As some of you readers out there in Internet land may know, I am sadly firearms-free. I still live with my folks, and Mama and Papa Raptor have made it clear that if I buy a gun, I’m out of the house. Since I can’t afford a place of my own, firearms have been a no-go for me. But that might be changing soon. Sort of.
A few weeks back, We The Armed member FMJ bought a stripped AR-15 lower receiver and built it up into an almost-fully-functioning assembly. I say “almost” because FMJ is unfortunate enough to be stuck in California, so he had to install a Bullet Button on his receiver rather than a proper magazine release, but that’s a topic for another time. Anyway, I got to thinking about it, and I realized that I’d like to make a go at assembling a stripped lower of my own. It will be an interesting learning experience, and my folks cannot possibly object to me owning a stripped lower, since it is pretty much little more than a piece of aerospace-grade aluminum with a serial number. And I have asked about it: they haven’t said yes, but they haven’t said no either.
So, anyway, if I can actually make the stripped lower work… how would I build it up? Actually, “what configuration do I want my rifle to be?” would be more appropriate. See, the wonderful thing about the AR-15 is that it is an extremely versatile and customizable platform. You can build it into anything from a long-barreled, match-grade target/varmint/sniper rifle to an ultra-compact entry gun (provided you register it as an SBR, of course) and everything in between, and you can chamber it in pretty much any cartridge that can fit in the magazine, and even some that don’t.
So, with a near infinite number of choices, the question really is this: what do I want to do with this rifle? Having thought it over, and I freely admit to having thought about this for far longer than the past couple of weeks, I’ve decided that I want my AR-15 to return to its roots, so to speak: a lightweight, handy, general-purpose carbine. That is, AFAIK, what Gene Stoner originally intended the AR-15 to be.
Unfortunately, in recent years the AR-15 market seems to have moved away from that origin, due partly to the system’s incredible modularity. Nowadays you’ve got AR-15 – 16-inch carbines mostly, with super-heavy profile barrels and more rails than CSX, which people cover with red dots, scopes, flashlights, vertical grips, bipods, red lasers, green lasers, IR lasers, etc. ad nauseum. Now, granted, there’s nothing wrong with doing that, but if you’re not going to be using your rifle for anything other than range trips and home/homestead defense, all that stuff just seems excessive to me. IMO, all a rifle set up for that role needs is an optical sight of some sort, a flashlight, and possibly a sling. And I don’t think a heavy-profile barrel is necessary either, at least not on a carbine.
So with all that in mind, here are the general specs I’ve laid out for “my” rifle:
- 16-inch barrel w/ mid-length gas system, either lightweight, med-contor, or fluted
- Chambered in 5.56mm NATO
- Flat-top upper receiver
- Adjustable stock
- Smooth handguards that are capable of mounting rails or rail sections
- Total weight (unloaded w/only iron sights installed) MUST NOT exceed 7 lbs, and the lighter the better
Kinda vague, I know, but I want to keep things flexible. In terms of the rifle’s actual furniture, I’m leaning towards a MagPul ACS-L buttstock and MOE+ pistol grip. Handguard, I’m not really sure yet. Depends on whether or not I go with a free-floated barrel or not. If I don’t, I’ll go with MagPul MOE handguards. But if I go with a free-float barrel… I’m honestly not sure. Problem with that is there are several free-float handguards that fit my criteria, and I don’t know enough about them to make an educated decision.
But I’ve got time to make up my mind, since whichever upper I buy in 5.56 won’t be my first upper for the rifle. Since I have extremely limited experience with firearms in general, and all of that with pistols, I figure that I need to get some experience with rifles before I start with the 5.56. So to that end, once I build the lower, I’ll first be buying a dedicated .22LR upper receiver, like this one from CMMG Inc. Once I feel that I’ve gained enough experience (and saved up enough money), then I’ll pick up the 5.56mm upper.
Of course, having said all that, I’ve just learned that the Raptor Clan’s first firearm might very well be a .22LR lever-action rifle. Can’t really go into details on that now, but I’ll definitely keep y’all posted on it! Keep your fingers crossed!