My First (and possibly last) AR-15 Build


Today’s post is brought to you by Patrick Shipp, Patrick has served his country down range in Iraq and on the front lines of the energy war in Washington, DC.

Roaming the aisles of The Nation’s Gun Show in Chantilly, VA, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of today’s small arms industry. Nearly every make and model of rifle, shotgun, and hand cannon in the world is there, and eager buyers are salivating at the thought of owning that which the liberal media has made taboo. Among the tables of Colt 1911s, Remington 700s, and Winchester Repeaters, there are a few vendors who are targeting a more discriminating customer; the AR-15 armorer.

Merriam-Webster defines an armorer as “one that repairs, assembles, and tests firearms.”

I wasn’t looking to build the best AR, but wanted to gain a better understanding of how the rifle operates. I began my build with some internet research. There are over 150 individual parts in an AR-15, and all of them must function together in order to effectively send 62 grains of lead towards the intended target. All of the parts can be purchased online and shipped directly to your home, with the exception of the stripped lower receiver. This is the serial number component, and must be transferred to the customer through a Federal Firearms Licensee. I bought my Smith and Wesson M&P stripped lower at the gun show for $130. At the show, I also purchased several Magpul components, including flip-up front and rear sites, a pistol grip, trigger guard, and adjustable buttstock. The remaining components I purchased online from Del-ton (flattop upper receiver), Midway USA (buffer tube, buffer spring, buffer, lower receiver parts kit, and bolt carrier group), and Ebay (replacement buffer tube for the one I over torqued). Where there was an option to, I bought mil-spec components. I switched out the 18” barrel on another AR platform for a 20”, and used the 18” barrel on this build. I found a handguard left over from deployment and got to work.

I went to my local range, Blue Ridge Arsenal in Chantilly, VA, and had the armorer there put the barrel on my upper receiver. There’s a lot that can go wrong, including miss alignment which could affect gas tube alignment, so I went to the pro. He switched out the short barrel, and installed the longer one for fifty bucks. That was money well spent. I did the rest of the assembly in my basement, using Cheaper Than Dirt’s YouTube videos on building a lower receiver and the Army’s TM9-1005-319-23. It’s important to know that all of the components fit together in a specific order. Anyone who has ever tried to repair their car knows what I’m talking about. Step-by-step instructions are essential to success. Watch the video and read the instructions a couple of times for real success. With the lower complete, I replaced the fixed front site post with a gas block with picatinny rails and attached the front and rear sites. I snapped top and bottom together, performed a functions check, and took it to the range. This was the most nerve wracking part. I knew everything had been done correctly, but in the back of my mind, I thought, “what if this damn thing blows up in my face. I’m going to look like an idiot.” One hundred rounds later, and I was satisfied with my work.

No after action review is complete without the obligatory what went wrong, and for me, those are the most important lessons learned. My buttstock has a little bit of wobble when fully extended. Though the buffer tube and buttstock are mil-spec, I can’t help but think that the replacement tube I bought after busting the one from Midway USA was not the correct diameter. The upper and lower aren’t as tight as the pros prefer, though you can purchase a small plastic block that will make the fit snug. I would recommend always buying a matched upper and lower to avoid any wiggle. The bolt carrier group from AR Stoner is snug, and did cause the rifle to fail to cycle completely. I have tried sanding, and will take the Dremel to it sometime soon. After the fact, I read some disparaging reviews on Midway USA, regarding the AR Stoner bolt carrier group. I’d say this is one of the components where you want to spend a little bit more, especially if you’ve incurred some savings elsewhere by catching Magpul and CMMG lower reciever components on sale.

All in all, I’m pleased with the outcome. The final cost to complete, I’d estimate at about $900. You can purchase a complete stock AR-15 for this much, and add the Magpul components for another $150 or so. The bolt carrier group is an easily replaceable part if the Dremel doesn’t work, and the wobble reminds me that I need to look into getting another buffer tube. The feeling, though, of firing the weapon you built, well, that’s just priceless.

See you at the range.

What Happens After you Shoot?

Gran TurinoAre you prepared for a critical incident? When I speak of critical incidents I am referring to you as a concealed carry permit holder or gun owner being put into the position to use your weapon. So many people think that if it’s a “good shoot” that all will be fine and life will go on as normal. They think the law will do it’s job if they are in the right. Nothing could be more idealistic. Let me explain things from the point of a law enforcement officer and someone that has been a part of many trials.

What you think will happen

  1. You call 911 and report the incident.
  2. The cops show up and ask questions.
  3. There is an investigation that you cooperate with.
  4. You are cleared of any wrong doing.
  5. No charges are made against you.
  6. Life goes on and you deal with your own personal issues from the shooting

What really happens

  1. You call 911, and make a full confession that is recorded and later used against you by the DA and investigators.
  2. The cops show up and put their guns in your face, force you to the ground, and put you in cuffs.
  3. You are asked everything but when your last bowel movement was by officers and detectives. Did they read you your rights? Do you remember?
  4. You spill your guts full of expletives and other unpleasant words.
  5. You are taken to the police department locked into a room and observed.
  6. They play the good cop/bad cop games for hours while asking you the same questions over and over while you get to the point where you can’t remember what you told them the first time.
  7. Because you have no idea what you said and who you said it to, they book and charge you.
  8. A huge bail is set after you spend way too much time in a cell and your family has to put the house up as collateral to a shady looking bail bondsman while you sit next to a smelly guy named bubba that wants to be your boyfriend.
  9. You appear in court and they put a pretty bracelet on your leg (provided that you came up with the bail and aren’t a flight risk)

home_invasion_81I could continue or go into more detail, but you get the idea. Are you seeing where reality greatly differs from what’s in your mind’s eye? This isn’t NCIS, where all crimes are solved within the hour or LL Cool J is the detective. This isn’t legal advice; this is just some common sense advice from someone that has seen the legal process at work and has been the officer that arrived on scene. When 911 is called, you don’t need to outline every detail of the incident or give commentary on what just happened or how it just happened. I wish I could give you an exact script on what to say to the dispatcher but this is something that you may want to discuss with your attorney (you’ve contacted an attorney already right….right?). Anything you say WILL be used against you. In the heat of emotion and stress, expletives may be used on your part or comments that will bury you in court later may be uttered. Basic information is more than enough for the dispatcher. Stating your name, location, description of both yourself and the suspect, and what type of incident just occurred. Saying to the dispatcher that you “shot a mother f#@*er that broke in your house” will do nothing but hurt you. Nothing that could be considered a confession needs to be said until you have a lawyer present and are speaking directly to the investigator assigned to the case. Once the police arrive, expect to be treated roughly. They don’t know what just happened and they don’t come to the call with a clean slate. These men and women bring their experiences from every call they have ever been dispatched to with them. This “baggage” is what keeps them alive and returning to their families. It is of course in your best interest to follow the commands of the responding officers.

Once all parties have been identified they will start asking questions. At this point you really only need to provide your information (ID) and that you will be happy to answer their questions when your lawyer is present. If you have an attorney that is willing to come to the scene then you are a very lucky person. A call to your attorney should be the second call you make after 911. An example of what to tell the police on the scene is, “I wish to cooperate with your investigation but at this time I am very shaken and need time to compose myself and to speak with my attorney. Once my attorney is present with me, you will be provided with the information you need for your investigation.” You have to be very cautious about what you say until you have an attorney with you. If you say the wrong thing you WILL BE CHARGED! After the initial interview on the scene with the responding officers you will be brought to the department or other location for further interviewing by the investigator assigned to the case.

interrogatorBy calling an attorney, the police may assume guilt, but it’s their job to poke holes in your story and discover if a crime has been committed. In a heightened state of emotion after a shooting, the facts will blur and it won’t be too difficult for them to have you completely turned upside down. Having an attorney present that is an objective third party may mean the difference between charges and a trial or you going back to your family. Just because you are going home doesn’t mean that you are out of the woods though. It was four months before George Zimmerman was charged with any crime and it was only after tremendous political pressure on the department that charges were filed. In other words you need to start working on a defense immediately and be prepared for the worst. There are many factors that will play into if you are charged with a crime or not. You need to know the laws in your state so that you know if you are within your rights to self-defense. Until recently, in North Carolina (my home state) you could shoot an intruder outside your home who was attempting to break in, however once he was inside you had the legal obligation to retreat and you had to prove that your life was being threatened. How stupid was that law? That’s right, you could shoot at an unseen target legally, but you had to watch him steal your TV unless he attacked you with it! If the Castle Law in your state is similar you can easily be charged with 2nd Degree Homicide for shooting an intruder in the night. Know your laws before you use your weapon or you will more than likely call a prison home for a very long time. At best you are tempting fate.

lawyer2It’s your responsibility to have a plan in place if something ever does happen. You need to have a lawyer to call and you need to meet with them and ask questions long before the worst case scenario happens. They also need to know who you are, so send them a fruit cake every Christmas and make sure you use them for any other legal needs you have(starting a business, writing a will, looking over a contract). There are also networks in place that you can join that will recommend attorneys and even cover your fees if you haven’t broken any laws. Do some research and be prepared. Make sure your family knows what to do and who to call. It may not be you that the incident occurs to, make sure your wife also knows what should and shouldn’t be said. Criminal and civil lawsuits are a reality that you need to be prepared for as well. Using common sense and having plans in place may mean the difference between freedom and prison or keeping your home and being homeless. Having a gun and carrying it is a huge responsibility, just ask George Zimmerman. Although cleared of criminal charges, I am sure a civil suit will be filed. He and his family have received death threats. This man’s life will never be the same, but he is alive and that is the point of having your weapon and being trained in its use. Be safe, train, and hope for the best, but prepare for the worst case possible!

A Primer on Situational Awareness Part 2

Good Afternoon All,


DSCN1504 (Photo credit: Luodanli)

A former co-worker and very good friend of mine has asked me to expound upon my original posting on situational awareness. This is essentially the next step in  situational awareness that I outlined earlier. I originally wanted to get into a bunch of specifics regarding physically dealing with a threat but, I didn’t think that it would be prudent for me to attempt that through this medium. Those are skills that one should learn in a CCW and other hands on training classes. This is intended to be a guide and a way to get you thinking. This is not a substitute for real training or legal advice. Seek out the training you need to make you successful in a deadly force encounter. No amount of reading can equip you better than hands on in person training can.

Essentially at this point, you are the master of your surroundings, you know what is going on around you and you are able to identify a potential threat. The next step is what to do after the threat is identified. You are there trying to conduct your business. You have a few more errands to run today but it’s starting to get dark. You’ve just left the drug store and you’re headed to your car to move on to the next destination. You’re looking around and you observe a subject moving towards you from around the back side of the pharmacy. What now?

Once you have identified a potential threat, you have a few choices to make. Do you try to escape? Do you deal with the threat? If your decision is to escape, it would be prudent to do so in an efficient manner. You should maintain the option of engaging the threat if the escape isn’t going as you had hoped. In a perfect world you would have enough time to go through several steps in order to neutralize the threat without having to resort to deadly force. Often times you’re not given enough time to actually go through the steps and you may have to skip a few, this is okay. The world isn’t perfect, things escalate quickly, people are unpredictable. This is an important thing to keep in the back of your mind. Those of you in the Military/LE fields are well versed in what is called the Use of Force Continuum, this is very simply an outline for steps to take in the use of force. An example of a Law Enforcement Use of Force Continuum goes like this:

  1. Officer Presence. A situation where Officer presence alone de escalates the situation
  2. Verbal Commands. Verbal commands are given to the offender in order to subdue them.
  3. “Soft Hands”. Joint locks or “come alongs” are used to gain compliance.
  4. “Hard Hands”. Hard strikes/baton/punch, kick are necessary to gain compliance.
  5. Deadly force. You are presented with no other option, your opponent is attempting to use deadly force against you or if you were to continue with the current struggle, you would no longer be effective in the fight and you would lose control of your weapon.

As an armed civilian sheepdog, you are not constrained by the professional standards necessary in LE. A Use of Force Continuum designed for LE isn’t going to be suitable for use by you, the armed civilian sheepdog. It has to be adapted to your individual needs and capabilities. You have the ultimate right to self preservation and the preservation of others. You can apply the necessary and appropriate level of force without having to necessarily worry about apprehending a suspect. Did you catch that part about necessary and appropriate? That is the standard upon which civilian uses of force are judged. You wouldn’t break up a simple fistfight with deadly force, nor would you attempt to stop a rape with a couple slaps.

An example of an armed civilian sheepdog Use of Force Continuum goes a little like this:

  1. Verbal Commands. Issue verbal commands to your threat, ensure they are loud and easily understood. You want any potential witnesses in the area to be able to hear you. Call attention to what’s going on. Stop! Get Back! Please Stop! Continue to make the verbal commands.
  2. Attempt to retreat. There are many states where you have the legal duty to retreat from an attack if possible. The key there being “if possible”. I don’t have much of an issue with this, you just need to be able to justify either why you didn’t retreat or articulate how you did retreat and it wasn’t successful. The best fight is the one you don’t have to be in.
  3. Draw Weapon. Well that escalated quickly! You don’t have to get into a physical struggle with an attacker. Draw your weapon and keep issuing those verbal commands.
  4. Deadly Force. Your attacker has ignored your verbal commands, they have ignored the fact that you have a weapon in your hands pointed at them and they continue to advance. They are reaching for something hidden in their waistband. They have left you with no ability to retreat. You have only one option left. Use deadly force, your life or the lives of others depend on it.
  5. Call your lawyer. This is the last step on my Use Of Force Continuum. I highly suggest that it’s on yours as well. Your adrenaline is rushing, you’re distraught and possibly in shock or injured. This is hardly the best time to be giving a statement to the police. They have a job to do and will more than likely be on your side but you don’t want a statement you made in the heat of the moment to be used against you in criminal court or in a lawsuit. Get yourself a lawyer and make your statements through them, it’s their job to defend you and make sure nothing can be used against you. This is also something to be done before you wind up in a deadly force situation. Research attorneys in your area and meet with a few. When you find one you like and want to do business with find out what’s necessary to have them on call for you. A lawyer will be your best friend.

Prior to your decision to use deadly force, there are many things to consider. If you are able to, maneuver so you are able to safely engage your threat. The firearms safety rule “be aware of your target and what’s beyond” applies off the firing line as well. Being aware of crossfire is very important as well, particularly if you’re in a busy area or are with your family. This only applies if you are afforded the luxury of time in a bad situation however. Ultimately, you have to make the decision and it’s not an easy one to make. This is why training is so important. Take classes and talk to your fellow armed civilian sheepdogs. Develop a relationship with local LE. Learn as much as you can about deadly force situations that have happened in the past and what made them successful or failures. All of these things can help you, should you wind up having to use deadly force. As for now stay safe, train and have a good ‘un.

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Hey folks,

I wanted to take a moment here to welcome you to Laymen’s Tactical and introduce myself.  I’m Steve, I’m a veteran of the U.S. Army and law enforcement and very simply, I have a love of the outdoors and shooting and all the gear that goes along with these life long pursuits.  I have a simple outlook on the gear that I select for myself, it just has to work.  I don’t have brand loyalty or any sense of superiority in the gear that I have chosen.  I’m not what you might call a “tactical elitist”.  I choose things that work for me and my ever so low budget, and discard those that don’t.  I sincerely look forward to sharing my experiences and knowledge with you in this project and I’m even more excited to get your feedback and to learn from you all as well.  As for now stay safe, train and have a good ‘un.


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