A Fist Full of Firepower! Rifle Calibers in Pistol-Size Packages
By Jeff W. Zimba

In 1971 as "Dirty Harry," Clint Eastwood proclaimed that his Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum revolver was "The most powerful handgun in the world." That may have been the case at that time, but it is not even in the same ballpark as a top contender today.

34 years later in 2005, the phrase "Most powerful handgun in the world" is a subjective one and is far from uncontested. Some think that Smith & Wesson still holds the title with their X-Frame .500 Magnum. Others swear by the .454 Casull, the .475 Linebaugh or a Competitor pistol chambered in the .300 Winchester Magnum. It is difficult to crown an champions today, or at anytime in the near future.

The intent of this article is not to start some kind of "Ford vs. Chevy" type of opinion-based competition, but only to examine a few specific pistols on the market today. Specifically, firearms that are typically sold in rifle configurations that have been factory altered, or redesigned as pistols. In the mid 1970s, my father brought home a Bushmaster Pistol manufactured by Gwinn Firearms of Rochester, New Hampshire. This pistol was a semiautomatic chambered in 5.56x45mm and used standard M16 magazines. Until that day, I had never thought of a pistol looking, or functioning, anything like this one. I remember looking at the front cover of the original owner's manual and reading "Bushmaster - The most powerful semiautomatic pistol in the world," and immediately thought of the famous Dirty Harry line.

The Bushmaster Pistol is often referred to as an "Arm Pistol." Originally designed as an aircraft survival weapon, it utilizes some of the mechanical characteristics of both the AR-15 and the AK47. A few of the parts, such as the bolt and the magazine, are completely interchangeable with the AR-15. The pistol is fired by holding it against the forearm of the shooter for increased stability. With a little practice, amazingly long shots can be accomplished using this holding method. Your arm actually takes the place of the (rifle) stock and your cheek weld is against your shoulder. As odd as it sounds, it is actually quite effective and fairly comfortable.

There are several variations of AR-15 type pistols on the market today. A virgin receiver may be assembled into a pistol configuration as long as a stock has never been installed. Staying in the pistol classification allows the user to utilize one of the many short-barreled upper receivers available, without having to register the firearm as a short-barreled rifle. If there is never a stock installed, (or owned in conjunction with, some would advise) the firearm remains a standard Title I firearm and is legally treated just like any other pistol.

Another popular military-style pistol is configured after the AKM. These look a lot like the little machine guns commonly referred to as "Krinks" but without the shoulder stock. The author recently had the opportunity to test the current model available from Joeken Firearms. This pistol is based on the AMD-65 and sports a 12-inch, threaded barrel. It is available with numerous types of furniture, including laminated wood, Bakelite or the new Galil-style synthetic handguard with the SAW pistol grip manufactured by TAPCO. The AKM pistol tested by SAR looked and functioned great and was considered surprisingly controllable to everyone who handled and fired it. It was fitted with the A-119 Muzzle Brake from Global Trades Co., which proved to be quite effective in both muzzle rise and flash suppression. The painted finish was prone to wearing with nominal handling, but Joeken informed the author that they had recently worked out a deal with Lauer Custom Weaponry to finish newer pistols with their trademark DuraCoat. This is a great improvement.

Some of the HK-style firearms have been popping up lately in pistol configurations. HK may have started this trend themselves by offering the SP-89 pistol several years ago. For those not familiar with the SP-89, it was basically an MP5-PDW in semiautomatic, without a shoulder stock. It was only a matter of time before some enterprising domestic firearms manufacturers started making their own versions of this gun in all the other available calibers. Vector firearms will be offering their versions of the short .223 (Vector V-53) and the short .308 (Vector V-51) as pistols.

If the owner wants to accessorize any of these pistols there are several options, but some require prior registration as an NFA firearm. Should the owner desire the addition of a front pistol grip, it would be necessary to first register the firearm as an A.O.W. (any other weapon). This is done by filing a BATFE Form 1, along with a few fingerprint cards and a check for $200. Upon approval, the owner can obtain and install the front grip. Any subsequent transfer of the firearm would have to go through BATFE as it is then a Title II Firearm. The transfer process is the same as a machine gun or sound suppressor. The transfer fee on any subsequent transfer of this A.O.W. would only be $5, but the initial manufacturing tax, as stated before, would be $200. If the owner decided to install a shoulder stock, the same process as above would take place but the new classification of the firearm would be a "Short Barreled Rifle/" Everything is identical to manufacturing the pistol as an A.O.W except any further transfer of the Short Barreled Rifle would incur a $200 transfer tax. Should the owner decided to sell the registered firearm but could not find a buyer interested in paying the transfer tax, the firearm could be removed from the registry as a Title II firearm and a barrel in excess of 16-inches would have to be installed. At that point the firearm could never again qualify as a pistol, but could be owned and sold as a standard rifle, complying with all laws pertaining to long guns. It would then be illegal at that point, to possess a barrel of less than 16 inches, in conjunction with this receiver.

Occasionally, these firearms in their pistol configurations are purchased by owners of legally registered conversion units. Once the registered sear or trigger-pack is installed in the pistol, the machinegun status legally supersedes the restrictions on the pistol status and a shoulder stock and front grip may be added with no additional paperwork. Of course, once the sear or trigger-pack is removed, the firearm must be stripped of all the features not allowed before installation of the registered part.

The desire for owning one of these unconventional pistols could be based on one of several reasons. Given the size and weight of these particular firearms, one may think of these huge pistols as just exotic toys. In reality, they actually employ several useful traits. While these firearms are quite large compared to the more traditional pistols, they are relatively small compared to their rifle counterparts. This affords the owner an enormous amount of firepower in a somewhat compact package proving quite useful in a number of situations. Some gun owners carry a firearm for purposes of personal protection and these are quite sufficient for warding off both 2 and 4-legged predators.

The first use that comes to mind is its convenience as a "pack gun." People who spend a considerable amount of time in the woods, whether for work or for recreation, tend to want a pack as light as possible. Many feel more comfortable with a firearm for protection, or are required to have one for their line of work. Most of the pistols discussed in the article would give the outdoorsman many more options than previously available. A spare magazine or two is easy to carry and much longer shots may be reasonably attempted than with traditional handguns. Another popular use for these pistols is a "boat gun." For those living in a coastal state, outfitting a boat for sea travel may include a firearm as part of the safety gear. Security is an important issue with an ocean going vessel. Depending upon the waters you cover, piracy is alive and well on the open ocean. Your security and well being are your responsibility. One of these particular pistols can give the captain the ability to adequately protect his vessel and crew, and may provide a few more options than many other pistols. Check all laws pertaining to boating with a firearm in international waters before doing so.


From that first Bushmaster Arm Pistol to this latest Joeken AKM variant, there will always be room in the reference collection for such firearms. Their compact size combined with the ability to accept standard magazines makes them a perfect companion gun for someone with one of the original rifles. The ability of some of these pistols to accept registered sears and trigger packs makes them very desirable as host firearms for those interested in Title II weapons. Also of interest to many in the Title II arena would be the ease of using these firearms as a platform for short-barreled rifles or A.O.W.s with a minimal amount of expensive, custom machine work required. For many models, it is as simple as filing the BATFE Form 1 and ordering the parts to finish it upon approval.


Bushmaster Firearms
Dept. SAR
999 Roosevelt Trail
Windham, ME 04062
Phone: (800) 998-7928
Website: www.bushmaster.com

Global Trades Co.
Dept. SAR
7311 Old Galveston Rd., Suite 260
Houston, TX 77034
Phone: (713) 944-3351
Fax: (713) 944-3581

Joeken Firearms
Dept. SAR
P.O. Box 773
Winslow, AZ 86047
Phone: (928) 289-6429
Website: www.joeken.com

Dept. SAR
P.O. Box 2408
Kennesaw, GA 30156
Phone: (800) 554-1445
Website: www.tapco.com

Vector Arms
Dept. SAR
270 W. 500 N.
N. Salt Lake, UT 84054
Phone: (801) 295-1917
Fax: (801)295-9316
E-mail: vectorarms@bbscmail.com
Website: www.vectorarms.com

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V8N8 (May 2005)
and was posted online on May 24, 2013


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