If you’ve ever sat in on a complete conversation wrapped around infringement, you’ve probably heard that “you can’t own an AR in New York.” While that statement echoes a good bit of truth, there is a bit to unpack there. But it is possible to own a New York legal AR-15, you just have to know how to do it.
Owning a New York Legal AR-15
First, are we talking about New York State or New York City? As both have unique laws. Within the five boroughs, that information is correct. A typical civilian cannot own an AR-15 in any configuration. However, in the rest of the state, you can indeed own an AR-15 but you have to make some decisions on the way it is configured before doing so.
To tell this story, we need to start back in 2013 when then-governor Andrew Cuomo and his cronies passed the New York State SAFE Act. Cute name, right? Sort of like “Final Resting Place” or “Rectal Exploration.”
This hastily-passed piece of legislation did absolutely nothing to make the state safer. Among many other things, it created and banned a class of firearm that would infamously become known as “Assault Weapons.”
These spanned across all three platforms, but nothing caught the brunt of it like the rifle.
So, to be classified as an “Assault Weapon” (or “weapon weapon” as I prefer) a rifle must:
- Be semi-automatic
- Accept a detachable magazine
- Have one or more of the following “military features”:
- A pistol grip
- A folding, collapsible or telescoping stock
- A threaded muzzle
- A bayonet lug
- A flash suppressor
- A muzzle brake
- A compensator
- A grenade launcher
- A forward grip
Sounds like pretty much every gun you own, right? You got it. This list wasn’t devised because people were getting bayonetted in the streets or there was a rash of drive-bys involving rifle grenades. It was obviously compiled to include as many rifles as possible.
Imagine if you wanted to ban cars but there was something legally in your way. So instead you ban any vehicle with more than three wheels under the auspice of “anything with four or more wheels is dangerous.”
Another good way to understand these bans is to think of the coronavirus mandates passed in 2020. I describe last year as the year that the rest of the world got to view the U.S. government through the eyes of a gun owner. Standing in a restaurant is dangerous, and you’ll likely catch COVID-19. Sitting down in one is ok, just as long as you’re eating….but not chips or wings.
Hand goes under the receiver? Weapon of war. Hand behind the receiver? Just a hunting rifle, nothing to see here. The laws don’t make sense. And you can tell that they were passed under the assumption that New Yorkers are too stupid to see the bigger picture.
Anyway, with a little ingenuity (pretty much the same day) New Yorkers figured out how to navigate around these laws because, as you might imagine, gun owners know guns better than the people who merely collect bribes to legislate against them.
So, all three items must be true to make a rifle a banned assault rifle, right? Fine, we’ll do it your way, pal. By affixing the magazine of an AR-15 it no longer meets the criteria to be considered an “Assault Weapon,” so lots of folks simply do that to skirt the law.
There are lots of ingenious ways to do so, but hands down my favorite is the CA Comp Mag. The CA Comp Mag is screwed in place from the top of the receiver and then lends the user a side door loading system to expedite loading by not having to crack the gun open to access the magazine.
With it permanently affixed, a New Yorker can have everyday features like a collapsible stock, pistol grip, threaded barrel, and just about anything that they wish to screw on the end of it (sans suppressor).
Get a Grip
Want an AR that you can reload on the fly for say, competition? Or perhaps you need the magazine to come out because you plan on using caliber conversions? You can have that too, it just has to be free of any of the features on the list above. Most are pretty easy to navigate around by either grinding or pinning but, of course, replacing the pistol grip is going to present a certain level of difficulty.
Naturally, plenty of designs have come forth, but most out-of-staters probably are most familiar with the Thordsen stock. Because this elongated gooseneck of a grip sweeps back behind the triggerguard (as opposed to protruding under it) it no longer meets the description of a pistol grip. Most folks like it because it gives a feel of a conventional rifle, but some shooters find it uncomfortable because it rubs against the web of your hand and puts your finger a bit far from the trigger.
The next most common grip is the SB Spur. Embracing the word “protrude,” the Spur sits flush with the triggerguard, giving you just two fingers worth of purchase. The pro here is that you retain the AR platform’s natural hand position. However, the con is obvious, you have at least two fingers floating in space, reducing your control.
A few years later a design known as the “Patrick Henry” triggerguard would come out, giving the Spur user a place to put their middle finger, allowing for a complete change in the way the gun feels as well as control that is on par with a standard pistol grip.
For the More Dexterous
Then again, if you are the type of shooter that doesn’t want to sacrifice a complete grip and you weren’t blessed with piano-players fingers, there is the BoAR grip. The bi-axial offset design of the BoAR grip is best likened to a video game controller. With it, you can get a full grip on your AR, albeit off to the side.
These are dexterity specific, but I have found using one with the weak side was about the same as using a Spur without a Patrick Henry. The comfort level on these represents a standard grip, but you do have to adjust the angle of your trigger finger when it is within your grasp.
Although I would much rather that New York goes back to a state where it would be legal to just buy a “normal” AR-15 off the rack, the last eight years have been a brilliant display of force to this local administration.
While they’ll likely never release the numbers, New Yorkers own substantially more AR-15s than they did before the SAFE act. This effectively creates the exact opposite of what the state intended. Best of all, many inventors became millionaires and created industry jobs based on the half-assed infringement that was literally voted in overnight.
Hey, although they might be as visually unappealing as Andrew Cuomo and operate with the grace and coordination of his brother Fredo, a New York legal AR-15 still works as intended. Which is more than we can say about those trying to ban them.
This article was originally published in the Personal Defense World Gun Buyer’s Guide February/March 2022 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions at OutdoorGroupStore.com. Or call 1-800-284-5668, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.