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.

Caliber Considerations for CCW

Beretta 92FS

Beretta 92FS (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s post comes to you from Dave Windham again. Dave’s knowledge and experience with concealed carry, firearms implementation and associated equipment is a valuable asset.

What’s in your pants???

Did that get your attention? Good, now please read on so that you understand the question.  I’m really exhausted of (primarily men) purchasing the largest caliber gun possible because it’s the manly thing to do while ignoring the basics of firearm handling and simple logic. They ignore the simple fact that despite their manliness, they may not be able to effectively control a large bore handgun. I’ve seen people purchase guns that don’t even fit their hand so that they have a “45” as opposed to any other caliber handgun.

Let me start by saying I don’t advocate or consider mouse guns an option. I don’t even like these mini guns as back up weapons. Personally a .38 +p or .380 is about as small as I feel is an effective caliber in any gun fight and many folks in the industry agree. What I am addressing is 9mm, through 45ACP. Many novice or inexperienced shooters just don’t consider 9mm as being a good round in a gun fight and think that bigger is always better. Let’s look at the evidence, and you make up your mind.

The chart above shows the penetration of the handgun rounds that we are discussing, while the page linked to next shows the expansion of the said rounds upon penetration.  Please note that manufacture and bullet type, weight, etc. do cause dramatic changes in these findings.  Do your own research or study the research of professionals to make your own choice and reach your own conclusions.

As you can see, there isn’t a clear and simple “best round” or “magic bullet”.  With different manufacturers or slightly different bullet styles the results are almost identical from 9mm all the way up to 45 ACP.  With this knowledge there are several other factors that you need to consider.

The first factor is what really happens in a gun fight. A real life gun fight isn’t anywhere close to static marksmanship practice on a range or even competition shooting. Your body goes through all sorts of changes when lead starts flying in your direction. Your heart rate rises, your motor skills are significantly decreased, and your vision is greatly affected.  Now ask yourself, do you want a smaller amount of ammunition and all the recoil you can handle or do you want something easily controlled that you are a very good marksman with?

To get the feeling of what it feels like to be in a critical incident, try this. Run around the block twice in all your gear, fully clothed in the middle of summer, then drop and do 25 push-ups and then 25 sit ups. Now stand, draw your weapon and engage multiple targets at multiple ranges running between cover and concealment points. Make sure you have to reload so that you make a magazine change and experience all aspects of your loss of motor skills. If you can, even induce a feeding malfunction during this drill.

Ok, so now that you know that your 3 inch groups at 10yrds on the range don’t amount to a hill of beans in real life you now have to consider what really ends a gunfight. Almost all accounts of these incidents and personal accounts from police and military personnel, as well as personal experience I know that hydraulic failure is what normally ends the fight. That’s just a nice way of saying the aggressor has bled out and can no longer function.  Do you really think that .12 of an inch in expansionor a fraction of an inch in penetration is going to make a huge difference?  The truth is that it really doesn’t. What’s far more important is shot placement.

In my opinion having a gun that I can make extremely quick follow up shots with, and that carries several more rounds only makes sense. Both I and my wife carry full sized duty style weapons in 9mm. She carries a bone stock M&P Pro with a 4.25in barrel and I carry a slightly customized Beretta 92fs that was once my duty weapon with two police departments. I have 20 rounds on tap while she has 17 rounds at the ready if needed. Now you may ask, is it concealable? The answer is hell yes. It’s all about holster choice and clothing choice. I’ll discuss some of my holsters in a post at a later date.

The point of this is to make you think. Why do you carry what you carry? Is it the best choice or a compromise? Could you be more effective with a different gun? Your life truly depends on your choices for your ccw defensive firearm, so take the time to do some research and make solid decisions.   Happy training and be safe!

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A Primer on Situational Awareness

Hey Folks,

Today’s discussion topic is situational awareness. Any of you Military and LE folks out there have had these two words drilled into your head since day one of training. Those of you in the civilian world that have had no experience in the professional LE/Military world may not be aware of the utmost importance of this. Situational awareness can be translated simply as being aware of your surroundings and adapting to the observations you make. If you are an armed sheepdog or not, being aware of your surroundings is just so incredibly crucial. “I never saw the car that hit me.” “No Officer, I don’t remember what the mugger was wearing.” Would somebody who is constantly aware of their surroundings have to say these things?

Don’t get me wrong here, being aware isn’t a simple mindless task. It’s actually quite the opposite. Being situationally aware is a deliberate and actually somewhat tiring task that requires development and constant honing much like any other skill. How many times have you been out and about and you’ve been approached by someone that you would have rather not dealt with? Did they make you feel uncomfortable? Did the hair on the back of your neck stand up? What was the outcome of that encounter? If it was something that didn’t result in you becoming a victim, I’m willing to bet that at the very least it left you feeling uncomfortable and possibly somewhat shaken.

A few weeks ago my wife, infant son and I were returning from having dinner with her parents. We stopped at a busy local and very well lit gas station to fuel up at about 8:30pm. Upon driving into the gas station I made sure to survey the area for any potential threats both inside the main building and by the pumps. I pulled up to a pump which is clearly visible from the main street, took another look around and exited the vehicle. As I began to gas up the car, I observed a 30ish long haired and bearded white male in blue jeans and an unbuttoned green flannel shirt walk up to a middle aged female patron who was seated in her vehicle and knock on the window(remember that whole hair on the back of the neck thing?). She was visibly startled and stayed where she was and refused to engage the subject. He was telling the woman something but at this point the interaction was too far away from me to hear. She kept her eyes to the front after initially viewing him at her window and didn’t respond to him. Since he wasn’t getting what he wanted at that vehicle, the male subject then walked towards another vehicle with a female inside. He appeared to be visibly nervous and twitchy. He attempted the same thing with the next female patron who was closer to my location. I was able to overhear his pitch this time. “My buddy ran out of gas, can you help us out?” At this point my spider senses were tingling. What kind of person is intentionally seeking out the female patrons versus the other male patrons that were around? This individual then appeared to notice my wife seated in the front seat of our vehicle and began walking towards her. I stepped from around the vehicle and positioned myself between him and my family. I then instructed him that he was close enough and to stop where he was. He complied with my instructions and began his pitch to me, although with me he added the statement “well I bet you won’t help me anyway but..” I informed him that I was unwilling to help and suggested that he move on from the area. He quickly walked back towards the main building of the gas station and kept walking passed the entrance to a black coupe idling in a parking spot and got in the passenger seat. I completed refueling our car and we departed the area before I could observe if they left.

Why did I tell you that story? Well there are tons of hypothetical situations that go through my mind when I get approached out in public. What is this person’s intent? Capability? Mental state? Weapons? Can I see their hands? Like I said before it’s tiring work. I told you this story to illustrate the “right way” to do it. I made the decision to go to a well lit and busy gas station. I made a visual check of the area prior to parking and getting out of the vehicle. I was being observant enough to see this guy walking up to people and making a note of his appearance and demeanor. I kept an eye on the guy to see what he was up to but this didn’t completely distract me from my task at hand, although I would have had no problem leaving the area and moving on to another gas station should it have been necessary. I also made a note that this guy was only approaching females. That last part alone is more than enough to justify my suspicion of this character and his decision to attempt to approach my wife while seated in our car was the last straw. My actions were non-violent but I did made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t welcome in the area anymore. Was he trying to rob a woman who would have been gullible enough to believe his story? I can’t say with certainty, but if I had to wager a bet I’d put my money on yes.

Being aware of your surroundings is more than passive observation. It’s the act of taking that passive observation and translating it into whatever necessary actions you need to take. It’s what dictates whether or not you need to pull your firearm or other chosen defensive tool. It’s what dictates whether or not you run away or just simply dismiss the observation as a non-threat and carry on. Too many times I see people nearly walking into things because they’re too wrapped up in whatever piece of technology they have in their hands. They wouldn’t see a threat until it was literally too late to do anything about it. The same goes for people walking around with headphones on all the time.

Here are some steps to take to kick your situational awareness up a few notches.

1. Put the phone down. There is no reason to walk around texting constantly or be on a Bluetooth headset all the time. If you need to make a quick text to get a question answered, get out of the way of others and do it quickly, the same applies for phone calls. These are distractions that aren’t necessary and can be detrimental to your situational awareness. Pay attention!

2. Keep your head on a swivel. Don’t get yourself sucked into “oooh shiny” mode. Constantly look around and take in what’s going on around you. If you are holding a conversation with someone, they may see this as disrespectful. If you feel the need, just let your conversation partner know that you just like to be aware of whats going on around you and leave it at that. No need to go into detail. Continue with the conversation.

3. Make meaningful decisions. Make these decisions based upon the information that you take in. It may be something as simple as changing lanes on the highway because you see a car pulled over by the police up ahead, but by making that choice you may well have saved yourself a ticket or prevented a fatal accident. If you’re making the effort to expand your awareness, then use the information you’re taking in.

4. Trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t. Move on to your next task and come back to that one later. If that isn’t an option then deal with the issue as necessary.

5. Be the master of your surroundings. While you may not be able to control everything in your environment, you can control what the environment is. Make sound choices in where you go, avoid places where less than desirable things tend to occur. Avoid any potential threats, this will help to force a threat to extend themselves into your world versus you stumbling into theirs.

Situational awareness is a skill that constantly needs work. I don’t expect to be able to show you a picture and have you recite every single detail from a short look. What I do expect is that this will help you to be more aware of what’s going on around you. The actions of others have an impact on you and you need to be thoughtful enough to know what to do when those actions force you to react to them and be a step or two ahead. I came across a post the other day from ITS Tactical that ties into this topic very well. Please take a moment to take a look at that as well. 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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