Decisions, decisions.

You live in California and you want to own a modern sporting rifle that you can rely on and enjoy. You have limited options and you’re faced with making a tough decision – fixed magazine or featureless. Going featureless is sometimes overlooked by rifle owners because of aesthetics and ergonomics. Here’s a few practical reasons to consider going featureless with your rifle.

1. PUSH BUTTON, RELOAD.

Forward Controls Design EMR HC magazine button

The starting point of a functioning AR-15 rifle is the magazine. Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned veteran you’ll want to access the magazine in the manner which it was designed, by pushing the magazine button.

When I first started, it was during the days of the infamous (and now mostly obsolete) bullet button. We had to use a tool with a pointed tip to eject the magazine. With the passing of AB 1135/SB 880, on July 1, 2018 bullet buttoned equipped ARs became assault weapons overnight – unless you registered, disposed, sold, or converted your rifle. I converted my AR-15 to featureless and I haven’t looked back. In short, a featureless AR-15 does not meet the definition of an assault weapon and therefore can have a removable magazine. For myself and plenty of other owners out there, being able to drop a magazine with the push of a button has become a necessity. This method is how the AR-15 was designed to eject a magazine for loading and reloading. When featureless users talk about function over form, this is what they are referring to. If you’re new to the AR platform, DO NOT underestimate the value of this!

2. LESS IS MORE.

It’s impossible to describe “less” without first understanding the “more” alternative – Fixed Magazine. Owning a “fully featured” AR-15 or other rifle comes with a price in California. If you absolutely need a pistol grip, telescoping stock, and flash hider one of the most common ways to retain those features is a fixed mag setup with “break top” reloading. In other words, the reloading process looks something like this:

  • Pull the rear takedown pin out
  • Separate the upper from the lower, rendering it inoperable
  • Eject magazine and reload
  • Push the upper back onto the lower
  • Push the takedown pin back in
  • Charge your rifle and re-engage

It’s important to note there are few other fixed mag options such as reloading via the ejection port using devices like the MA Loader by MeanArms, the BF-10 by Bear Flag Defense, or loading inside the fixed magazine itself using the AR-15 Compmag.

SYSTEMS PERSPECTIVE
From the standpoint of the firearm as a system – adding more steps to the reloading process could lead to additional hang ups along the way. While I completely agree that you can train to do this quickly and choose from a variety of products on the market to make this work for you, there’s no way around the additional steps. This is a no-no for a fighting/SHTF/primary rifle. I don’t care how fast you can reload, a fixed-mag setup with break top reloading is adding complexity to what should be one simple action – pushing a button. Going featureless keeps your rifle in tact and does not add steps to the reloading system, it’s a simple as that.

TRAINING PERSPECTIVE
From a training standpoint, a fixed magazine setup adds more to your reload regimen. For you new shooters, consider a featureless setup for it’s simplicity. I’m beginning to sound like a broken record here… but I’ll say it again, to reload there’s nothing more fail safe than being able to push the magazine button. What will you ask your muscle memory to rely on during training? A series of tasks or a simple task? What about during a high stress situation?

If you’re like me coming from the bullet button days, it was already bad enough we had to find a tool to eject the magazine. When faced with the two different conversion options it made ZERO sense for me to add more to the reloading process. I drew the line when it came to registering my AR as an Assault Weapon, and I drew the line when it came to retraining on this platform. By going featureless there is less opportunity for user error during reload.

WEAR AND TEAR PERSPECTIVE
Finally from a design standpoint, the AR-15 was NOT designed to reload via “break-top”. You’re putting more (unnecessary) wear on your rear take down and front pivot pins than required. While one can argue they use high quality parts from name brand manufacturers who use state of the art manufacturing processes and tight tolerances, the fact remains that you’re accelerating wear on these components by using “break-top” reloading.

Take for instance a range trip where you shoot 300 rounds. For argument’s sake, say you’re using standard capacity 30-round magazines (which is illegal in a fixed-mag btw) but this is hypothetical. And let’s assume you have a perfect session – a.k.a. no malfunctions. You’ve just gone through the “break-top” reloading process 10 times. If you’re abiding by the law using 10-rounders, you’ve just done this 30 times. Now compare this to a featureless setup, same scenario, 300 rounds, and no malfunctions. In this hypothetical example with a featureless setup you’ve actuated the rear take down pin zero times. Less is more.

3. CREATE SOMETHING DIFFERENT.

Accept the challenge to personalize your rifle and build something unique. You can still build a functional, reliable and aesthetically pleasing rifle. Customize it to your liking just like you would any other project. Let the haters hate, it’s business as usual as far as we’re concerned. In every industry where aftermarket parts are involved, manufacturers and consumers test the boundaries of what is considered acceptable and find ways to blend function with form. Going featureless as an opportunity to stand out from the expected norm, just like you would do any other hobby.

4. USE STANDARD CAPACITY MAGAZINES.

Going featureless gives you the ability to use your standard capacity “Freedom Week” magazines legally. We understand that some day in the future, laws may change. But as of the writing of this article it is legal to setup a featureless rifle and use magazines that were legally acquired during freedom week. Not everybody was around during this time, but rest assure this is at the top of the list for California gun owners who seized the opportunity. Learn more about Freedom Week. Current status: California residents who lawfully possess magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds may continue to possess them while the case is appealed.

5. AR/AK PISTOL, BENCH RIFLE, OR RETRO/CLONE BUILDS

Some rifle owners in California who have a specific build in mind may put a higher priority on a fixed-mag setup for legal, ergonomic, or aesthetic reasons. For instance, a semi-auto AR/AK Pistols can only be legal in California in a fixed mag configuration (there’s more to it, but that’s the gist). Most people doing bench or precision rifle shooting aren’t running around doing tactical drills with their rifle and can afford to reload slowly. Retro and clone build owners want to keep as true as possible to original spec and need features like a pistol grip and flash hider.