One of the main problems with pistol caliber AR-15 rifles is that the 5.56x45mm/.223 cartridge is much longer than even the 10mm, the longest of the common handgun cartridges one can find the AR-15 chambered in. Handgun magazines are much shorter than AR-15 magazines, so pistol calibers on standard AR-15 receivers must either use magazines modified with an extension to fit the AR-15 magazine well, or the actual mag well must have a block installed that will allow standard handgun magazines to seat. I have only found two manufacturers that make lower AR-15-style receivers that will fit standard AR-15 pistol caliber upper receivers that have magazine wells designed to fit handgun or submachine gun magazines. I was therefore very gratified when I passed Thureon Defense at SHOT, and saw what looked like AR-15s with dedicated pistol lowers, such as this “GA” with Glock magazine.
After looking closer at the Thureon carbines, and some discussion with Thureon rep Keith Fitch, I verified that the Thureon carbines are not in fact AR-15 compatible. While this may seem disappointing for anyone who had visions of just purchasing a Thureon dedicated pistol caliber lower receiver to mate to another company’s AR-15 upper, it does mean that the entire carbine can be made more compact and strong than might be possible if it had to mate to standard AR-15 uppers. I was also a little disappointed to learn that the Thureon are straight blowblack action, but that is wishful thinking on my part: I am only aware of two makers of gas impingement AR-15 pistol caliber carbines, CNC Gun Parts and Teppo Jutsu (and both of those are in the venerable 7.62x25mm). All the rest are blowblack. The Thureon carbines are lighter than typical “M4geries”, at a little over 6 lbs for a 16.5″ barrel version. They come in Glock magazine 9mmNATO, .40, .357 Sig, 10mm, and .45 ACP, as well as Colt or Uzi-style 9mm or .45. Thureon is careful to point out the caliber is NATO, so shooting 9mm NATO, which is equivalent to +P, will be fine.
Pistol caliber AR-15 rifles are not cheap, though the best-known pistol caliber AR maker does not have a good reputation for its pistol-caliber products. The least expensive of the pistol caliber ARs before the recent buying panic was over $900 suggested retail, with many of the better brands running $1500 or more. This is an area where Thureon appears to deliver an excellent value. The model above, with the long top rail, forearm rails on sides and bottom, and flip-up Magpull sights, has a suggested retail of about $1200. A basic model with a round handguard that I found very comfortable has a suggested retail of just under $1000. All that was needed was a red-dot or iron sights (which many of us already have a few of lying around) to be ready to run, especially if the buyer already owns a Glock in that caliber.
Keith demonstrated breaking down the Thureon for cleaning, and it is extremely fast and easy.
As of Thursday, I was told that Thureon was only back-ordered about 6-8 weeks, unlike some manufacturers that are giving back-order times of a year or more. I hope to test one of the Thureon carbines in the near future, but my initial impression is that they seem like a good bet for someone who wants to keep the basic AR-15 firing controls, but use a pistol caliber, or just someone who wants a high quality pistol caliber carbine that uses readily available, dependable magazines.