After a recent blog on the possibility of new NFA restrictions I was asked about some of these items and in particular the short barreled rifle or SBR.
So, a short barreled rifle is classified as having a barrel length less than 16 inches. If you permanently attach the flash hider that technically becomes part of the barrel and while that does add to the overall length of a 16″ barrel, if you use a 14.5″ barrel or even better a 14.7″ barrel on average it will give you an overall length of 16″ or more. You get a little bit reduced on the overall length without having to follow the NFA restrictions, but it is still not cutting that much off the barrel length.
Some might not see a huge benefit in SBR’s, but in most modern urban engagements ranges will likely be within 100 yards. Using that as a benchmark we can discuss the merits of the SBR over a standard rifle length 16″ or more.
The most obvious benefit you get from an SBR is a smaller and more compact rifle. The whole point to restrictions on short barreled rifles was to prevent them from being easily concealed under clothing. Well, a modern day SBR equipped with a standard load-out is going to require some really creative methods for concealment. With the pistol grip, magazine and most likely a red dot sight it doesn’t lend itself to easy concealment. With that argument out of the way, it does decrease the overall weight, which I think is a good and bad thing. Reduced weight allows for greater stability since fatigue is somewhat reduced. The shooter can hold the rifle on target with greater ease allowing optimal sight management to achieve first round lethal strikes. Is it more maneuverable in tight spaces such as homes, sure, but that is not really the reason I see a SBR being beneficial. The bad is the SBR rifles typically have an increased recoil impulse, which requires extra work by the shooter on recoil management techniques. That, or you can add a suppressor to greatly reduce the recoil impulse, but now back to longer overall length and increased weight. For some, the suppressor is worth it, for others not so much.
The reduced barrel is going to reduce the amount of powder burned, with less distance to achieve full ignition the major drawback is less muzzle velocity, which equates to less terminal velocity. Hitting a target with a high enough terminal velocity to cause significant damage is key. There are too many variables to provide accurate numbers, which is why we typically limit the effective range to 100 yards. Technology is quickly catching up though and we are seeing powder with better burn rates helping to achieve complete ignition and higher velocities.
Some were concerned the shorter barrels would reduce the accuracy of the round. We haven’t seen that to be as big of an issue. Whenever we are talking accuracy, we have to be careful. There are several factors to consider such as the inherent accuracy of the rifle platform regardless of barrel length, the ammunition and skill of the shooter. In fact, we have seen SBR’s in our Mid-Range Marksmanship class do quite well at ranges out to 200, 300 and 400 yard line. Though the 400 was really pushing it, it can be done. In an effort to fully disclose these rifles were equipped with suppressors and firing match grade ammunition.
So, is a short barrel rifle best for you. If you are willing to go through the hassles of all the paperwork, extra scrutiny and cost I see it as a good thing. Don’t get me wrong, there are easy work arounds for the longer barrels, but there is one more factor to consider. The SBR’s are sexy as hell!