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Long Barrel Pistol vs Short Barrel Rifle | Pros and Cons

The last couple of years have seen the rise in popularity of the AR pistol and the Short barreled rifle (SBR). These firearms share a lot of similarities and, at first glance, may look nearly identical. But despite their similarities, they each have unique pros and cons, which can determine which is suitable for you. 

The most important difference between a long barrel pistol and a short barrel rifle is that long pistols have a brace while short barrel rifles use a buttstock. As such, rifles can be shouldered while pistols can’t. Additionally, pistols aren’t allowed the vertical foregrip that all rifles have. 

This article explores AR pistols and short barrel rifles in detail, highlighting the significant differences between them. It also covers the pros and cons of each one, so let’s get started.

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What Are Long Barrel Pistols?

The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) defines a long barrel pistol as a weapon designed to fire a projectile from one or more barrels. It fires when held in one hand, and it has a short stock designed to be gripped by one hand at an angle to and extending below the bore

There’s no limit for the barrel of a pistol, which could technically be as long as you want. 

But for practicality, most pistols have barrels ranging from 3-12” (76-305 mm). The most popular long-barreled pistol is the AR 15, which looks a lot like a short-barreled rifle.

AR pistols are built on the AR-15 action and receiver and designed to be fired with one hand and not from the shoulder. They usually have barrels that are less than 16” (406 mm) long and don’t have a buttstock. So while the AR-15 pistol may bear a striking resemblance to a short-barreled rifle, it’s, in fact, a pistol with a long barrel. 

Instead of a stock, AR-15 pistols use a pistol brace intended to brace the shooter’s arm and not to be shouldered. 

It should be noted that simply replacing a buttstock with a pistol brace doesn’t make an AR pistol. If the gun was originally built as a rifle, it would remain so, despite the brace you’ve attached to it. 

What’s more, you risk violating federal law if you do so.

AR pistols must be purchased as a pistol or built from a blank receiver that was never a rifle. It’s also illegal for pistols to have a vertical forward grip, as this will mean using the gun with two hands like a rifle, whereas pistols are supposed to be fired with one hand.

They are regarded as typical handguns and don’t require federal paperwork. 

In most states, a simple and NICS background check is all that’s required when purchasing one, and you don’t need additional paperwork to transport it across state lines.

Advantages of Long Barrel Pistols 

  • Not as restricted as a rifle, though it looks very much like one.
  • It doesn’t require much paperwork or long processes.
  • Powerful for its size.
  • Compact and easy to use.

Disadvantages of Long Barrel Pistols

  • The lack of a buttstock may affect firing accuracy.
  • The lack of a vertical forward grip can also affect handling and accuracy.

What Are Short Barrel Rifles?

The ATF defines short barrel rifles (SBR) as a rifle having one or more barrels less than 16” (406 mm) long. It is also any weapon made from a rifle, whether by alteration or modification, that has an overall length less than 26” (660 mm).

The definition is pretty straightforward. 

An SBR is a rifle, or a weapon made from a rifle, with a barrel less than 16” (406 mm) and an overall length, measured from muzzle to stock, less than 26” (660 mm). The muzzle device doesn’t count when measuring unless it’s permanently welded to the gun. 

The ATF regulates SBRs as NFA firearms

And just like with machine guns, owning an SBR requires a $200 tax stamp, background check, fingerprint and photos, and some paperwork. The entire process can take up to a year or more. 

Moreover, before transporting an SBR and other NFA firearms across state lines, you’d need to fill out the ATF Form 20. The form is an application to transport certain NFA firearms across state lines or to an address different from the one you used when you first got the weapon. 

Only when it’s approved can you legally transport your SBR. The good news is that the forms are free and can be submitted in advance.

Advantages of Short Barrel Rifles

  • Buttstock and the vertical forward grip provide better handling, stability, and accuracy.
  • It is a compact, yet powerful rifle.
  • Lighter and more easily carried than long-barreled rifles.

Disadvantages of Short Barrel Rifles

  • Requires a costly federal tax stamp of $200.
  • Loads of paperwork and processes involved in owning an SBR.
  • Long wait time before the application gets approved.
  • Requires ATF approval to transport across state lines.

Differences Between Long Barrel Pistols and Short Barrel Rifles

Long Barrel Pistol and a Short Barrel Rifle

The most significant difference between a long-barreled AR pistol and an SBR is the buttstock and brace. 

Pistols have a brace, so they are not to be shouldered, whereas SBRs have a buttstock and can be shouldered. Additionally, pistols shouldn’t have vertical forward grips, while a short-barreled rifle can have one. 

Another important difference between the two guns lies in the legality. 

Long barreled pistols don’t require much paperwork and are legal for all law-abiding citizens. On the other hand, SBRs are restricted, require special paperwork, a tax stamp, and approval by the ATF.

The main advantage of a long barrel pistol is that it doesn’t require the lengthy process, paperwork, and tax stamp needed for a short barrel rifle. However, the lack of a buttstock and vertical forward grip makes it more challenging to handle and maneuver. The reverse is the case for SBRs.

The table below highlights the important differences between long barrel pistols and short barrel rifles.

Long Barrelled AR PistolShort Barrelled Rifle
It uses a pistol brace, so it can’t, and shouldn’t, be shouldered.It uses a buttstock and can be shouldered.
Vertical forward grips aren’t allowed.Can have a vertical forward grip for better handling.
Regarded as a typical handgun and doesn’t require much paperwork and processes to get one.Regulated as an NFA firearm, and requires much paperwork and a long process to get one.

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How Barrel Length Affects Guns

Generally, barrel length has a similar effect on all firearms, whether handguns, rifles, or shotguns. Here are some ways barrel length can affect firearms.

  • Muzzle velocity: If all other factors remain equal, a longer barrel allows the bullets to leave the gun at a higher velocity, and vice versa. That’s because longer barrels give the gunpowder more time to work on propelling the bullet to a higher speed. 
  • Accuracy: Since longer barrels produce higher muzzle velocities, it may improve accuracy as the bullet travels further before experiencing changes in trajectory. Additionally, sight radius, which is the distance between the front and rear (iron) sights, is usually a factor of barrel length. A greater sight radius gives better aim and accuracy than a smaller sight radius.
  • Noise and flash: Short barrels provide little time for complete combustion of the gunpowder, leaving more unburnt powder to react with the air, which causes more noise and a brighter flash. 


What Are the Benefits of a Longer Barrel?

All other factors like gunpowder, caliber, gauge, and bullet weight, being equal, a longer barrel produces higher muzzle velocities, may improve accuracy, and reduce noise and flash. But the increased length will also make the gun heavier and less maneuverable.

What Are the Benefits of a Short Barrel Rifle?

Short barrelled rifles are lighter and easier to carry than long-barrelled rifles. The short length also makes them easier to maneuver in close quarters. However, short barrels don’t produce very high velocities and are often louder than long-barreled rifles.

Is a Longer Barrel Pistol More Accurate?

A longer barreled pistol isn’t necessarily more accurate than a short-barreled pistol. But due to the length of the barrel, there’s a greater distance between the two iron sights. Greater distance between the front and rear sights can give better aim to the shooter. 

But that only applies to pistols with iron sights, as there may be no noticeable difference in the accuracy with pistols using optical sights. 

Does Handgun Barrel Length Affect Accuracy?

Handgun barrel length does affect accuracy. A longer barrel will have a greater sight radius if the gun uses iron sights, meaning better accuracy/precision. Additionally, longer barrels produce higher velocities which will keep the bullet on track for longer distances.

What Is the Best Barrel Length for Accuracy?

The best barrel length for accuracy lies in the range of 16” and 26” (40.64 and 66.04 cm). Barrels this long will produce the velocities to keep the bullets on track for longer. Above 26” (66.04 cm) may produce higher velocities and better accuracy, but it’ll make the rifle heavier and impractical. 

Final Thoughts

A short-barreled rifle and a long barrel AR-15 pistol are remarkably similar in appearance and firepower. The main difference between the two guns is in the buttstock and brace. SBRs have buttstock, while AR-15s use a pistol brace. As such, SBRs can be shouldered, and pistols can’t.

Another difference is the vertical forward grip which SBRs have but is illegal on pistols.

Thanks for reading!

For more, check out Long Barrel Pistol vs. Short | The Important Differences.