By Tyler Hansen
Have you caught the AR-15 bug yet? It’s America’s most popular sporting rifle, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s lightweight, easy to shoot, easily customized, and increasingly affordable. It’s been in production since 1959, served as the basis for the M-16 in 1963, and it still continues to be popular worldwide. Although Colt still holds the trademark to the AR-15 name, variants of the firearm and the various components to modify them are made by dozens of companies in the present day.
That brings us to one of the biggest advantages of the AR-15 platform: modularity. Because it has been around for so long, and so many companies have made parts for it, the prices of those parts have gone way down, and the options available to the civilian consumer are richly diverse. Like Barbie dolls or Legos, you’ve got lots of ways to accessorize.
Customizing your AR-15 isn’t rocket science, either. If you can put together that Lego set or Barbie dollhouse, you can probably put together the parts to make an AR-15. Some modifications will take a basic hand tool or two, but nothing that you couldn’t figure out with five or ten minutes of fiddling, or a quick trip to YouTube. As a result, many gun enthusiasts like assembling their entire rifle part-by-part, picking up components that specifically contribute to the kind of rifle they want to shoot.
So, the question we’re discussing is this: Should I build or buy my first AR-15? Let’s talk about the advantages and disadvantages of both.
BUILDING YOUR AR-15
Cost: If you wait for sales on components, or even full rifle kits, you can get your rifle for far cheaper than buying it outright. There are some really great deals to be had if you’re willing to wait for them and shop around. Even without the sales, though, you’ll almost always get more value for your money by building instead of buying. However, you still have to decide your budget, and it’s easy to spend more money than you intended when you’re buying a piece here, a piece there, and not paying attention to what your total cost is.
Familiarity: I can tell you from experience that putting together your first rifle will make you appreciate its internal workings more. If you have a problem on the range, you’ll be more likely to know how to troubleshoot the problem, because you’re the one that put all those parts together and you’ll know which parts are probably not working. The flip side to this is that if you have a problem that you can’t fix, there is usually no warranty or customer support beyond the man in the mirror.
Customizability: You will build exactly the rifle you want. You will have a fine-tuned shooting machine that does exactly what you want it to do, and nothing you don’t want or need. There’s a lot of satisfaction that comes from that kind of customization. If you buy one out of the box, and then spend the money to upgrade all the parts you don’t like, you’ll be spending a lot more money than if you just bought the parts you wanted in the first place. However, if this is your first rifle, and you haven’t shot a whole bunch of them before, you may not know exactly what you want. Options range from grips to handguards to sights and triggers.
BUYING YOUR FIRST AR-15
Instant gratification: You walk into a store, you plop down your money, get a background check, and you go shooting that same day. Buying your first AR-15 will get you shooting much sooner. If tinkering isn’t your thing, then I would definitely suggest buying a rifle that suits your needs as closely as possible.
No hard decisions: Seeing how this is your first rifle, you might not even know what you’re looking for. Starting with a basic off-the-shelf model gives you a good opportunity to figure out what you actually want in your rifle. Once you’re familiar with the platform, it’s easier to know what you like and don’t like, so then you can know what to buy to build the second, third, fourth, and fifth AR-15s.
Manufacturer’s warranty: The major manufacturers of sporting rifles will stand by their products and fix them if something major goes wrong. That’s peace of mind that you’ll rarely have with the creation of your own hands, even if you don’t have the sense of pride that goes with making it yourself.
For an entry-level AR-15, you have lots of options. I would take a look at the Smith & Wesson M&P Sport, Ruger AR 556, Colt 6920, or a Palmetto State Armory prebuilt. Other popular options include STAG Arms, Larue Tactical, Windham Weaponry, and Spikes Tactical.
So, there you have it, a good run-down of the various pros and cons of building or buying your first AR-15. No matter how you get your hands on one, I’m sure you’ll love your black rifle as long as you clean it and feed it ammo!