Why build your own gun?
This question has both practical and psychological dimensions. And it doesn’t just apply to guns! Why build anything you could buy professionally-assembled? Most people are perfectly content with store-bought guns, and ARs in particular are available in a broad range of configurations, qualities and price points — there’s something for just about anybody. By building your own — even assembling something as modular an an AR-15 — you’re joining a minority group, and you ought to have a clear idea of why you do it.
People do build their own, of course, which can be as easy as buying upper and lower assemblies and snapping in push pins, or as hard as machining your own metal parts and carving or molding your own stock. And there are parallels to the gun builders: a friend of ours built (with a great deal of professional help from ERA Replica Automobiles) a stunning replica of a 1965 Cobra. Many friends and acquaintances have built and even designed their own aircraft. They do it for the same reasons that people build guns.
For Education and Recreation
That’s actually what the FAA’s rule about building your own plane says. They want to discourage small, low-rate-production shops that can’t comply with literally tons of expensive and arbitrary certification rules (kind of like Lockheed, Douglas, Ryan, Martin and Boeing were in California (the first three), Baltimore and Seattle back in in 1930). But if you want to design, and build, and fly something radically new, knock yourself out.
Many of the innovations and trends in the AR market come from people being creative with the platform for their own purposes. Sometimes, when you follow the Education and Recreation path and you’re in the grips of the Dunning-Kruger effect, you create a monster, and not in a good way. But sometimes you create The Next Big Thing.
And always you learn and have fun. Education and Recreation, right? And the Education part is not to be underestimated. If you have never detail-stripped your AR, assembling one from a pile of loose parts will leave you with a better understanding of, and appreciation for, the design. And Recreation? It’s fun, and it’s hard to beat the satisfaction you have when you unrack a rifle and show a friend, “Yeah, this is my favorite. I built it.”
There can also be a social recreation aspect. Build parties are a blast! And just building with another person has both recreational and educational advantages. For one thing, it makes the time pass faster. For another, two sets of eyes make for a better, smoother assembly process.
To get something the market doesn’t offer
Some economists might call this market failure, but when you want something odd, the chances are the market does not provide it. If you want an AR-15 prototype, your options are trying to pry one loose from Reed Knights (not. gonna. happen.) or another elite collector (same. deal.) or to build your own clone. Hell, if you want an AR configured like your old Army M16A1, you’re screwed if you have to depend on today’s AR vendors. They’re all tacticool; you can hunt up an old Colt SP1 or roll your own.
That exact project was our threshold drug to Retro Black Rifle Disease. (But we’re not really addicts. We can quit at any time).
Another common build that isn’t well-served by the market is a very light AR. People in ban states also have bizarre state compliance parts, and for some of them the only way to get an AR is to build your own.
You can get the parts for almost anything. Want a pintle-mounted, belt-fed AR? It can be done. In our case, we’re doing a tribute to the carbines carried on the Son Tay Raid, one of the greatest special operations missions in history.
We think the Son Tay Colt 630 is beautiful, but it’s a free country, and if a Californistan-compliant Hello Kitty AR is your preference we’re all for that. It’s a free country, and we think the Hello Kitty AR looks good, too: if you accessorize it properly.
The picture on the left should give you some ideas. However, that sort of accessory is beyond the (admittedly flexible) scope of the blog, so you’re on your own.
This is probably the worst or weakest of the reasons, but it still operates. If you want a Son Tay carbine, you can look for a Colt Model 630 on the NFA registry and for sale. There are very few, and they come up very seldom. And when they do change hands, it’s for collector money: $30,000 or so.
You can build a clone for $1,200 or less.
You can also build a very-cheapest-possible scrounged-parts AR for short money, perhaps $700, and a very-cheapest-possible AK for $300. This requires patience, scrounging, and a little luck, and assumes parts and parts-kit prices will revert over time to the status quo ante. This has been delayed and disrupted by the Panic of 2013, as well as by various government attacks on gun rights, such as the ATF’s reclassifying of barrels as non-importable “weapons,” and ATF and State Department hostility to reimportation of AR parts and even such ancient and obsolete weapons as M1 rifles and carbines and their foreign equivalents.
To Sum Up
There are several reasons to build your own firearm, and all of them are good reasons, although they might not apply to you personally or to the particular situation. For every single builder, some reasons will be more important than others.
The best reason of all is this: you want to, and it’s a free country. (In most States, anyway).
We look forward to walking you through a build in the next couple of weeks. While it’s possible to build several ARs in a day, it isn’t if you’re writing about it!
Kevin was a former Special Forces weapons man (MOS 18B, before the 18 series, 11B with Skill Qualification Indicator of S). His focus was on weapons: their history, effects and employment. He started WeaponsMan.com in 2011 and operated it until he passed away in 2017. His work is being preserved here at the request of his family.