The Californial compliant Armalite SPR Mod-1 carbine length AR-15. It ships with a 10 round magazine that is the same size as a standard 20 rounder and accepts all AR compatible mags. This was our first outing with the Sight Bloc(tm) from In Range Supplies. We used them for all of our accuracy testing.
This Mod-1 comes with a “bullet button” installed so that it can be shipped to California. The magazine is officially fixed because it takes a tool to remove it. The tool in this case is the nose of a bullet, which is why they are called bullet buttons.
The unique feature of the Mod-1 is that it has a monolithic upper, and this proprietary sloping rail design, with removable rails.
There are two bottom connectors that trap the rail sections in with Allen screws. The gun comes with Picatinny rails installed, but they can be swapped out for included flat and half flat sections, with strap swivel holes.
These are the actual rails that come with the SPR Mod-1 you see here. The back two are completely flat rails, and there are two half and halfs, and an extra Picatinny.
The Mod-1 is a flattop, meant for optics, but it comes standard with these high end A.R.M.S. flip up sights as a backup.
There are two swivel mounting holes for the aircraft fitting swivel that comes on the gun. Each one of these rail sections removes with those Allen screws and you can fit in flat, or half flats to make the gun easier to hold onto.
Besides the bullet button for a magazine release, the Mod-1 is a standard mil-spec AR in every way and will always have parts available.
Of the ammo we tested, Hornady Superformance shot the most consistent groups of about an inch at 100 yards, using an inexpensive 4x NcStar optic.
After several magazines of Federal Lake City green tip the Mod-1 was still shooting ten rounds into less than two inches, with most rounds into about an inch still.
You won’t find any of the telltale “keyhole” or other casting marks on the Mod-1 that you will find on almost every AR on the market signifying that they were mass produced by one of a few bulk AR suppliers (including Colt). Armalite has these uppers machined specifically for them, and there is no other Mod-1 style upper on the market. In a world of “just another AR” that you find out there, the SPR Mod-1 is actually a unique approach to AR design only from Armalite, and if your budget can handle it, the Mod 1 is a great choice for a self defense, SHTF, zombie destroyer or 3-Gun rifle.
We always get the question on AR-15 articles, “do they make one that is California legal?” The answer is yes, many companies do make California legal guns and Armalite (the “AR” in “AR-15”) is the latest to offer a series of guns specifically addressing statutory requirements in The People’s Republic of California. It is a Cali-legal version of their very popular Special Purpose Rifle (SPR) Mod-1, and despite the limitations built into the gun because of the California statutes, it is a beast of an AR with all the key features you would want in a high quality M4 sized carbine for tactical work, personal defense and 3-Gun competition. The monolithic upper is unique in that the bottom three Picatinny rails on the quad are all replaceable for flat or half flat sections, and it comes with the extra sections so you can choose your configuration. Armalite has carved a niche for themselves in the new AR-15 market by offering only guns with high end features, and this gun is the flagship of their line, now Cali legal. The SPR Mod-1 carries an MSRP of $1,554, and comes standard with a chrome lined barrel, two stage trigger and hard coat matching finish, as well as the patented hardened Armalite bolt. Now Californians can buy the same gun as the rest of us, made legal for the arcane laws of their state, and the mods are easily reversible if those laws are ever changed. The SPR Mod-1 from Armalite is all you could want in a Cali-legal AR.
You would think that by now, in light of the Heller and McDonald decisions, a few feisty Californians would have the gumption to get some of the more ludicrous of their laws overturned, but it hasn’t happened. These days you can get an AR into California but it has to have a few limitations. One is the magazine of course. You are limited to 10 rounders. And you also have to have what is called a “bullet button” installed on the gun. This is a magazine release that has to be depressed by inserting a bullet, key, or other tool into a hole in order to release the magazine. You also have to pin folding stocks, but that doesn’t apply to this gun.
The bullet button came along to take advantage of a loophole in the California law that allows for a detachable magazine on what they refer to as an “assault weapon.” The law requires that the magazine be fixed, and that it requires a tool to remove it. The law doesn’t specify what kind of tool, or how involved the removal process must be, so some clever folks invented the bullet button, which is just a magazine catch with an internal pushbutton release, perfectly sized for the tip of a .223/5.56 round. They work as promised, but you do have to remember to keep a bullet out to use to remove the magazine. It is kind of a pain, but once you get used to it, and you remember that you can in fact use your keys as a backup, the bullet button just becomes part of how you shoot.
The key to buying an AR these days is to figure out how one differs from the other. Entry level guns are feeding into the market at well under $1,000 these days, so buying a higher end gun like the SPR Mod-1 requires that to start, you want something above entry level. If you look in the pictures here, you will see that the Mod-1 has what is called a “monolithic” upper, which means that the rail extends down to the forend and there is no break. This is an important advanced feature for a few different scenarios. One is if you plan to use a night or thermal scope in front of your main optic. Clip in quad rails on a standard M4 work great for lights and lasers, but for an optic they tend to be a bit jiggly even under the light recoil of the .223/5.56 cartridge. Forward mounted, “scout” style optics and holographic sights mounted forward on the gun also tend to not hold zero very well on a standard quad. It makes sense because if you think of how a standard quad-rail is held on, it is really just spring tension. And floating front rails, while much better, are still only held at one end generally by a few Allen screws and they can loosen up. The monolithic top rail of the SPR is a subtle difference, but one that is important to many. You may consider yourself just an armchair CQB operator (close quarters battle), but at some point everyone wants or needs to shoot at distance with an AR, and if you are making a lifetime purchase decision, the monolithic upper of the SPR Mod-1 is something important to consider.
The main feature in the Mod-1 is the versatility of that front rail system itself. It isn’t just a monolithic upper with a machine quad. After the quad-rail first hit the scene, a lot of the armchair tactical crew went crazy for them, mainly because they look cool. Experienced shooters, who spend day in and day out with their rifles, didn’t care for them because they are brutal on your hands, and you rarely use all of those rails. The answer for most has been rail covers, and they do work well and protect your hands from the sharp edges, but they are also something of an oxymoron. Why would I want to put Picatinny rails on a gun, only to cover them up? It’s kind of like paying for mag wheels and covering them with hubcaps because they are too flashy .
Armalite’s answer is to provide you with flat sections for the forend, so you only put rails where you need them, and you don’t have to deal with the extra thickness and weight of rail covers that accomplish essentially nothing. It is by far the most elegant approach to the quad-rail on the market, and law enforcement and civilian consumers have responded by keeping the Mod-1 pretty much sold out and on backorder since its introduction. You can generally get an SPR Mod-1, but you will have to wait for it. As I write this there is only one for sale on GunsAmerica and it is being sold above MSRP.
The good news is that Armalite has just completed a run of the California compliant guns and they are available from your local Armalite dealer right now. They also have some of the kits in stock to make your own Mod-1 out of your existing AR-15 barrel, gas system and carrier group, and they have some complete uppers as well. The kit and uppers are not modified for California in any way, as there is no difference in uppers, and upper components are a serial numbered part of the AR-15 type firearm. All but the lowers of the AR-15 can generally be shipped directly to your door.
Our tests of the Armalite SPR Mod-1 proved to be flawless, with zero failures and boringly consistent performance. We tried ammunition from Hornady, Remington, Winchester, and some Lake City green tip from Federal. Even with a hot gun in casual shooting it is easy to keep 10-20 rounds inside two inches at 100 yards with the Mod-1, and our best 5 round groups were (as usual) with Hornady Superformance, coming in under one inch at the same distance. These groups were shot with an inexpensive NcStar 4x optic, so you should be able to duplicate our results at home. The SPR Mod-1 does come with open sights installed. They are the flip up type from A.R.M.S., and worked very well, though we couldn’t shoot anything close to these optics groups with them. If you are spending the money on a monolithic upper, you might as well put an optic of some kind on it, but Armalite provides the open sights as high quality backups, or for those who just want a good, reliable AR as a simple patrol rifle.
It is tough to go wrong with an Armalite, and like many AR-15s these days, it is pretty much impossible to find anything actually wrong with the gun. Armalite is one of the few manufacturers who have stood up and refused to claim that side piston driven ARs are better than the standard, Stoner design. Stoner was of course an employee of the original Armalite when he invented the original AR-10 configuration, before licensing it to Colt. So it could be that the guys at Armalite have access to some of the original physics of the design that others do not. So far the Stoner type ARs are still overwhelmingly ahead in the market as compared to the proprietary side piston designs. We rarely if ever have any failures with ARs, even with infrequent cleanings and heating the guns up with mag dumps that get the guns so hot they melt our shooting rests. The question isn’t reliability when you choose to buy an AR these days. You have to decide what features matter to you, and how they fit into your budget. The SPR Mod-1 is a great choice in a high quality AR, and it has some novel features you won’t find anywhere else, yet it is a mil-spec, standardized AR-15 that you will always be able to get parts for. And now you can get one in California.