IS THIS THE CALM BEFORE THE PRICE-INCREASE STORM?
The AR rifle has a lot of names with different meanings, depending on who is uttering the words. Politicians and media groups like to inaccurately call them “assault rifles” in their quest to have them banned, while advocates prefer the milder term, “modern sporting rifles.” Regardless of the feelings toward this firearm, there is no doubt that Eugene Stoner’s design has become America’s rifle.
The AR is the most versatile and customizable rifle in the world. It can be set up with good optics to be used to hunt a variety of game, from coyotes up to deer and elk. It can also be configured tactically with lights, lasers, backup sights and much more for self-defense or competition. These guns can even be rigged for long-range sniping of targets well beyond 500 yards.
Because of all these features and options, few can doubt the usefulness of ARs, even those gun proponents who think they are big, heavy and ugly. Anti-gunners, of course, defile these rifles at every level possible, claiming they have no sporting purpose. They have been trying to get rid of them for decades and even succeeded for a 10-year span, starting in 1994.
“Demand has dropped so much that several companies have filed bankruptcy, and even Colt … announced last September that it was quitting production due to lack of demand. ”
Luckily for gun owners, Congress did not renew the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 2004, which began a race to meet the demand from civilians who were allowed, once again, to purchase ARs. Then, just as companies were beginning to catch up, Barack Obama became president and kicked off an eight-year frenzy of tactical rifle and pistol purchases.
Prices skyrocketed, because companies couldn’t keep up with demand. People were afraid that certain types of guns would be banned again, particularly tactical rifles such as ARs. However, it doesn’t take much to make the market shift dramatically (such as the election of a pro-gun president). This is one of many reasons that now is a good time to start or expand an AR collection.
Significant Price Drops
Supply-and-demand is the bedrock foundation of capitalism. However, perception of supply-and-demand is often more powerful.
There was very little chance of a true anti-gun bill making it to President Obama’s desk, but numerous comments made folks believe this was a major agenda goal. Many in the gun industry also believed that Hillary Clinton would be the president after the 2016 election, and they bet on that outcome by increasing production of AR-style rifles. Then, Donald J. Trump became the 45th American president, thus eliminating the scare that these firearms would become unavailable to the masses. Suddenly, consumers quit purchasing ARs simply out of fear, so warehouses stayed full, and prices dropped.
Shooters can now purchase basic AR-15 rifles for $500 and under. In fact, sale prices often list some of these rifles at around $300. Demand has dropped so much that several companies have filed for bankruptcy, and even Colt—the first to put AR-15s in civilian hands—announced last September that it was quitting production due to lack of demand.
“In what many consider a brilliant idea, companies have even created ARs in pistol calibers; this allows shooters to carry both a rifle and a pistol in the same caliber.”
Higher-end models have even dropped in price a bit, although not as significantly as other parts of the market. What many consider to be “luxury items” typically hold out longer, because demand is always lower with more-expensive items. Even so, those interested in a “dream” AR might want to start looking around. Prices on rifles from companies such as Daniel Defense, Lewis Machine & Tool and the Smith & Wesson Performance Center probably won’t go lower for a while—if ever.
Calibers, Calibers and More Calibers
While the 5.56/.223 Remington is absolutely the most popular AR chambering, its margin of dominance isn’t as big as it once was. Over the last few years, manufacturers have starting bringing out ARs in many other calibers.
Hunters and long-range shooters have long enjoyed AR-10s in .308 Winchester. In fact, heavy-metal 3-gun matches require rifles chambered in this heavier round. However, shooters can now choose highly specialized calibers ranging from 6.8 SPC to .50 Beowulf, with quite a few in between. This even includes the .224 Valkyrie, which has impressed shooters since its introduction in 2017. This accurate, flat-shooting round, which fits neatly into a small-platform AR, has excited the shooting world. Other favorites that have caught the interest of shooters include the .300 AAC Blackout and the .458 SOCOM.
“In addition to modularity, ARs can accept a wide variety of accessories. These attachments make ARs even more efficient and useful, in addition to just plain cool-looking.”
Shooters can even save money in training and plinking by picking up an AR rifle chambered in .22 LR. While these low-powered money-savers typically don’t come with all the same features—thereby preventing certain drills involving manipulation—they can easily be used for target engagement and accuracy training. Just be sure to spend some time with larger calibers, as well, for familiarization, particularly regarding reloads.
In what many consider a brilliant idea, companies have even created ARs in pistol calibers; this allows shooters to carry both a rifle and a pistol in the same caliber. Pistol-caliber carbines also provide more power and accuracy in these rounds, along with excellent recoil control. Even better, many pistol-caliber carbines use the same style of magazines as popular pistols, such as Glock and Ruger, allowing magazines to go back and forth between firearms as needed.
Finally, never forget that rifles in 5.56×45 match the current chambering of the standard military round but can also handle .223 Remington loads. This allows the use of both surplus ammunition, as well as high-end hunting loads. Rifles chambered in .223 Remington, however, cannot handle 5.56 loads.
Modularity Out the Wazoo
Most basic AR rifles come with everything needed for fighting or the range (other than ammunition). Of course, the features are very basic, so it is not a bad idea to upgrade where possible. That is one of the major benefits of these rifles: They are extremely modular and allow for easy parts upgrades. In fact, shooters can upgrade ARs with rails, triggers and even barrels and then later upgrade those parts again with versions that are even more high-end.
AR parts prices have dropped a bit as well; if folks aren’t buying new AR rifles, they are also buying fewer parts and accessories. Of course, those with ARs are still upgrading, but sales of these items have dropped some.
Even better, many standard parts, such as magazines, handguards, buttstocks and much more, are interchangeable among calibers. As a result, shooters can set up a single lower and swap out uppers in different calibers. Some consider changing uppers regularly to be labor intensive, but it is the least expensive way to quickly change calibers for specialized activities.
Shooters interested in having multiple guns can also build rifles using kits, which have also dropped significantly in price. With just a little bit of searching, stripped lowers can be found for less than a “Benjamin,” while folks can find complete lowers for just a little bit more. An Internet search shows a wide variety of prices of both to suit most budgets. Higher-end models are more expensive, but not significantly. Prices reflect the fact that supply is outweighing demand.
Lots of Cool Accessories
In addition to modularity, ARs can accept a wide variety of accessories. These attachments make ARs even more efficient and useful, in addition to just plain cool-looking. With just a little bit of research, shooters can really trigger anti-gunners by attaching the same optics, lasers and lights as the military—even Special Forces operators. Everything is legal, except for the fire selector.
Of course, folks don’t have to copy the military to trick out an AR. Countless companies, ranging from Leupold to Magpul and SureFire to Crimson Trace, produce products to hang on Picatinny rails. Most of these products cross over disciplines, with many leaning toward self-defense and tactical fighting; but as ARs became more specialized, so have accessories.
Hunters want flat-shooting rifles with powerful optics for taking game, while 3-gun competitors need optics that allow quick transition from close targets to long distances and back again. Competition shooters want anything that will help them shoot faster. However many of those products won’t work for the average shooter, particularly when it comes to self-defense.
“The AR is the most versatile and customizable rifle in the world. It can be set up with good optics to be used to hunt a variety of game … It can also be configured tactically with lights, lasers, backup sights and much more for self-defense or competition.”
Most folks want ARs for the fun of shooting and just in case the SHTF. For those shooters, a basic reflex sight works great, because it provides fast target acquisition but still allows use of the standard sights if there is a problem.
Other accessories can be added or upgraded as funds become available. Two of the most useful items a shooter can attach are a light and a laser. Good models can be found for under $200 each, providing extreme usefulness in all kinds of situations.
Prices Could Turn Around
Prices for ARs have been down for a while. However, uncertainty could change everything.
“Politicians and media groups like to inaccurately call them ‘assault rifles’ in their quest to have them banned, while advocates prefer the milder term, ‘modern sporting rifles.’”
Many feel that President Trump has an excellent chance of reelection, but no one knows for sure. Some folks might get worried, especially because some of the Democratic candidates and supporters have taken “hard aim” at guns—specifically ARs. Because of this, fear could push Americans back to purchasing ARs, along with self-defense handguns. In fact, the FBI announced that it ran more than 200,000 background checks for gun purchases on Black Friday in 2019, making it the second highest day ever for these checks.
Black Friday has long been a big day for gun sales because of the hunting season and holiday purchases. So, this jump in sales could just be because of higher confidence in the economy and good prices. However, it could also be the beginning of folks getting worried about a change of residents in the White House.
Michael Bloomberg has joined the fray, which could make the 2020 elections a battle of billionaires. Bloomberg is famously anti-gun, having funded numerous gun-control groups, including Everytown for Gun Safety. Whether his candidacy energizes gun owners remains to be seen, but there is little doubt that guns will play a major role in the next election. If Trump loses the presidency, prices will turn around. The only question is, How high will they go?
You might want to go ahead and make a purchase soon.
There was a time when I wasn’t the biggest AR fan. Later, I realized my Remington 742 in .30-06, which I used for deer hunting, was more powerful. Then, I shot an AR and quickly became a fan of the platform.
This was during the ban decade, so obtaining one was difficult and expensive. After the ban lifted, I had other priorities, which pushed back my purchase of a modern sporting rifle. In fact, it was early in Mr. Obama’s presidency that I got my hands on a DPMS AP4. This basic rifle came with standard features, including a Glacier Guard handguard, A2 detachable handle sights and the A2 birdcage flash hider. While this is an excellent rifle, I had zero plans to leave it stock.
Unfortunately, it took a little while to get started upgrading components, which began when I had some luck and got my hands on a complete Yankee Hill upper. On its quad rail, I tightened a Nikon P223 scope, along with a set of XS angled backup sights. I added a SureFire Scout, LaserMax UNI-MAX with momentary activation switch and a Magpul angled foregrip. I finished it off with a Timney single-stage trigger and single-point sling. All this turned a basic AR rifle into one hell of a self-defense carbine that only lacks a suppressor. With recent prices, I’m hoping to build another lower to create a coyote-smacker out of the spare upper in the safe (and, I’ve long wished I could afford a few suppressors).
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the April, 2020 print issue of American Survival Guide.