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 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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