The AR-15 Carbine


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn

July 8th, 2003





In recent months, I have received many emails from Gunblast readers regarding weapons for personal defense. These inquiries are not just of the "which pocket pistol do you recommend?" type of question, but lean more towards the defense of the home against determined intruders. Also, many people are concerned about the need for a bit more firepower that is portable enough to store in the family car, since most people spend a great deal of their time away from home, whether at work or on the road.

Many forward-thinking law enforcement agencies are now equipping their officers with, or allowing them to furnish on their own, a handy carbine chambered for a more powerful round than their sidearm, while providing a greater useful range than the typical police shotgun. After the infamous shootouts in Miami and Hollywood in which the police were carrying underpowered firearms for the situation, many agencies are finally waking up to the need for a better weapon. A handgun is a weapon of convenience; one that can always be at your side, but many social situations can be better handled by a long gun.

For those of you who have read my article on Homeland Security, you already know that I am a fan of the AR-15 family of weapons. Recently, I also wrote an article reviewing heavy-barreled AR-15 rifles. The AR15 system has proven itself worldwide in many different environments and situations. What they lack in beauty, they make up in reliability and ease of use.  You wont find polished steel and oiled walnut on an AR, but you will find an ergonomic and beautifully functional weapon.

Unlike the article on the heavy-barreled ARs that are perfect for long range varmint hunting and precision target shooting, this article will deal with the AR-15 carbine: a weapon that has few rivals as an all-around rifle for self defense when the fertilizer hits the fan. The carbines are handy, easy to shoot well, accurate, and very reliable. They use surplus military thirty-round magazines and plentiful 5.56mm ammunition, along with any commercial .223 ammo. The guns are very simple to strip for cleaning, and require very little maintenance to keep them up and running. Also, the market is filled with parts and accessories to modify your AR to suit your particular preferences.

For review in this article, and to give our readers an idea of what is available, we gathered a sampling of several different AR-15 type carbines. This is by no means all of the brands and variations available on the market, but represent a variety of some of the weapons available from a few of the better manufacturers of the AR-15 carbine. We received test guns from DoubleStar, DPMS, ArmaLite, and Rock River Arms. We also had a Colt available, but it was the twenty-inch HBAR model, and didnt fit with the short-barreled carbine configuration that we are reviewing here, so it was excluded from this article, as was other heavier and longer-barreled ARs.

Each gun reviewed here was tested with a variety of ammunition, from surplus military ball to commercial soft point and hollow point hunting ammo. The guns were supplied with ten-round magazines, but were fired using military thirty-round magazines, as this is the proper magazine for this type of weapon, regardless of whether or not the US government wants us to have a magazine of this capacity.  Every gun tested exhibited flawless functioning with every type of ammunition that we could try. Each gun was fired in a normal hand-held position, in addition to being fired with the gun rotated to either side ninety degrees, and even upside down. The guns fed, fired, and ejected perfectly. This is a very good testament to the design of the AR-15 system, and to the care with which each manufacturer assembled these weapons.  Each of the guns reviewed also exhibited very good accuracy with quality ammunition.

Each weapon reviewed here is basically a short, handy carbine with a nominal sixteen inch barrel, but there are differences in the style and features of the guns that may or may not be desirable to any given shooter. All of the guns featured here are of the flattop design, to better facilitate the mounting of an optical sight. A couple of the guns are supplied with detachable carry handles with integral rear sights. Some of the guns have front sights, and others do not. The barrel weights and diameters are another variable to consider when choosing an AR, as are the design of the buttstock, pistol grip, and hand guards. In addition to the sampling assembled here, each of these manufacturers also offer an almost endless variety of features to configure the weapon to suit the needs of the user.

A few measurements were taken of each gun, and are listed below. If the gun wears a muzzle brake, that device was included in the barrel length. As can be seen in the pictures, there is a good variety of barrel configurations represented here, from very light to heavy bull barrels.


ArmaLite 7 lbs 9 oz 17-1/4" with brake A2 NO 6.75 lbs
ArmaLite 8 lbs 9 oz 17-1/4" with brake M4 CAR YES 6.75 lbs
DoubleStar 6 lbs 14 oz 16-1/8" with brake ADJ. BUTT NO 7.25 lbs
DPMS LO PRO 8 lbs 3 oz 16-1/4" BULL A2 NO 7.75 lbs
DPMS M-4 7 lbs 9 oz 16-1/4" with brake M4 CAR YES 6.75 lbs
Rock River 3 lbs 8 oz 16" straight (no brake) CAR YES 8 lbs

As can be seen from the chart, even though each of these weapons is an AR-15 type carbine, the list of features varies. Some shooters prefer a muzzle brake to lessen felt recoil, while others prefer the clean lines and quieter report (from the shooters position) of a plain barrel. Some shooters like the CAR-type stock (which is no longer collapsible on post-ban guns), while others like the smooth A2 stock. The DoubleStar Critterslayer Jr. has a unique shortened A2 stock with a fully adjustable butt plate. This feature would be very useful to a person with a shorter pull length, such as a youngster or small adult. While some will want a detachable handle, others have no use for one, preferring to mount a low scope such as the rugged and reliable Trijicon ACOG.

The choices are almost endless as to the ways to set up your AR-15 carbine, but it is one of the best weapons ever developed for battle, whether it be across the room or out to a few hundred yards. The guns are relatively light, handy, rugged, and reliable. Their ammo offers more power and penetration than most commonly carried handgun ammo, and the carbines make hitting the target much easier at longer ranges.  The high-capacity and easily changed magazines make for a rate of sustained fire that is superior to most hand-held weapons, and the recoil is relatively light.

Check out the complete specifications online at the following websites:



Rock River:


The AR-15 carbine is state-of-the-art for a personal battle weapon. I would not be without one& least one.

Jeff Quinn

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Click pictures for a larger version.


Ar-15s tested for this article (top to bottom): DPMS Panther M-4, DPMS Lo Pro, ArmaLite SOF, DoubleStar, ArmaLite A-4, Rock River



Ar-15s tested for this article (top to bottom): ArmaLite A-4, DoubleStar, Rock River, ArmaLite SOF, DPMS Panther M-4, DPMS Lo Pro



A closer look at the barrel configurations (left to right): DPMS Lo Pro, DPMS Panther M-4, ArmaLite SOF, Rock River, DoubleStar, ArmaLite A-4












DPMS Panther M-4






Rock River Arms






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