrel and gun overall, using a rifle in these types of scenarios isn’t smart.
  • Firing at anything up close can be a little tricky with any rifle, and especially the AR. For this reason, they don’t often get used in situations like self-defense as they’re not as maneuverable, and you’ll waste precious moments trying to set up the shot in close range.

Which is Best for Home Defense?

Which is Best for Home Defense?

Protecting your home is one of the most important reasons for owning a firearm and there’s often a healthy debate about which gun does the job best.

If you’re comparing the AR pistol to the AR rifle, they each have something to offer depending on your home’s configuration and your skills as a shooter.

The AR rifle is the undefeated choice for long-range targets so if you think you’ll be firing at someone from far away, this is the way to go.

Otherwise, the AR pistol is better for shots under 50 years and within close quarters which is what you’ll be dealing with in many

The Top Gun for Self Defense

Self-defense is a different setting altogether from home defense, as it usually refers to being outside of the home and in a public setting.

You’ll also have to consider how well a weapon can be concealed for it to be carried safely and discreetly, and in this case, the AR pistol is the clear winner.

An AR rifle is unable to be carried discreetly or comfortably, as its full size makes both of these impossible.

However, you can carry an AR pistol on your person using a number of specially designed holsters, sling packs, or backpacks without anyone being the wiser.

In terms of accessibility, the pistol is a lot faster to grab, which is exactly what you need in a self-defense situation.

With a further adjustment to turn the pistol into a short-barreled rifle, you’d get an even better firearm for this setting, but there’s a lot of regulations and restrictions where these weapons are concerned, so the AR pistol is best.

Accuracy and Precision

Accuracy and Precision

Accuracy becomes a bigger deal when you’re dealing in long-range targets, and if you’re looking for the most precise shot, there’s no question that the AR rifle takes the prize.

The fact that the rifle features a longer barrel means whatever is coming out of it will do so with top velocity and accuracy, so whether it’s target practice or hunting, you’ll have a clear shot.

However, the tables turn somewhat when you’re dealing with shorter range targets of up to 50 yards or so. In this regard, the AR pistol seems to be the better option, so it all depends on where and how you’re using it.

Finally, the skill of the shooter needs to be considered as well, as does their experience with that particular firearm.

If you’re committed to either a pistol or rifle it would serve you well to master it, so that accuracy becomes less of a matter for the gun to decide and more about your expertise.

The Best AR For the Job

In a perfect world, you’d be lucky enough to get the AR pistol and an AR-style rifle, so you have all of your bases covered.

If you’re only able to choose one though, the pistol is the better choice for close quarters and maneuverability, with the rifle being more powerful and an accurate shot at long range.

Related Questions

While it’s fun to compare popular gun types like the AR pistol and rifle, the true answer lies with the shooter and what they plan on using the firearm for.

To get a better understanding of what types of firearms are best in certain situations, check out these FAQs and our expert answers.

What is the Best Caliber for Home Defense?

Choosing a firearm with the right caliber is just as important as the type of gun itself, especially when it comes to home defense and being able to arm yourself and protect your home with that weapon.

With that in mind, some common choices of caliber for this setting are 12 gauge, 380, 375 mag, 40 cal, and 9mm, each with something special to offer.

Can You Hunt With a Handgun?

It is possible to hunt with the right type of handgun as these pistols have improved to be more powerful than ever, but there are some limitations.

Depending on the game you’re hunting and the type of handgun, these firearms may not be suitable for providing a clean kill, and it requires additional target practice and training to ensure you’re using it right.

Does a Shotgun Work at Long Range?

Shotguns aren’t typically used for long-range targets as they do better at short to medium range, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to reach up to 200 yards with the right equipment.

The effectiveness of a shotgun spread at a long distance will also depend on the firearm and the shell it’s firing.


Mathew R Reed

Mathew R Reed is a professional gun seller who runs a dedicated gun store in the suburbs of Oakland, CA. A hardcore hunting enthusiast since childhood, Reed has ample experience with guns and accessories. He is the founder of and creates some of the most helpful gun-buying guides and explainers. If not in the gun shop, you can find him on the nearest hiking trail or nearby hunting spot.