When most people think of concealed carrying a weapon, the first thing that springs to mind is a handgun. A Glock 19, a SIG P365, maybe even a snub-nosed revolver are often the images that appear in their mind’s eye. After the gun itself, the next thing they may think of is a holster: will it be Kydex? Is it going to be carried inside the waistband? Does pocket carry? An ankle holster? But what if I told you that some people concealed carry AR-15s? That’s right, a full-blown AR-pattern firearm typically chambered in .223 Remington/5.56 NATO or .300 Blackout. You already know that rifles have a few natural advantages over handguns: they generally fire higher-powered cartridges, have a greater effective range and are easier to shoot and aim accurately, amongst other things.
But is conceal carrying an AR Pistol even possible? Yes, it’s possible to conceal carry an AR pistol. Typically, the best way to do this is to use a backpack specifically designed to conceal them. AR pistols small enough to be concealed often have collapsible or foldable braces that allow them to fit into smaller spaces. But exactly how? Open carry of long guns is allowed in some states, but that’s far from ideal on a daily, practical basis for self-defence. There are a few options, logistical considerations and legal questions to deal with and we’ll go over them here. Let’s dive in.
What Does it Mean to Concealed Carry an AR Pistol?
For the uninitiated, there are legal differences in the United States between pistols, rifles (or carbines), and short-barreled rifles (SBRs). There are two more acronyms to acquaint yourself with here: ATF & NFA. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (sounds like a grand old time!) is a Federal organization under the United States Department of Justice, whom, in their own words are concerned with:
the investigation and prevention of federal offenses involving the unlawful use, manufacture, and possession of firearms and explosives; acts of arson and bombings; and illegal trafficking of alcohol and tobacco products. The ATF also regulates, via licensing, the sale, possession, and transportation of firearms, ammunition, and explosives in interstate commerce.”
The National Firearms Act of 1934 (with updates in 1968 and 1986) imposed restrictions on the purchase of certain weapons; without approval (administered by the ATF), the payment of a $200 tax stamp, manufacturing or owning certain firearms was made illegal. In the context of this article, readers need to know that the NFA regulations with regards to AR pistols, SBRs and full-length rifles or carbines are as follows. You have a short-barreled rifle (which is not an AR pistol) and need ATF approval and a tax stamp if:
- The firearm is designed to be fired from the shoulder and fire one bullet at a time through a rifled barrel, AND:
- The weapon has an overall length of less than 26 inches
- The weapon has a barrel with a length of less than 16 inches
Because a firearm with an overall length of greater than 26 inches is simply too large to carry concealed, this means that you have two options for concealed carrying an AR:
- You can use a short-barreled rifle with a stock so that you can shoulder it for greater accuracy, via the NFA route
- You can use an AR pistol, which also has an overall length of less than 26 inches or a barrel shorter than 16 inches but does not include a stock, and therefore does not fall under the regulations of the NFA.
Pistol braces, which allow the shooter to attach the firearm to his or her forearm, are an option for non-NFA weapons, as is simply leaving an unadorned buffer tube on your weapon. As always, research and learn about your city, state and/or county laws regarding any firearms you may purchase, own or carry. While AR pistols are legal in most states (we’ll discuss this more later), firearms laws are ever-changing and form a patchwork of differing legal prohibitions across the country. In some states, carrying an AR pistol may be allowed (either via Constitutional Carry or with a carry permit), while concealed carrying an SBR may not be allowed. Now that we’ve defined the difference between AR pistols and SBRs and how to legally acquire them, let’s talk about how and why one might be concealed carry an AR pistol.
Why Should I Conceal Carry an AR Pistol? Pros and Cons
As I briefly discussed in the introduction, there are certain traits that render an AR-style weapon superior to a traditional handgun. For example, a 147-grain 9x19mm Luger Full Metal Jacket round fired from the 4.02” barrel of a Glock 19 will be fired at around 1,100 feet per second (FPS), whereas a 55-grain 5.56x45mm NATO Full Metal Jacket round will depart the barrel of a 7” AR pistol at around 2,100 FPS, and 14” barrel at approximately 2,800 FPS. Higher muzzle velocity means two things: better terminal performance and less bullet drop. “Terminal performance” refers to the projectile’s effectiveness once it strikes the target: it will either penetrate more deeply, expand more, or both. Greater speeds mean that more energy is transferred to the target, which in turn increases the likelihood of knocking down the target and being more lethal as well. Without an in-depth technical discussion, it’s widely accepted that faster rifle rounds are much more devastating and forceful than virtually any common handgun round, especially considering that short AR pistols have considerably longer barrels than even full-sized handguns.
The less dramatic bullet drop associated with an AR pistol chambered in a rifle caliber allows for increased accuracy at longer ranges, as well. While a 124-grain 9mm round may only drop 1.8 inches at 50 yards, by the 100-yard mark, the bullet will have dropped 12.0311 inches, over an entire foot! In comparison, a 62-grain .223 Remington bullet will only have dropped 0.0006 inches at 100 yards – more or less a completely straight trajectory. If we are to extend the ranges even further, a 9mm bullet will have dropped approximately 3 feet at 200 yards, while the .223 bullet will only have dropped about 3 inches. While this data is highly variable and dependent on a variety of factors, the ballistic advantages of using rifle cartridges and longer barrels beyond 50 yards should be immediately apparent.
An AR pistol also offers certain tactical defensive advantages in an active shooter situation. Given that most mass shootings occur with pistol-calibre handguns, being able to defend yourself and other innocent people with a more accurate and powerful weapon that is accurate to a longer range gives you an instant upper hand in terms of firepower and ammunition capacity. Secondly, in the event that the attacker is using a rifle-calibre weapon or long gun, you will be able to defend yourself on a more equal footing, and with the right ammunition choice, you may even be able to penetrate his or her body armor. This is a highly important factor, as an active shooter already has the advantage of surprise by the very nature of being the perpetrator. If they’re armed with a long gun and equipped with body armor in addition to having the tactical advantage of surprise, the circumstances may be too overwhelming for a handgun carrier to overcome with his or her less powerful weapon.
The first of the major disadvantages that come with carrying an AR pistol should be quite apparent: it will be larger and more difficult to conceal than a more typical carry weapon. Without entirely spilling the beans on the next section of the article, AR pistol concealed carry is basically limited to situations where you can carry a backpack. Compact and subcompact handguns, on the other hand, can be carried in holsters – or even pockets – directly on your person, making deep concealment much easier and adding to the versatility of your carry setup.
The second notable disadvantage I’d note may also be interpreted as an advantage by some: AR pistols often feature a stunning, concussive muzzle blast and volume. Often derided as obnoxious “range toys” by some for this very reason, being within several yards of a short-barreled AR pistol or rifle when fired with hearing protection is unpleasant to most. In a self-defense situation without hearing protection, the deafening sound and jarring shockwave will be staggering, to say the least, especially indoors. Your hearing will more than likely suffer permanent, long-term damage as will the hearing of others close to you, both innocent and malignant. Further, the short-term hearing loss may make it difficult to communicate or hear audio cues in an already stressful and urgent situation.
A case can be made however, that concussion, roar and muzzle blast (often affectionately called a “fireball”, especially when fired in the dark or at night), can also be more persuasive to the villain who’s caused you to discharge your weapon than say, a few rounds fired from a sub-compact chambered in .380 ACP or 9mm. As a corollary of these drawbacks, muzzle rise and felt recoil will also be greater with an AR pistol than a handgun or long gun. Generally, the less recoil and muzzle rise a shooter experiences, the more accurately he or she can shoot. Recoil can be mitigated with proper technique, but ultimately will require more composure, attention and training than a smaller calibre on a relatively larger and heavier-framed firearm would.
How do I Concealed Carry an AR Pistol?
Your most realistic option for concealed carrying an AR pistol is a backpack. At present, there are an increasing number of firearm-specific, non-descript bags on the market, which are versatile enough to allow you to carry any number of items and look more or less like any other bag you’d use for work, school, or carting around some fairly humdrum stuff.
The Vertx Gamut Overland
The Vertx Gamut Overland in the Mojave Sun/Cinderblock colour combination
Vertx is a tactical brand owned by Fechheimer, a company that has been producing uniforms and bags for the military and law enforcement since 1842, which means you can rest assured that you’re getting a dependable product. Their best AR pistol concealed carry option is their Gamut Overland Backpack. Clocking in at 26.5 inches tall, this option will allow you to carry even some pistols in the 11” barrel range, and certainly most pistols with a side-folding brace.
Designed with discreet rifle carry in mind, the Gamut Overland features a slanted main compartment with a 180-degree top-open zipper for quick and obstructed access. The pack also features a lockable zipper and a quick-access tab for a weapons compartment that will allow for extra security or rapid deployment of a sidearm.
The Gamut also comes with a few more important features: it has a sturdy 3D-molded back panel for structure and comfort and can be loaded with hard or soft plates if you chose to do so for protection.
When the side straps are disconnected, the main compartment can be opened fully from top to bottom for easy packing and unpacking without having to reach and fumble around in the bag. The interior has also been outfitted in a light tan color for higher visibility in both well-lit and low-light situations. Anyone who has tried to find something quickly in a dark bag will appreciate that touch.
Vertx’s pack is offered not only in the well-rounded “It’s Black”, but also the oddly-named “Toy Soldier/Tumbleweed”, the more tactical “Canopy Green”, as well as the decidedly non-tactical “Mojave Sun/Cinderblock” – an orange with a hint of a brown hue paired with dark grey. Buy it in the last combination if you really want to go “gray man” and look like you hate anything (and anyone) tactical. Deep concealment as you hide in plain sight.
The Grey Ghost Gear Apparition SBR Bag
The Apparition in several colors
For those who want a bag that’s longer than most but manages to scream “Subaru!” moreso than “SIG Sauer!”, the GGG Apparition SBR Bag should be your choice. With a deliberately “dorky hiking bag “look and an extended bottom main pocket option that takes it from 27 to 33 inches, you can manage to pull off carrying a longer AR pistol or SBR without sticking out. Concealed carrying a suppressed AR pistol has never been so discreet or easy! The main compartment of the coffin-shaped bag also features two pockets with bungees for 5.56 mags and a hook-and-loop-backed panel with five total straps to keep your weapon (and perhaps additional mags) strapped down. The waist belt is great for added comfort (while actually hiking) and the pack also features small and medium-sized pockets as well for additional storage.
The Apparition SBR Bag is available in several color combinations: Black with Red Thread, Grey & Black, Brown & Black, Tan & OD, and the not-so-ominous Black with Cyan Zips. It retails for $179.99.
Elite Survival Systems Covert Operations Rifle Backpack
The Covert Operations Rifle Backpack in Black
Elite Survival System’s best concealed AR backpack offering features lightweight nylon on the outside for “sports pack style”, and a heavier, more durable nylon on the inside to stand up to your firearms and accessories. It features a low-profile Velcro-strapped handgun pocket for “rapid access”, but you do have to take the pack off and unzip the main compartment to get to it. As far the bulk of the main compartment, it’s mostly Velcro, which is perfect for customizable storage of a disassembled or fully-assembled AR in addition to mags or other gear. Its 25-inch height means that it’s not as accommodating as some options, but should still fit plenty of AR pistols or SBRs suitable for concealed carrying.
The middle pocket features a MOLLE system that has Velcro on top of straps – a unique arrangement that allows the user to mount packs and other accessories multiple ways inside. The bag comes with padded sides and bottoms to protect your firearms from bumps and bruises and is quite comfortable, with back and strap padding in all the right places for an ergonomic fit. As with the other bags mentioned above, it has a nondescript look that doesn’t betray its intended purposes and comes in an assortment of imperatively dull colors: Black, Gray and Indigo Blue. The Elite Survival Systems Stealth – Covert Operations Backpack retails at $229.95.
Wilson Advantage Tennis Bag Series
A black & white Wilson Advantage II Tennis Racket Bag
No, I’m not joking. Concealed carriers have found that certain tennis racket bags are, in fact, ideal for concealing AR pistols and SBRs. With a more amorphous shape than some tennis racket bags, the Wilson Advantage won’t have a tight bottleneck that prevents you from fitting your loaded AR inside. It weighs in at just over one pound and is almost 28 inches in length, meaning that even some 11-inch barreled weapons should fit inside. Of course, the fact that it’s not designed specifically for carrying a firearm means that it has a few drawbacks: there is only one other small, zippered storage compartment, and while it has a fabric carry handle and shoulder sling, it won’t be as comfortable or convenient as a true backpack would be.
The Wilson logo and shape do make it perfect for unassuming deep concealment, however. There’s absolutely nothing tactical about its appearance, and that’s a good thing. It retails for $40.00 from the manufacturer, but can also be found even more affordable on Amazon.
Is Conceal Carrying an AR Pistol Legal?
Now that you not only know what an AR pistol is, but have a few backpack carry suggestions, you may be asking yourself whether you can legally concealed carry an AR pistol where you live. While laws are constantly changing across state and local municipalities across the U.S., in general concealed carrying an AR Pistol is legal as long as two criteria are met;
- Whether via constitutional carry or a permit, you are allowed to concealed carry and are physically in area where the concealed carrying of a weapon is permitted
- Your weapon is legal to possess in its current configuration or at all in your city or state.
While it’s not possible to concealed carry or own an AR or AR pistol everywhere, there are large swaths of the country where it’s entirely legal to do, provided that you’re not a felon and perhaps also that you possess a CCW (Concealed Carry Weapon) permit. As always, consult an attorney and/or your local ordinances and laws to make sure that you’re allowed to concealed carry your weapon wherever you intend to do so, before you do so. This is especially important and highly recommended if there are any gray areas in the law or if there is any confusion on your part as to whether you can legally conceal your AR pistol.
Is Concealed Carrying an AR Pistol a Good Idea?
With the information provided here, you should be able to begin to make an informed decision as to whether using an AR pistol as a carry weapon works for you. Finding a discreet backpack that’s well-built and designed to stand up to the rigors of toting firearms and accessories, knowing if it’s legal where you intend to carry and determining if and when the situation calls for the tactical advantage of having a rifle-caliber weapon with more length and heft than a handgun are the three primary points of consideration. For many, it’s possible, legal and practical thanks to their local laws and the increasing number of backpacks custom-built for that purpose.
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