BULLSEYE: Build a Premium Patrol Rifle For A Non-Premium Price
By Warren Wilson
Build your own AR-15 rifle for police work.
I was drawn into the choke point like a rookie. The enemy within is always the most dangerous. She had positioned herself near the open door of the gun safe, inquisitively looking inside and camouflaging her imminent full frontal assault with questions to which she already knew the answers. I should have known something was awry when her homework and chores were finished without any prodding on my part. Still, I kept my concentration while charging and seating pistol rounds on my reloading press.
Each crank of the RCBS handle brought me closer to my fate. It served me right for enjoying my condition-white ignorant bliss. When the time was right, she pounced like a hungry puma on a snow-white bunny. “Dad, I want my own AR-15.”
Of course, my first reaction was elation, “She wants to be like her daddy!” But wait, obviously my daughter is not a sheepish kid, but she is mostly a frugal kid; with her money at least. We now had a project on the table that would come out of my gun budget and I was OK with that.
I pondered how to maximize the experience and minimize the financial impact. I envisioned a “tacti-cool” M4-style carbine with a red dot sight for close-quarters battle. Why my 14-year-old band student would be engaging in CQB I hadn’t fully considered yet. Being the more thoughtful and deliberate type, she had something else in mind but she didn’t verbalize it right away.
We decided to build the lower receiver together ourselves. We ordered the parts, a few tools and a book. Thirty minutes after sitting down, it was done. It took about as long as a thorough gun cleaning session. As it turned out, an advanced skill set isn’t necessary for a lower receiver build. Who knew? An upper might need a little more know-how, but so far, the project had been easy. At this point, we’d spent about $200.00 for a functional lower receiver complete with butt stock. A Hogue pistol grip and Rock River National Match trigger brought the total to $345.00.
Choosing an upper required some more thought. For what would the rifle be used? Being around SWAT guys, the brat tended to gravitate toward the police department’s long-distance range and the snipers. She seemingly couldn’t get enough of that “boom…clang.” Finally, my rusty steel trap of a mind creaked to a close! I asked if she wanted a rifle for long range. She used small words and simple sentences, as one would when speaking to a child. “Yes,” as she ended her retort with a slow nod of the head and condescending eye contact. Apparently, I should have figured it out sooner.
We located a Rock River Predator upper for $500.00 and snatched it up since building a similar upper would not offer any savings. For around $845.00, we built a quality, optics-ready designated marksman rifle. Before the trigger and grip, we had only spent about $700.00. Granted, this all happened around May of 2012 during pre-panic pricing. Current post-panic costs should be lower. After finding an appropriate optic, 8-inch steel plates are nary a challenge at 350 yards with quality ammunition. I wouldn’t want to be a bowling pin at that distance either, but they occasionally get away.
So, what does this story about bonding with my daughter have to do with cops and guns? I wanted a “premium”-grade carbine to replace my SWAT/patrol rifle. In particular, Bravo Company Manufacturing had been on my wish list. I was just having trouble parting with the kind of cash these quality rifles command. Then, that steel trap creaked to a slow close again! My department’s patrol rifle policy includes the phrase, “AR style rifles…approved by the rangemaster.” As long as the completed rifle had only parts commonly found in stock patrol rifles, I could build a premium rifle for about 3/4 of the cost of a standard rifle purchase.
My Bravo Company rifle was on the horizon! I bought another Palmetto State Armory stripped lower receiver and parts kit, the same as we had for “The Brat Steel Sniper Project.” I was looking to replace my well-worn Rock River Arms (RRA) patrol/entry rifle. It had served me well and I had become accustomed to (and enamored with) the box stock RRA National Match trigger on my patrol rifle. So, that trigger was a must for my new build. All other mechanical parts, including the pins, detents and even the safety lever, would be Palmetto State Armory. After throwing on a Magpul butt stock and pistol grip, the lower receiver was done. The final step was to choose the detailed configuration of the upper on BCM’s website and break out the credit card one more time.
Dollars and Cents
The cost of my build was about 70 percent of the quoted price for a complete BCM rifle. Let’s face it, the primary consideration for an individual officer equipment purchase is cost; at least to those of us non-trust fund types. If money is not a consideration, we’d be in another line of work. As illustrated above, there are substantial savings to building your own lower and then attaching the complete upper of your choice. Building a lower can be a pay-as-you-go project, so you don’t need all of the required money up front. First, buy a stripped lower. Then, a few paychecks later, buy a lower parts kit, etc. Building the upper as well as the lower may benefit the thrifty copper with the know-how to do things like installing the barrel and handguard.
Have It Your Way
Does this sound familiar? Buy a gun. Take it home. Change the grips. Change the sights. Throw the old stuff in that “gun parts box” we all have in the closet never to be used again. A benefit of building an AR, rather than buying one, is the ability to set the rifle up to the operator’s own specifications right away. Don’t like the standard M4 stock, pistol grip or trigger? No problem, get exactly what you want so there won’t be a sad box of old toys in the closet.
If you’re around ARs or any guns enough, you’ll see breakage. The Stoner design is great, but ARs are just machines and machines break. After your own build, you’ll learn a strong understanding of how this particular machine works. There may be a slight letdown when you find out it’s not magic that makes the gun run. However, having gained the ability to fix issues as they arise will be comfort enough. You’ll also become a little more popular among your co-workers when Mr. Murphy strikes their boom sticks. It’s a good idea to keep some spare parts around. For example, a lower parts kit, gas rings and firing pin will cover most breakage and wear issues. Many AR-savvy folks even keep a complete bolt carrier group as a spare. If you use your rifle hard for duty, this might be a wise policy.
My first build was completed without any specialized tools. I only had lubricant, a punch and a small hammer. For the second build, I bought a few roll pin punches and a pivot-pin detent tool. In my experience, the pivot pin detent can be launched with sufficient velocity as to propel it into a parallel universe never to be seen again. So, a few relatively inexpensive tools can make your build a little easier.
There cannot be a discussion on custom duty weapons without the L word. Some say that if you defend yourself with a gun that has an other-than-factory trigger, you’ll be successfully sued for millions of dollars. Now, I don’t know about you, but losing millions would almost break my bank account. But, before breaking out in a sweat, consider that over the last decade or so, the courts have heavily favored the “Totality of the Circumstances” standard in law enforcement use of force cases. This standard is more common sense oriented. In most of the cases from this century that I have read, the details of the gun never even came up in the legal argument. The cases that went bad for cops focused on tactics and other decisions.
I believe this is even less of an issue when the topic is the AR-15 style rifle. It really doesn’t make sense to believe an owner-assembled rifle is a serious liability when you consider that today’s ARs are virtually completely interchangeable. When the L word comes up in the area of customized guns, it’s almost always about the trigger. If my stock RRA National Match trigger had ever failed, would I not have replaced it with an identical unit? How could that trigger be any less of a liability in a rifle put together in a factory than by its owner on the kitchen table? There’s nothing a reasonably competent do-it-yourselfer can do wrong during the installation.
What about a custom trigger like a Timney Manufacturing model? In this case, it is a high-quality custom shop trigger. I didn’t call the company to ask, but I’m relatively certain that it does not trip itself and it apparently holds no malice toward kittens, puppies or unicorns. I am told it even requires an operator to discharge the firearm in which it is installed. Again, an officer’s tactics and decisions are much more likely to come into question than a mechanical device.
Just because some attorney somewhere in the country used (successfully or not) a baseless argument in court, does not make it a legal precedent. There was a case where a Mossberg Persuader was the weapon involved. An attorney made a spectacle of the model designation, “Persuader.” In another instance, a prosecutor convinced a jury of a defendant’s malice by at least partially focusing their attention on his use of a pistol chambered in 10mm in his defense. A female juror said in a television interview that the defendant’s use of a caliber more powerful than what the local police used, was “the last straw” in her decision to convict.
The tragic fact is that some overzealous prosecutions and lawsuits have happened in this country, at times using inane arguments. Sometimes, juries and/or judges lap up this pablum and hold it against the defendants. It’s wise to believe that these cases will continue to pollute our justice system sporadically. It’s not wise to hang our every equipment decision on far-flung quasi-principles based on these rare examples. Again, a tactical decision is much more likely to be the topic of the day in a court proceeding against you than your choice of weapon.
The ability and willingness to complete a partial or full build of an AR-style patrol rifle may be the difference between a street officer having a patrol rifle or not having one.
I’m not exactly mechanically inclined. In fact, at the beginning of my first build, I thought I’d have as much success as the proverbial porcupine in a balloon factory: expensive, but fun to watch. I (along with my wife and friends) would fully support a government ban on my ownership, possession or transfer of any power tools up to and including a Dremel® rotary tool because I am a serious threat to myself and others. That said, if even I can build and maintain an AR lower, then so can you. The rifle I put together has already performed a yeoman’s duty and continues to thrive. PM
Warren Wilson is a Lieutenant with the Enid Police Department in Oklahoma. He is a former SWAT team member/leader and has been in law enforcement for 17 years.
- The build might be intimidating at first.
- Special tools aren’t necessary for a lower build but can be handy.
- The author’s Bravo Company Manufacturing upper on a built lower.
- A SWAT operator participates in a live-fire drill with a home-built rifle.