I’d like to imagine that if Betsy Ross were alive in 2019, she would be stitching her flag with an AR-15 resting in the corner. Maybe it would have her flag emblazoned on it, in red, white and blue Cerakote. While we all might not sew, we all make decisions about what tools to have in our homes, and from sewing kits to firearms, we need to make informed decisions about tools we use. I’m going to share some of the basics you should consider when you buy an AR platform firearm, or how to buy an AR.
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Unlike some would have you believe, rifles that hold more than a few rounds are not frightening. In fact, AR platform rifles are enjoyable because they can be easily controlled and may be configured for different body types, sizes and skill sets. AR platform firearms also come in different calibers. You don’t even need to have a traditional rifle round. You could have a 9mm PCC, 300 blackout, Mk57, or … maybe you buy a 10mm Banshee. But you don’t need to be locked into 1 caliber when you consider buying an AR; in fact, ARs can even be classified as pistols, depending on their size. You can also own a different upper, and change it out to another caliber. For example, you can have an AR in .223 and swap the upper by just popping out 2 pins, and converting it to a .22.
ARs have a lot going for them besides the options in caliber. There are options for just about every part on an AR. You can refer to the linked article on the parts of an AR, but what you really need to know is that an AR has 2 basic parts: the upper, and the lower.
The upper, or upper receiver, is generally considered to be the top part of the AR receiver or action. The barrel is threaded into the receiver, and the handguard over the barrel. You will mount your optic on the upper, if you decide to use an optic. The second part is the lower, or lower receiver. This is your buttstock, pistol grip, and the lower portion of the receiver or action that the trigger is in. There’s a spring inside the buttstock too, and that is part of how your AR platform firearm operates.
From here, ARs are so personal, it’s amazing. Do you want an adjustable stock? You can have it. In almost any color imaginable, and people will paint them in more colors or designs. There’s a whole industry around this coating of firearms using special coatings, such as Cerakote. Do you want a handguard or pistol grip that fits your hands? There are MANY. They can also be colored, custom formed, engraved, machined … whatever you can imagine. They can have rail sections, called Picatinny rails, where you can mount flashlights. So your home defense gun, or gun for coyotes and raccoons that might attack your backyard chicken flock, can have a dedicated light you keep on the firearm by mounting it on the Picatinny rail (Pic rail for short). You can even mount a laser in addition to an optic. Having had raccoons killing our chickens, this would be my choice for a varmint gun.
The length-of-pull that some women struggle with on some guns is almost a non-issue with an AR platform gun. An adjustable stock can change length of pull in seconds. The ability to buy an aftermarket or drop-in trigger is another way to customize an AR.
Whatever variation of an AR platform you decide to buy, one big thing to do a little research on is the structure of your state and local laws governing firearms ownership. Some states have restrictions on what types of stocks, magazines and more can be used. However, those few states often have some brilliant options made by companies who want to see citizens of those states use a tool as best it can be under the laws. So, do a little reading. Maybe join an online forum such as AR15.com and just read what solutions people find to challenges they face. Firearms owners tend to be very helpful and will usually go out of their way to point you in the right direction on what guns to buy.
The nature of firearms owners leads me to my last point, which is to get time shooting an AR before you commit to buying one. Maybe you head to a local gun range and rent one, or call your friend whose husband likes to shoot and say you want to tag along. Maybe you sign up for a meeting at an event hosted by a woman’s firearms organization, such as The Well Armed Woman, or A Girl and A Gun (both entities have chapters all over the country). Maybe you subscribe to a few manufacturer’s newsletters or find a demo day or take a class.
Whatever you do, shoot and handle different options first so you know what ARs you do and do not like. For smaller framed people, we sometimes experience shooting a gun that might not fit us or be set up for us, and it can turn us off to the idea of shooting that particular firearm ever again. And that doesn’t have to be. Often, finding the right people plays a role in finding the right gun. So, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and keep looking until you find the tool that’s right for you. And finally, find a good price online or at your local FFL, and get out on the range.
Pro Tip: You can go online and “build” your AR from your computer. Check out the “gunstruction” page on AR15.com that allows you to break down each piece of an AR. You can select different manufacturers, or build from scratch. It’s a great tool to learn more about the parts inside an AR, too.
For more information on AR-style firearms, check out this article by Barbara Baird, “All About ARs.”