Just a few years ago, I would have rolled my eyes at the idea of having a packable AR-15 pistol tucked into my vehicle — though I have kept a cased AR-15 or Tavor in the truck for years. More times than I can remember, that rifle came in handy during impromptu range trips — plus the assurance that 30 rounds of M855 5.56 can provide when you are stranded at night alongside the road. It also delivered personal assurance that I would have more than just a handgun in an extended survival or personal defense situation with the ability to deliver precision shots under 100 yards and connect assuredly out to 400+ yards if needed.
More recently, I have worked through a set of theories based on some discussions with some deeply experienced friends, which I would like to share. One high-ranking Army friend — formerly a Night Stalker — said, “There is no one perfect small arm for any situation. The dynamics of the environment you expect to be engaged in dictate the armament.” For several reasons, it is my theory that an AR-15 pistol is the better personal defense and road travel firearm to have stowed in your vehicle.
Discussing my ideas with a few folks who have “been there and done that,” I began gaming out a few potential theories. Beyond the zombie apocalypse-type events, there are only a couple of logically probable scenarios that could occur:
- Personal defense and security during an active shooter situation
- General support of survival and security needs (such as being stranded or coming home to forced entry situation)
- Support of movement to a safe location during a hostile/riot situation
- An extremely unlikely situation where everything goes to hell and you need a weapon (EMPs, Solar Flares, invasion, zombies, etc.)
In any other immediate threat situation, the speed and reaction time would require your smaller concealed pistol to come into play first. The logical needs were for a Personal Defense Weapon (PDW) that could deliver 90% of the capabilities of a full-length rifle with an acceptable tradeoff of shooter comfort. In all those situations, accuracy, legal transportation, accessibility, maneuverability, and concealment would all be factors for a firearm stowed within a vehicle.
Accuracy and Shooting
Over the last couple of years, I have changed my perspective of AR-15 pistols from just range toys to seriously viable PDWs. The accuracy of these little AR-15 pistols has shocked me. One particular AR-15 pistol I own can deliver sub-MOA groups from its 7.5-inch match barrel — yes, it will outshoot most rack-grade rifles.
Most of my other AR-15 pistols with premium match barrels can stay well under the 1.5-inch 100-yard group mark and will keep my 6-inch steel target clanging away all the way out to 400 yards with ease. After all, AR-15 pistols are in essence just short-barreled rifles without the stock or rifle classification. The pace at which these little pistols can lay down precision hits is pretty amazing to the degree that I have questioned whether a full-sized rifle would really give me that much more of an advantage over a PDW for use in around and out of a vehicle.
If we look at the reality of most urban combat shooting engagements, they occur statistically well under 100 yards which is a sweet spot for a short accurate PDW. Statistically, it is also unlikely that any more than 10–20 rounds would ever be needed to address a situation, but the PDW can still deliver plenty of firepower with a 30- or 40-round magazine attached. Four or five extra mags thrown into the carry bag delivers a substantial firepower capability.
From very light 40-grain high-shock hollow points to M855 steel-core rounds, the 5.56/.223 offers a lot of options for defense, survival, and threat engagement. It is also statistically unlikely to have a need for supporting a long term armed engagement, but again, the PDW can still handle that requirement as well.
Though I was a little sore afterward, I did spend an afternoon hammering 500 rounds through my truck AR-15 pistol. That problem-free beatdown from the AR-15 pistol changed my perception of what AR-15 pistols could deliver, in just one afternoon. The PDW format can bring the firepower. I would gladly suffer a little discomfort for a one-foot shorter gun that is 2–3 pounds lighter for this particular use.
One of the most important points as a civilian is the assuring you are arming yourself in a legal manner. If you have a rifle stowed in your car, it can be problematic as you drive from one city to another or across state lines. Many cities and states have goofy rifle laws that can include requirements for rifles to be partially disassembled, cased, and almost always unloaded. This can be troublesome.
Conversely, if you have a concealed carry permit, carrying an AR-15 pistol is covered under your permit because after all, an AR-15 pistol is not a rifle… it’s a pistol. I would suggest referring to it as a “legal AR-format pistol” rather than just an AR-15 if questioned. The point here is that in many cases having an AR-15 pistol can avoid unintentionally breaking the law should your rifle not fit the widely varying locals regarding stowage for rifles.
Having a legally stowed, cased, and unloaded full-sized AR-15 rifle in the back of the vehicle is a viable concept. However, having accessibility to that gun and putting it into action fast is another matter altogether. It hardly seems a sound idea to have an accessible, loaded AR-15 rifle on the front seat of your vehicle with a blanket over it for concealment — you’ll likely get arrested.
On the other hand, a concealed carry license allows loaded pistols to be concealed, on the person, or within a vehicle, or in personal belongings. It would seem that if the need arose, putting a legally stowed, loaded, and accessible AR-15 pistol in a backpack in the front seat would be far faster than walking around to the trunk, opening it, unzipping the rifle case, and loading the rifle.
Maneuvering a rifle inside a vehicle is a tough situation and most would agree that a short AR-15 pistol is more appropriate. Thinking through a multitude of situations that could occur on the road, my theory is that it would be preferable to have a short, maneuverable AR-15 pistol if facing a survival situation or stranded roadside camping inside a vehicle. If clearing between or around vehicles, or through an urban environment to make haste back home, a shorter AR-15 pistol would also seem to be the better tool than a rifle.
Stowing, Concealment, and Movement
Though legality is a big issue, discretely being able to move with an AR-15 pistol is probably the biggest advantage of all. There is no way even a disassembled rifle is going to slip into a standard-sized backpack. If you need to move discretely with your rifle from your vehicle, it is going to be really quite obvious you are carrying a rifle around.
A 10.5-inch barreled AR-15 pistol equipped with a Law Tactical folding buffer tube adapter or stowed with the upper and lower receivers unpinned, slips nicely into any standard backpack or messenger bag and no one will know. A 7.5-inch barreled AR-15 pistol with Law Tactical Folding stock can fit into pretty much any smaller pack.
It is my belief that any firearm permanently stored in a vehicle should be easily concealed, and clandestinely moved in a public setting without undue attention. There was one situation where my truck needed to be unexpectedly kept overnight for service (due to an accident) and another where the hotel only offered valet parking. In both situations, I had to de-weaponize my truck and walk through some rather public areas with what was clearly a gun case. Those incidents taught me a lesson that discrete cases should always be used to house firearms in vehicles — even if it is just one of those non-tactical square soft cases.
A similar situation occurred more recently when I forgot to remove my firearms from my truck before a routine oil change. However, I was able to grab my Eddie Bauer backpack containing my AR-15 pistol and backup Glock 17. With these tucked away, I walked to the coffee shop to wait. no one even took a second look. A standard AR-15 rifle is just not going to give you that option, unless it is disassembled and in a more discrete case.
A simple two-point sling or a convertible ALG Defense Quad Dual QD sling delivers a carry option, which enhances both concealment and handling. If “it” did happen during a hostile situation where LEO and government officials were on high alert, and you did have to trek on foot back home, it would be much better to have a little PDW AR-15 pistol concealed and slung under a long rain jacket than walking home with a rifle slung over your shoulder.
Discreet Vehicle Carry Options
The discreet carry Sneaky Bags are a wonderful option with plenty of internal tactical storage capabilities. The medium 31-inch SPYDER sling bag which looks like a modified tennis racket bag can conceal several firearms at once, but the weight starts to add up.
The standard Sneaky 31-inch SPYDER bag can accommodate a variety of firearms — for example, a Tavor bullpup rifle, PWS MOD2 pistol PDW, nearly any assembled 12-inch barreled SBR or AR-15 pistol and disassembled (upper/lower) rifles. It is a handy, and extremely well-made, case.
AR-15 pistols, of course, easily drop into almost any backpack and no one pays any attention to your standard Swiss Army or Eddie Bauer backpack. 5.11’s Select Carry sling pack is designed specifically for PDW use. It has an innocuous shape/style and rapid draw feature that makes it one of my favorites for my SIG MPX 9mm and other AR-15 pistols.
Accessories to Make Compact Even Smaller
If you own an AR-15 pistol, you are missing half of the functionality of the firearm if you have not installed a folding buffer tube adapter. This accessory negates the need of disassembling an AR-15 pistol to stow it in most backpacks. Deployment is fast — pull from the pack, slam the buffer tube over, charge the AR-15 pistol, and shoot. This is a setup that can deploy instantly from any discrete bag when “it” hits the fan. If you are considering an AR-15 pistol for your vehicle, then this would be a must-have accessory from my perspective.
The DOLOS V2 also chops an AR-15 pistol down even smaller. The DOLOS delivers a ratcheting quick takedown option to remove the barrel with assembly and disassembly occurring in under 5 seconds. The DOLOS V2 is compatible with any Midwest Industries thread pattern barrel nut handguard, which it turns out is pretty common including the very tricky Brigand Arms Carbon Fiber handguards.
Combined with a folding Buffer tube adapter, the DOLOS can deliver a 10”x8” AR-15 pistol (7.5-inch barrel) package that will fit in most iPad sling packs such as the Drago Sentry and most small sling packs.
The shown build features a 7.5-inch pencil profile Black Hole Weaponry match barrel, Aero Precision receivers, Phase 5 Tactical Hex2 buffer tube, SIG Brace, Nikon 3X BDC optic, and DOLOS adapter with Brigand Arms carbon fiber handguard. This is a 400-yard headshot capable rig that breaks down to only 10”x8” with a 20-round magazine in place ready to party.
Don’t Push The Law
Any firearm within a vehicle has a very high potential to be viewed, handled, and checked during any routine traffic stop. It is my belief that most law enforcement folks are tragically uninformed about what is legal when it comes to anything other than a classically-sized rifle or pistol. I have had more than a few LEO folks ask me if my Tavor or an AR-15 pistol was an SBR. Though we all know AR-15 pistols are legally just pistols.
However, if you are pulled over and you are justifiably searched, I would bet that less than 50% of police would have the knowledge to clearly identify your loaded, ready to rock, legal AR-15 pistol as a pistol — hassle initiated.
Additionally, if your AR-15 also looks like an SBR with something that a non-firearms-educated officer presumes as a stock, you can double the hassle. Sure, SIG Braces are/were legal when the proper steps were followed. However, this is where I suggest a standard buffer tube might be the better, “less grey” option to avoid extra hassle. Notably, with the buffer tube extension that the Law Tactical Folding Adapter provides, I would submit that such a shooting configuration to be so comfortable that a SIG Brace is not required.
Rifles in Vehicles Are Out – PDWs Are In
During a series of discussions with some military, LEO, and security folks, I am thoroughly convinced that PDWs are the more correct choice for a vehicle-based firearm. Sorting through those discussions, the main, re-emphasized points were compact size, firepower, 0 to 100-yard accuracy/lethality, maneuverability, stowed concealment, and the ability to move with the weapon discretely when not in play. From my perspective, the AR-15 pistol meets those needs perfectly.
One of my friends said it well, “If you are going to war, a rifle is preferred, but for shots that might be fired in, around and from a vehicle or just for personal defense, a faster-handling compact SBR, PDW, or AR-15 pistol is a tough solution to beat.”
After a whole lot of shooting, I like the compromise of a 10.5-inch barreled AR-15 pistol. It has an exponentially quieter bark and fireball, delivers a bit more velocity than a 7.5-inch barrel, and provides a shooting platform that gives the shooter more room to stretch out. My new favorite factory AR-15 pistol is the PWS MOD2 MK107 AR-15 Pistol with Maxim Defense Adjustable Cheek Rest — truly an amazing firearm, which packs beautifully in the Sneaky Bags SPYDER.
Since I do not want a $2,500 item (including the Vortex optic) potentially stolen from my truck, I opted for parting together a couple of AR-15 pistols. My his and hers Pandemic Truck guns are both based on Faxon ultralight 10.5-inch barrels and Faxon matched headspaced BCGs.
My wife’s pistol features an Aero Precision upper, YHM Quick Pull Take-Down Pins, ALG handguard, Rogers Rail light, Burris 3X 332 prismatic sight, Black Rain lower receiver, Mega Arms trigger, and Paracord wrapped extended KAK pistol buffer tube, which extends the “cheek weld” for my wife. We call this the Trump Trunk Gun since Trump likes everything gold plated… maybe minus the tiger stripe.
My truck pistol uses a Clark Carbon Fiber handguard, Rogers Rail light, Nikon 1–4 scope, Aero Precision optic mount, YHM Quick Pull Takedown Pins, Aero Precision upper, billet lower, CMC Match trigger, Law Tactical Folding Buffer Tube Adapter, and buffer tube.
What do you think about the advantages of a packable AR-15 pistol? Have you ever carried one on your person or in a vehicle? Share your answers in the comment section.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in April of 2017. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.