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!

How to Disengage During a Conflict or Armed Confrontation.

womanccwIn my last post I discussed a personal situation where I had the need to disengage while I was armed and how you can avoid such a situation. My bottom line was don’t get into a situation at all if you can avoid it, but what if you are already in it? How exactly do you successfully break contact and what are the reasons why you should? The reasons for breaking contact are more numerous that I can even count, but the biggest reason, and most important to me, is to stay on the right side of the law, and avoid taking the life of another human being if at all possible.

It really doesn’t matter what city or state you live in, if you are the aggressor in any armed confrontation then you are at risk for being charged with a bare minimum of manslaughter if it comes down to pulling your trigger. The reason for carrying a defensive handgun as a civilian is to protect yourself and your loved ones, not be Betty Jane or Billy Joe badass! So if you carry a handgun, do it right or not at all! Leave confronting bad situations to the men and women that get paid to do it if at all possible.

Now let’s discuss some techniques on how to break contact. The first is verbal de-escalation. You may or may not have heard of “Verbal Judo”, a standard technique that is taught for police officers. It is really nothing more than learning to effectively communicate during a stressful situation. There are books on Amazon, videos on YouTube, and seminars regularly in just about any city. Using your verbal skills to take control isn’t about being aggressive. What it’s about is getting the other person to listen to your words and concentrate on their meaning and what’s being said. In many cases taking the focus off their emotion and onto the conversation ends any type of aggression.  Sales people use this technique on a regular basis. As a business owner I try to take control of the conversation and erase any previous negative experiences the prospective customer has ever experienced. This isn’t rocket science, it’s good old fashioned common sense.

A second way to de-escalate verbally is to simply just agree. That’s right, agree with any nonsense they spew and apologize, then break contact. DO NOT do this in a condescending juvenile way; this will only add fuel to the fire. What I’m referring to is taking the higher road in the hope that they will remain calm enough for you to walk away.  The goal here isn’t to be right; it is to remove yourself from a volatile situation. Most confrontations are fueled by emotion, and by keeping your emotions out of play you are already on the winning side. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Just the facts Ma’am”, and there’s a reason for that. Police officers deal only in facts, and emotions should never come into play. The facts are what determine if you have or haven’t broken any laws. If your actions are wrong then your reasons have part in determining fault. Emotions don’t make you right, but the facts will, if you keep those emotions in check.   

If your verbal skills aren’t up to par then it will be extremely difficult to physically remove yourself from a confrontation that is going south. If things aren’t going well and your verbal techniques aren’t calming the situation then your only choice is a tactical retreat. A tactical retreat is acknowledging a small defeat in the short term to gain a long-term advantage.  Ok, so you let them win this round, again emotion has no place in any of this. Your goal is to safely remove yourself so that this doesn’t become a violent incident that ends with gun fire and blood. Don’t look at this as a defeat as you are doing the only thing possible in the moment. You are moving to a place that gives you cover and therefore an advantage, or you are trying to save both their life and your own possibly. Unless you are a stone cold killer, this only makes sense. If you are moving to a place of cover then you have acknowledged that the situation is more than likely going to end badly. Always prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. Never just turn your back and walk away, this is the most dangerous action possible! Remain aware of your surroundings and your situation. Just because you are finished, doesn’t mean the other person is. If you have managed to break contact, the first thing you should do is alert authorities of what just happened. Even if no laws have been broken, making them aware and having a report on hand will place you in a better position if any further incidents occur. Always cover your 6 (watch your back) as no one else is going to.

1911You may question my opinions in light of the controversy surrounding “Stand Your Ground” laws these days. I support them, they open the self defense laws to make people more secure in their homes, places of work and communities. That being said, I believe that it is always better to try to avoid the fight in the first place, and in doing so may gain you a more favorable outcome in the following investigation. I feel that you don’t want to be walking a very fine legal line while in a highly emotional state, and playing attorney is never safe, even if you are an attorney, after an deadly force encounter. You are personally involved in this situation and allowing an attorney to speak for you may be your best bet. It always looks and sounds much better for witnesses to say that you tried to speak calmly and walk away from the fight, but that the other person pursued you. It needs to be clear that there was no other choice but for you to defend yourself.  You need to be able to articulate that you did everything possible to end the confrontation in a non-violent manner, but had no choice but to fire your weapon.  

Keeping all of this in mind, it is very important that you always remember to be prepared at any stage of this to use your weapon to defend yourself from attack. Stay vigilant with your situational awareness, body positioning, and surroundings. You need to know who is doing what and where they are. An attack can come from any direction and this confrontation may be used as a distraction to an actual attack.  That’s a discussion for another post, and until then keep training, your life depends on it!


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