Be careful when buying gun parts during the shortage

I’m largely done now with helping my friends upgrade their personal defense rifles.  I’m preparing a few AR-15’s for sale that are surplus to their requirements;  with just about none left on dealer shelves anywhere, they reckon they may as well convert them to useful cash at the next gun show.

One thing I’m noticing more and more is that many suppliers are out of stock of good-quality components.  What’s left are either cheap bits and pieces of lesser quality, or very expensive high-end stuff – and the prices of the cheap components are often inflated until they’re as bad as the latter.  It’s a seller’s market, and buyers have to be very careful.  They may be buying “seconds”, or parts returned by other buyers due to some defect or other, or parts that are heavier and/or bulkier than they need to be.

One area where I’ve noticed this in particular is the availability of lightweight components.  In the first article in my recent three part series on the subject, I said:

Light weight is important.  I therefore select accessories with that in mind, and will almost always take a lighter option over a heavier one.  I suggest that your fully loaded and equipped AR-15 rifle or carbine need not weigh more than 8-9 pounds, and can weigh substantially less if you can do without some of the bells and whistles.  The Bushmaster Minimalist (sadly no longer available, but reviewed here) came in at an unadorned 6 pounds even, and one can build an equivalent weighing no more (or even less) than that by careful selection of components.

I was very surprised last week to weigh an AR-15 pistol upper, with a short 10½” barrel, that weighed over 6 pounds on its own, without a lower receiver at all, much less sights, a light, and other accessories.  Frankly, that’s ridiculous!  When I took it apart to see why it weighed so much, I could see that the vendor had simply thrown together all the odd bits and pieces he had left over from regular sales.  It used a heavy-profile barrel, weighing at least half a pound more than a standard profile and probably close to a pound more than a lightweight barrel (often encountered in pistol builds).  The handguard was allegedly made of aluminum, which should be light enough, but it measured over 12 ounces on the scale.  I have aluminum and carbon-fiber-composite handguards weighing half that!  I advised the friend who sent the upper to me to sell it at a gun show, to take advantage of current high prices, and put the money towards something lighter and more appropriate when parts became more freely available.  Until then, he’s got a perfectly good carbine upper (which weighs less, even with its 16″ barrel, than the pistol upper!), and can use that.

After that, I did a quick check of my own gun safe.  Of my “fighting rifles”, most weigh 6-7 pounds unloaded.  They’re set up for light weight, rapid handling, and extended carry, where every unwanted ounce can be a burden.  (That’s particularly important to me, because with my fused spine and nerve damage, I won’t be carrying any gun very far!)  Of those that are heavier, one is set up as a long-range rifle with a 20″ barrel and a large telescopic sight, and weighs over 9 pounds – unavoidable with that combination of features.  Another is over 8 pounds, but it’s not one I’ve carried much.  I think I’m going to see whether I can shave another half-pound to a pound off it, by replacing components with lighter equivalents.  I’m here to tell you, the further you have to carry a heavy rifle, the more you regret its weight!

A perennial problem has reared its head yet again:  the care of magazines.  I wrote about this at some length a few years ago.  Too many gun owners have too few magazines;  don’t rotate them in use;  and don’t care for or maintain them properly.  The magazine is perhaps the most vulnerable part of your weapons system – if it fails, or you run out of loaded mags, you can’t defend yourself.  They deserve more attention than most of us give them.  All magazines should be cleaned and checked at least once per year, and those in heavy use more often than that.  Replacement parts are (or were, before the current shortage) freely available;  baseplates, springs and followers.  I have a lot of older aluminum STANAG magazines where the only original part is the body.  Every other component has been replaced.  My polymer magazines haven’t needed that, being newer, but they still get an annual checkover.  It’s worth the time it takes, for the sake of peace of mind.

Other than that, the AR-15 rebuilding project has been an interesting look at the “state of the art” in civilian carbines.  I emphasize, I haven’t been trying to produce military-standard toughness in these weapons.  They aren’t going to be bashed around the bush for weeks and months on end, with minimal maintenance, care and attention.  If they were, I’d be producing a very different end product, costing more than twice as much.  For light to medium use in an urban environment by civilians on tight budgets, these are now well set up.  May they never be needed the hard way!



  1. i'm doing a build now of extra parts i had left over. took a few weeks to find missing items. had to pay premium for a mid-level bcg. still need a charging handle but i refuse to pay the price. its a matter of principal now… i tell people to number their mags so you can tell them apart. many times over the decades have identified a faulty mag only to mix it back in by accident. when i find a faulty one now, i crush it right then and there. no way it'll sneak back in my rotation.

  2. and my theory is that most of my builds will grow old in a closet until the owner dies of old age, some will be fired once a year or so. a few will be used for real, maybe 10 percent. of those, most will be once and never needed again either b/c the owner died in the battle or b/c he won and established the area as a no-go zone for the bad guys. i think it will be a rare bird even in today's environment that will use one more than once or twice. the longevity stats don't favor the grunt.

  3. I've been looking for parts to do another build and they have gone up significantly, and options are limited as well.
    In January I built my first AR (I have traditionally preferred heavier weapons) and I've been looking for a second. While I can readily find receivers on the shelf at local stores, price unchanged, the cheapest build kit I can find is 36% more than it was in January – $30 of that price increase has been in the last 2 weeks.

    But most of what I'm doing gun wise right now is obscure and old, and those supplies and costs haven't changed.

  4. Actually, with the .mil type STANAG mags, the body wears out, too. I commanded a basic training company at Ft. Jackson, and the most common thing we threw out magazines for was cracked feed lips, or feed lips that had spread too far apart (leading to double feeds.) You can't bring those back into service by replacing parts – you just have do destroy them.

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