"I don't have much money – what AR-15 should I buy?"
“What AR-15 should I buy?”
I used to have a copy and paste response for this whenever someone on AR15.com would ask. Two questions.
“What is your budget, and what do you want to do with it?”
It’s easier to come up with an answer to the first question, I’ve found: many would respond “As little as possible.”
Well then, I would say to myself, what was your answer to the second question? I would cringe when I saw something like “patrol rifle”. A plinker or range toy does not require the best of everything – unless one simply wishes to avoid as many potential issues as possible. Using the cheapest stuff possible, however, is simply not advisable for a police officer who needs a patrol rifle, or anyone who wants to put more than a few tin cans on the line.
Needs vs. Wants
The question I want to ask these people is “Do you really need an AR-15?”
No, I’m not approaching this from the perspective of a gun grabber. For many people, though, buying an AR-15 is an unnecessarily large expense. If I wanted a rifle to have fun with, shoot varmints, teach new shooters, etc, I’d buy a .22, bolt action or semi auto. I would most likely save $500 or more on the initial purchase price, and get 20 times as much ammunition for my money. You won’t be turned away from any indoor ranges with a .22, either. I can honestly say that the best purchase I have ever made was a $39 bolt action Romanian .22LR rifle. For smiles per dollar, nothing else comes close.
If I just wanted a cool looking rifle that I could theoretically use for more than the above purposes, but I wanted to spend the smallest amount of money possible, I’d buy some sort of AK variant. 5.45×39 ammunition is very cheap right now, and 5.45 AKs can be had in the $400-500 range. 7.62×39 AKs are also affordable, and the ammunition is generally cheaper than .223 Remington/5.56 NATO. As much as I love AR-15s, I’d take a $500 AK over a $500 AR.
But if I needed a reliable, accurate, easy to use, versatile, and compact rifle (carbine), the pool of suitable weapons narrows dramatically. The weapon at the top of the heap, in my mind, is a good AR-15.
Saving Money vs. Spending Money
The problems start when people see an AR on the shelf at a local gun store for, say, $750. And they could probably swing $750 for that rifle. What does it come with? One magazine, a sling from the 19th century, and a photocopy of a US military manual for the M16. Many “flat top” AR-15s don’t even come with a rear sight. Okay, so you buy a cheap Chinese-made UTG rear sight for $30. Now you need ammunition. Enough to fill the magazine will probably run about $10-15. What’s that, you say? You actually want to shoot more than 30 rounds? Okay, there’s a 500 round case of “Military Contract 55gr 5.56mm” in the corner for $180. Great. Now you’ve put close to a $1000 dent in your bank account (or credit card).
For that $750, you could have bought a Ruger 10/22 and over 22,000 rounds of .22LR at Wal-Mart. Or a 5.45 AK and 2160 rounds of surplus ammunition. With the extra money you spent on 500 rounds of .223, you could have bought another mountain of 22LR or a small hill of 5.45. Alternately, you could buy some jewelry for your wife or girlfriend, in an attempt to placate her after bringing home a firearm.
If you just want something that looks like what “them boys overseas” carry, fine. Just don’t think that your spending days are over with the initial purchase of the rifle, unless you plan to do nothing more than hang it on the wall and stare at it. If so, then it doesn’t really matter what you buy.
Okay, you’ve decided that you need (or really want) an AR-15.
You decide to browse some internet forums in order to learn more. There, you find all sorts of conflicting information. Some people say Brand X; others say Brand Y. Still more say that a blend of Brands X, Y, and Z is the best combination.
Then there are things like the “tier system” and a mysterious “chart” that many people seem to intensely dislike.
It would be impossible for me to answer this question in one easy to digest blog post.
I will say that the best thing you can do is to buy a quality upper receiver assembly. Most of the potential problems one might encounter with the AR-15 are eliminated with a good upper assembly. There are a number of companies offering truly top notch upper assemblies for very good prices at the moment – Daniel Defense, Spike’s Tactical, and Bravo Company, to name a few. You can take that upper assembly and, in seconds, install it on a complete lower assembly, which will normally run about $230-300 for “average” parts, and the end result will be a high quality rifle for under $1000.
Sure, you could walk into a gun store and spend $750-1000 on a Bushmaster or Rock River AR, but you’d be paying an extra 11% in the form of a federal excise tax over the cost of buying the upper and lower separately. You’re trying to save money – right? So why pay an extra 11% if you don’t have to? Put that 11% to work in the form of higher quality parts.
There are resources for those who want to learn more. Generally, a “tacked” post at the top of forums like AR15.com and M4Carbine.net is full of reliable and useful information. “The Chart” offers a comparison of the features offered by various models of M4-type weapons. Reading the “after-action reports” of various carbine courses – available on various forums – will provide insight as to how certain weapons perform with rapid firing schedules.
I know it seems as if I’ve tried to talk people out of buying ARs, and honestly, I have. However, there are requirements that other weapons will meet and exceed for less money than an AR-15 – and there are requirements that the AR-15 will meet and exceed that the others cannot even meet. Only you know exactly what your specific needs/requirements are. Base your purchase on those needs, and best of luck with whatever you buy.