This is an often-asked question on various forums. Should you piece together an AR-15 from individual components, or should you buy one off the shelf?
The answer really depends on budget and needs. If you’re on an extreme budget, you should be able to piece together a rifle for less than the cost of buying it whole – if only because complete firearm sales in the United States are subject to an 11% federal excise tax. If you need a specific weapon for a specific task, you may have trouble finding what you need at your local gun store.
Many people succumb to the siren song of the kit rifle – what seems to be an impossibly good deal on everything but the lower receiver. Unfortunately, these kits are often composed of the lowest quality parts available. While an AR-15 for $550 sounds like a great deal, keep in mind that you still need to buy ammunition, magazines, etc – if you can’t budget for those extra costs, you may want to look into another firearm.
Thankfully, the incredible surge in demand after the election of President Obama resulted in many manufacturers increasing production, which has driven down costs and made available many high quality parts and rifles. The simplest way to “build” an AR-15 is to buy a complete upper receiver group and complete lower receiver separately, and attach them via the two push-pins. High quality upper receiver groups from Spike’s Tactical and Bravo Company are available in the $600-700 range, and lower receiver assemblies in the neighborhood of $250 – saving several hundred dollars over the cost of buying a complete Colt 6920 or Daniel Defense XV, both of which are excellent rifles.
Building your own rifle from the component parts is a fun, rewarding process, but sometimes frustrating if you don’t know what you’re doing – there are many resources on the web which will assist you with this. However, the cost of the tools required will often mean that you’ll go over the cost of a comparable complete rifle.
The bottom line is, if you plan on having just one, buy it complete or buy the upper and lower separately. If you want to seriously dive into the hobby and find out exactly how everything goes together, build it from parts – but do it right if you do (and try to keep your bench cleaner than mine!). I’d also like to add that having just one AR-15 is often a difficult proposition.