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The AR-15 is undoubtedly the most popular centerfire rifle in America today.
However, if you’re a new gun owner and never bought one before, you may be confused about the different options and associated costs.
There are essentially three routes available: buying new, buying used, and building your own.
Learn all about the different ways you can acquire an AR-15, and how much you can expect to spend for each method and what kinds of paperwork are involved in each process.
Buying a Factory New AR-15
When it comes to obtaining a new firearm, most of the time, the simplest solution is the best one. Therefore, buying a brand new, complete AR-15 rifle is a natural choice.
What can you expect from buying new? What are the pros and cons, and how much does a new AR-15 cost?
Pros of buying new
The most significant benefit of buying new is knowing you’ll receive your rifle immediately after paying for it. If you ordered your rifle online, it might take a few days for your order to arrive at your local FFL, but it’s a straightforward process.
Most new rifles come complete and ready to shoot right out of the box, allowing you to take it to the range as soon as it’s in your possession. Some rifles even come with multiple magazines.
Knowing professional hands assembled your AR in a factory brings peace of mind.
Reputable manufacturers should also offer a warranty and good customer service if anything goes wrong with your new AR-15.
Cons of buying new
Although buying a new AR-15 ensures you have a rifle ready to shoot, what you get is what’s in the box and nothing more.
Pay close attention to what the box contains; some rifles come with no rear sights.
Although advertised as complete rifles, these products are typically budget guns with a bare optics rail, requiring you to buy a backup rear sight or an M4-style carrying handle if you wish to shoot it accurately.
Complete rifles rarely come with all the accessories you may want. Eventually, you will want to upgrade your rifle, which adds extra costs.
Costs and paperwork of new AR-15 rifles
Although you can purchase a new AR-15 for as low as $500, if you want a quality rifle you can count on, be prepared to spend $900-$1,200. The paperwork associated with a new gun purchase involves passing a NICS check and filling out a copy of Form 4473, which records the transaction to the ATF.
Buying a Used AR-15
Buying used is a viable alternative if you are unwilling to spend the money on a new rifle. Learn about what to look for in a used gun and how to recognize good deals.
Pros of buying used
One of the main advantages of buying used is the possibility of finding a quality rifle for a fraction of the price of a new gun. A used rifle features the parts and configuration left by its previous owner. If you know where to look, you can get an excellent deal on a used AR-15 featuring the setup you need.
Cons of buying used
One of the most common pitfalls of buying a used AR-15 (or any used firearm) is that you might find something that looks like an excellent deal, only to find out it possesses several glaring problems.
The only way to ensure the rifle is as good as it looks is to inspect it yourself, which pretty much requires you to visit a store or a pawn shop in person and ask (politely!) if you can check the rifle for signs of wear and tear.
If the employees do not let you inspect or disassemble the AR-15 you want before buying it, walk away. It’s not worth it.
Buying a used AR-15 online is a risky proposal; photos only tell so much, you cannot inspect the gun yourself, and depending on where you purchased it, you may never be able to return it or get your money back.
Costs and paperwork of used AR-15 rifles
Used AR-15 prices run the entire spectrum, with deals as low as $300 and as high as $4,000, depending on the parts.
Although it is possible to buy a used AR-15 without filling any paperwork, this generally only applies to in-person private sales in your state of residence. Even then, check your local and state laws first, as some of them may regulate private sales.
If you’re buying a used AR-15 online or from someone out of state, you will generally need to go through an FFL, and only if the rifle is legal for you to possess in your state.
Building Your Own AR-15
One of the most common pieces of advice you’ll hear if you’re looking for your first AR-15 is to avoid buying it entirely and instead build your own. Learn how much a parts-built AR-15 costs and whether it’s worth it over buying new or used.
Pros of building your own
The most significant advantage of building your own AR-15 is cost savings. On average, you can expect to save anywhere between $100 and $500 compared to an equivalent store-bought gun.
Another advantage of building your own AR is selecting all of your parts yourself, allowing you to create a truly custom rifle tailored to your needs.
Also, building your own rifle is satisfying and a great pastime!
Cons of building your own
What you save in money, you have to invest in time and skills. Although it is possible to build an AR-15 from parts without custom-fitting or machining, you must be confident you know what you are doing. Not everyone has the inclinations to assemble firearms.
You must also be careful to select parts that are compatible with one another. Mismatched or poorly assembled parts can cause stoppages and malfunctions.
If you end up with many parts you don’t know what to do with, contact a gunsmith or someone with experience building AR-15s and ask them to help you.
Costs and paperwork of parts-built AR-15s
You can put together a basic, complete AR-15 with quality mil-spec parts for anywhere between $500 and $900. According to federal law, the lower receiver of the AR-15 is legally the firearm. You can purchase an AR-15 lower the same way as a firearm, or you can make your own from an 80% complete receiver blank, provided you have the tools to machine it into a functional lower.
Choose the Method Best Suited to Your Skills and Budget
When buying a new firearm, you should always keep your needs and your budget in mind.
If “buy nice or buy twice” is a saying that resonates with you, buying a factory-new AR-15 from a reputable manufacturer may be the best option for you.
If you’re a thrifty shopper with a good eye, you can find excellent deals on the second-hand market.
If you’re more of a tinkerer or want the satisfaction of selecting and assembling your AR-15 parts by yourself, building your own is the natural option.