The Ultimate Short Barrel Rifle Guide

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Our essential guide to Short Barrel Rifles (SBRs) can serve you whether you are new to SBRs or a seasoned veteran. This is a living document and will continue to be updated to become the ultimate Short Barrel Rifle resource for anyone looking for more information on SBRs.

This guide has not been updated to cover the ATF final rule 2021R-08F, “Factoring Criteria for Firearms with Attached ‘Stabilizing Braces,’. We will update it soon but await what the legal system does with the final rule.

A stay is in place, and pistol braces are still legal to own and possess, but that situation is fluid.

This is not legal advice. Consult an attorney for more information.

Disclaimer: This article is meant for informational purposes only. We do our best to provide accurate and up-to-date information, but for legal reasons, we cannot guarantee accuracy. Laws and policies can change rapidly, but we do our best to keep this article updated when things change.

What is a Short Barrel Rifle?

Short Barrel Rifle in Case

The federal legal definition of a short-barrel rifle:

18 U.S. Code § 921 (a) (8)The term “short-barreled rifle” means a rifle having one or more barrels less than sixteen inches in length and any weapon made from a rifle (whether by alteration, modification, or otherwise) if such weapon, as modified, has an overall length of less than twenty-six inches. - US Code, House.gov

Best Short Barrel Rifles

How to Make a Short Barrel Rifle

Most SBRs come in the form of a standard AR-15. Since anyone can purchase AR-15 parts, you can construct your very own AR-15 SBR.

The flexibility of building your own SBR is nice, but a factory-built SBR can be purchased directly from a dealer. These two methods of getting an SBR are handled in two slightly different ways.

If making or assembling an SBR from parts, you acquire individually, you first need to have the serialized lower receiver. You would then need to fill out an ATF Form 1 via paper or using the ATF eForms.

If you are building your own SBR, make sure you have all the tools you need for building your AR before you get started.

How to Buy a Short Barrel Rifle

Buying an SBR is a similar process to making your own SBR. The form you will file with the ATF is slightly different (ATF Form 4). Plus, engraving is not required for your SBR if purchased from a dealer.

What is ATF Form 4?

The official name of an ATF Form 4 is Application for Tax Paid Transfer and
Registration of Firearm, which in laymen’s terms means it’s a fancy Form 4473 (the standard form you fill out when you purchase a firearm from a dealer).

A Form 4 is what is used to transfer an NFA item from a dealer/trust/corporation/individual to another. It must be sent into the ATF for approval and a $200 tax included with the form.

What is an ATF Form 1?

An ATF Form 1 title is the Application to Make and Register a Firearm.

This ATF form allows you to take an existing firearm and convert it to an SBR or other type of firearm. It goes through the same process and until it’s approved the SBR can not be built or made.

How long is the wait?

The wait is one of the worst parts of buying an NFA regulated item. The wait times vary between filling methods. If the item is registered as a trust/individual/corporation, it can also have an impact on the amount of time it takes for your stamp to come in.

Your SBR will have to wait at the dealer, often referred to as NFA Jail, until your stamp is approved and returned to your dealer.

Short Barrel Rifle Laws

SBR’s are regulated extensively by Federal law, also known as US Code, and those laws are typically regulated and enforced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, but not enforced exclusively by them.

What is the NFA?

You’ll often hear people talk about the NFA, or National Firearms Act, which is the law that governs the sale, manufacture, and purchase of Short Barrel Rifles.

The NFA was passed in 1934 and is sometimes referred to as the National Firearms Act of 1934.

States that Don’t Allow SBRs

Let’s face it, not everyone loves freedom, so there are some states that simply don’t allow SBR registration at all. Here are a few states that do not allow SBRs or have restrictions on them.

StateAllowed
CaliforniaCurios & Relics Only
District of ColumbiaNo
New YorkNo
HawaiiNo
MarylandKinda
(State law has further restrictions)
New JerseyNo
Rhode IslandNo

What is an SBR Tax Stamp?

The government can’t infringe the second amendment to the Constitution (allegedly). Gun grabbers and haters within the government have long created loopholes to restrict gun rights.

To do this, they assumed the power of the IRS along with the government’s ability to tax and added a tax to certain classifications of weapons and firearms. This is probably the only way they were able to circumvent the second amendment o the US Constitution.

Short Barrel Rifles are regulated by the ATF and require a $200 tax stamp, but I wouldn’t use it to mail a package. The NFA or National Firearms Act granted this authority to the ATF.

Do I have to renew my tax stamp?

No, you only have to pay the $200 tax stamp fee once. If you keep that item forever you’ll never have to pay the tax again.

If you ever sell the item the buyer will have to complete a Form 4 and pay $200.

I often tell people looking to buy an SBR to buy one you’ll be happy with forever because the transfer costs and wait aren’t going to be worth it for an individual to buy it from you used.

What Kind of Case for a Short Barrel Rifle?

We recommend either one of our tactical rifle cases or our purpose-built SBR case, The Bureau. The Bureau case provides covert concealment of your SBR in any environment.

Long Barrel vs Short Barrel Rifle

Why do I need a short barrel rifle? Well, simply put, it has some advantages over a “long barrel” or a 16″ barrel rifle. If you are using a rifle for a home defense weapon, a short barrel rifle gives you mobility in tight areas.

An SBR is much easier to maneuver in tight spaces such as your home’s hallways so it’s a clear winner for close quarters.

Ballistics is another reason why you may pick a short barrel or long barrel rifle. I won’t dive too much into the ballistics, as I’m not qualified. There is a pretty big difference ballistically when shooting 16″ 5.56 rifles vs. SBRs.

Lastly, I’ll mention suppressing the rifle. A 16″ barrel rifle with a full-length suppressor comes to a nearly 22″ barrel. This makes the gun extremely long and unbalanced. A lot of weight is strapped to the end of the barrel, making accuracy suffer greatly, depending on the weight of your can, of course.

If you want to suppress your rifle, I highly recommend getting a short barrel rifle to go along with it.

AR15 Pistol Carry Case

Best AR15 Short Barrel Rifle

This is often a question you’ll get from someone new to the SBR game. The obvious reason is they want the best. But the reality of it is there is no “Best” catch-all option. Each SBR should meet the needs of the specific person shopping for it.

Buying something because it was recommended to you by someone who doesn’t have the same priorities, body structure, or taste is a disappointment waiting to happen.

My suggestion to find the best short barrel rifle for you is to identify your wants and needs for this rifle purchase. Then visit some gun stores, hold and shoot your friends’ rifles, and make an educated decision.

Common SBR Calibers

You can make an SBR out of nearly any caliber out there, but what it comes down to is does it ballistically make sense? Another question to ask is what length barrel makes the most ballistic sense for the round I plan to use?

Short Barrel Rifle Cases

Cases for short barrel rifles are becoming more prominent since the AR pistols and SBRs are becoming more popular. Here at Lynx Defense, we even created a discreet SBR case just for SBRs and AR pistols. We highly recommended discreet SBR cases, and we even wrote a full article on them.

How Long is the Wait for an SBR?

The wait time varies and can take between a month to twelve months or longer. There really is no telling.

However, an independent website called NFA Tracker allows people to submit their wait times and view a running log for other users.

Can you carry an SBR in your car?

Yes, you can carry an SBR in your car.

However, it is important to note that any NFA weapon, your SBR, legally must remain in your possession so if you are not in the vehicle or driving the vehicle you could be in legal trouble.

Keep in mind securing your SBR is extremely important and you don’t want to end up in legal trouble if it’s stolen or found to be not in your possession.

Can I take my SBR out of state?

It depends.

Legally it’s up to the ATF and there is an application to transport NFA firearms form that you must fill out and submit to the ATF.

States that don’t allow SBR’s will most likely lead to a denial from the ATF on your transportation request.

I’m moving with NFA firearms what do I need to do?

The same form you would use to travel with your NFA firearm you will need to fill out to permanently move with your NFA Firearm.

Hopefully, you are moving to a state that allows you NFA items as that could cause a denial from the ATF.

The form you need to fill out to move with your NFA items is located on the ATF website called Application to Transport Interstate or to Temporarily Export Certain NFA Firearms (ATF Form 5320.20).

Do I have to carry my tax stamp with my SBR?

No, not really.

As with most of these answers there always seems to be a “however” clause. An ATF agent or a designee of the Attorney General can require the owner of a short barrel rifle to show proof of registration as stated in 26 US Code 5841(e).

However unlikely that request might be it’s still important to know that you could be required to show proof of registration.

What do I need to build an AR-15 SBR?

Good question! You need all the parts to build a fully functioning AR-15 and we may list those in detail later but the most important thing to get started is the AR lower receiver.

The reason for that is you cannot file your Form 1 to register an SBR until you have the serial number of your lower.

Once you have the serial number you can then eFile your Form 1 and get the slow NFA process rolling.

Can I get a tax stamp for an unserialized gun (a.k.a ghost gun)?

No, the ATF Form 1 requires you to submit the gun’s serial number.

Therefore, you cannot register an unserialized gun, or a “Ghost Gun, as an SBR.

What is the difference between an SBR AR-15 and an AR15 Pistol?

The main difference between an SBR AR-15 and an AR15 Pistol is the ever-contentious buttstock. An SBR features a buttstock with an adjustable buffer tube, while an AR-15 Pistol has a pistol stabilizing arm brace. AR-15 Pistols are meant to be fired with one hand using the stabilizing arm brace.

Again, this article is meant to be a living document, and we will continue to update it as new regulations come out about short barrel rifles. If you notice anything inaccurate or something has changed, be sure to leave a comment below so we can get it fixed!

Michael Savage
Michael Savage

Michael is the President of Lynx Defense and an avid gun owner and outdoors man. He's passionate about helping find the best bang for your buck and helping others learn about firearms and the industry as a whole.

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41 Comments

  1. I have a question or 2. From reading all the comments I saw the comments about cant register a no serial firearm as a sbr. Isn’t a sbr a rifle or purchase as a rifle and you have a barrel of less then 16. Now what if you took a stock or folding stock or had a buddy to make you a folding stock in machine shop long enough where it was 26in long for the whole weapon wouldn’t it not be a sbr? My last question is a mck for my taurus g2c 9mm pistol how can it be a sbr if it was stated when its originally a pistol and if it was a so called sbr when the pistol comes on and off and not a whole piece like a normal sbr would. You can’t just take a sbr apart like you would a pistol in a micro conversion kit because the mck has no serial only the pistol and to read the serial you need to take the pistol out and how can you register a mck if its not a firearm legally and don’t have no component to fire a round by its self with no serial numbers? Also i have a glass break muzzle barrel and with the folding stock out from tip of barrel to end of stock its 25in 1/2 and if I un thread the barrel a little it becomes 26in or 26in 1/4 which i was thinking of having my buddy cut some metal rings to cover the threads or have him make a longer thread tip so the barrel/glass breaker would sit nice out more to make it sit at say 27in and have it metal clued so you couldn’t unthread it by hand unless you vice it with torque and a tool since I wouldn’t wanna weld it or could I just put a longer arm on the fold stock or just have him make a long tube from the rear and take the folding stock off either or it would be pass the 25in 1/2 as default now into like a 26in or 27in but as I said its still legally a pistol thats being fired. Thanks and sorry for the inconvenience

  2. Let’s just say I own a Ruger AR-556 with a 10.5 inch barrel. Suppose I bought it 2 years ago when it was considered a AR pistol. Have not kept up on all the new ATF changes and not filed any new paperwork on it since original purchase. What would be my options in this scenario?
    -Add a longer barrel to it?
    -Sell it as is?
    -Register it now without repercussions?
    -Other options?

  3. In the midst of ordering parts for my first AR SBR build with a .300 blk 10.5″ barrel.
    Should I file as soon as I get the lower?
    And is it legal to carry and shoot it as an unbraced pistol until the stamp is approved?

    • I would file as soon as you purchase the lower that will speed things up. You can carry and shoot it as an UNBRACED AR until the stamp is approved.

  4. Do you know if AR Pistols that have Braces… with the law change… after being Registered as an SBR… can they still be transported concealed in a Backpack as they could before when classified as “Pistols”?

  5. Responding to “Can you register a ‘Ghost Gun'”, the actual answer is it depends. You can absolutely register 80% lower ‘ghost guns’, you just have to follow the labeling requirements. That is, you have to engrave certain information on the lower including a serial number that you assign it as the manufacturer.

    If you don’t follow the labeling requirements or if you have multiple lowers with the same serial number, then you will be in big trouble. But it is possible to get an 80% SBR legally.

  6. I live on the border of 3 states. I live in one, and the range I enjoy going to is in another. Do I have to fill out a transportation form every time I go to the range?

    • By ATF rule, yes, you would need to fill out a transportation form every time. I would try reaching out to them to see if there is some kind of exemption. The pistol brace was the easy way around this but that’s pending.

  7. I have an SBR with the tax stamp in 5.56.
    Want to get a .300 AAC Blkout upper to use on the registered lower. Best way to accomplish this?
    Thanks

  8. It won’t let me reply directly, so not sure you’ll ever see this, but… @jake :
    My understanding (prior to the recent ATF ruling on braces) is that since it started as a rifle, you’d have to SBR it in IN ADVANCE of making your proposed changes in order to avoid being a felon. If you had a complete lower, then added the brace, then added the proposed pistol upper, you’d be ok. Again, that’s before AFT gave their official ruling on braces between the time you wrote your question and where I’m sitting now. I’m going to do my ATF fingerprints for my SBR application later today…

    (Disclaimer: not a lawyer, do your own research)

  9. @Stephan: The ATF requests that you let them know. You are not required to do so. Moreover, you can take it out of the SBR configuration at any time and the SBR rules no longer apply. For example, if your SBR is a pistol that is only an SBR because of a buttstock, you can remove it and transport it as a pistol to another state. The ATF said so themselves in a formal response several years ago.

  10. I have two AR-Pistols that I want to Form 1 SBR. In the future if I ever want to decertify them as SBR’s, is there a form or process to remove the SBR NFA Status, or once a SBR always a SBR?

  11. I have a 16” rifle that was purchased as a rifle from a dealer. What would I need to do if I wanted to put an 11.5” upper on it? Am I able to just put a pistol brace on or would I need to convert the lower to an SBR?

  12. I thought so but figured I’d ask before I drop the cash on the upper. Apparently they will ship the upper directly. No FFL needed. Im guessing it only becomes an SBR once attached to the lower but probably safe to obtain the form 1 first.

    • Correct only the serialized parts need to go to an FFL. Just be careful with a complete lower and a short-barrelled upper, they could try constructive possession. Be sure to have your lower and serial and submit Form 1 before slapping them together.

  13. Q. I have an AR 15 and would like to purchase a 10.5″ 300 blackout upper and attach a suppressor. Are these two different tax stamps?

    • Yes, that would require two tax stamps, unless the lower is equipment with a pistol stabilizing brace. The suppressor will require a stamp and then you would have to Form 1 the lower.

  14. I inherited an SBR (Model 94 Trapper) from my grandfather in 1960. the rifle was made in 1926. To my knowledge it has never been registeered. What now?

    • Looking around it looks like the ATF will exempt these particular rifles. However, you would need to reach out to them directly to get that exemption. They consider a C&R gun but I would absolutely want to reach out to them and have a letter for my specific rifle.

  15. Truly appreciate your articles. Can I temporarily remove parts from my SBR and still use it, but once a SBR always a SBR, correct?
    Example, butt stock needs repair, will employ a single point sling till completed, Ok?

    Now with new ATF rules in effect (8/24/22), basically all pistol AR’s will have to be stamped as a SBR, right? No more pistol braces, meeting the point system almost impossible….

    Keep us informed!

  16. “Keep in mind securing your SBR is extremely important and you don’t want to end up in legal trouble if it’s stolen or found to be not in your possession.”

    So if the SBR is locked in my vehicle parked in the parking lot of my employer, while I’m at work is that considered to be in my possession or not?

    • Legally no. But we should clarify as I doubt anyone expects you to keep it on you 24/7. It’s more about people who are not “responsible persons” on the trust or business owning the SBR having the sole and complete possession of it without you.

  17. I’ve been looking everywhere so I’m just gunna ask cause I can’t get a legit answer.

    Can I get a tax stamp for and unserialized gun (a.k.a ghost gun).
    I know in this article there was one part that stated that “you can’t get/apply for tax stamp until you get the serial number from the lower” my interpretation of that is that the only way to recive a tax stamp is with a serialized AR.
    Just looking for a straight, legit no grey area answer, thanks in advance everyone.

    • No, you cannot get an SBR tax stamp for a firearm without a serial number. The serial number field on the Form 1 is required for the Form 1 to be approved.

  18. Good article, but actually clicked on it to learn about what engraving is required. Engraving is mentioned, but not explained.

    • Matthew, curious what you decided. Build or buy. Trying to research what best fits me but so, so many options and manufacturers. Live in S C.

  19. Let us hope that our strong, unified voices will be heard in Washington to NOT NFA pistols. Any thoughts on arguing it from an ADA perspective? How it deprives physically challenged folks a chance to shoot,self-defense and over taxed!

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