Why do we die-hard gun nerds do what we do? Sure, we pontificate about self-defense applications, civil unrest, and the pending end of the world. But what really is it that drives this preoccupation we all seem to have with cool dangerous toys that are sleek, black, and oily? I would assert that despite our many cool hardcore tats, ample facial hair, and that flinty resolve present in our steel gray eyes, we are all at our core not altogether unlike your typical 14-year-old girl. No matter our station, background, or wherewithal, we all in quiet moments just want to look cool.
If our mission is simply to throw bullets downrange then there are obviously countless different ways to get there. However, the immutable dicta of Physics are always lurking in the background. Heavy bullets mean recoil and fast bullets require barrel length. As heavy and long are the mortal enemies of fast and maneuverable, American industry has contrived some of the most delightful ways to massage said dicta into conformity with our tactical will.
At a certain point, the exercise gets a bit silly. The practical efficacy of the small fast 5.56mm bullet is predicated upon its remaining fast. When a small bullet gets slow it takes on a more theatrical than practical flavor. As we strive to shrink our 5.56mm combat weapons into ever-smaller platforms we do so at the inevitable detriment of velocity and copious muzzle flash. One can encounter this phenomenon at some of the most rarefied levels.
I recall a vehement cry when the M4 first made its debut over the outrageous nature of its barrel. The 5.56mm round was designed around a 20-inch tube, and the 14.5-inch version on the M4 would never cut the mustard, ballistically speaking. Nowadays 14.5 inches is the starting point for some of the most egregious barrel shrinkage.
The HK416 rifles that Devgru used to introduce Osama bin Laden to his seventy nubile young virgins sported 11-inch barrels and sound suppressors. While the cans do a simply spanking job of arresting all that fire and flash resulting from the fact that we cut the original M16’s barrel in half, there comes a point when all we have really done is create a very expensive souped-up .22 rifle. That is indeed the concept we shall endeavor to explore today.
Our two players come from totally different neighborhoods and totally different philosophies. The Pocket AR is a homebuilt contraption that explores the concept of the smallest possible black rifle that might be created using stock parts. The lower receiver had to be registered as a short-barreled rifle so as to avoid any Imperial entanglements, while the Cry Havoc takedown barrel kit allowed the gun to fit into some of the most ridiculously small places. Troy Industries birthed the stubby little buttstock, while Model 1 Sales sourced the barrel and incidental bits. The receiver is a unique creation from Mississippi Auto Arms.
The true strength of the M4 is its modularity. Any three-thumbed ape in possession of even a modest modicum of manual dexterity can bodge together one of these delightful contrivances in his or her basement with a minimum of tools and talent. As the Pocket AR might attest, the end result can indeed be fairly radical.
Our Pocket AR is a beast of a gun. The whole rig breaks down into two handy portions that will easily ride within a typical briefcase. In fact, so long as a bit of ingenuity is applied that same innocuous briefcase will tote the gun along with three 30-round magazines and an X-Products 50-round drum. Think of the resulting package as reliable insurance against a world gone nuts. The gun itself weighs about seven pounds and runs like a champ, even up close and indoors.
Kel-Tec is reliably weird. This Florida-based American firearms company makes some of the most innovative tactical firearms in the world. Their 5.56mm bullpup rifle ejects downward, while the 7.62mm version spits empties out the front. Kel-Tec’s pump shotgun sports dual magazine tubes carrying fourteen rounds onboard, and their polymer-framed pocket pistols are the very embodiment of mechanical simplicity. Their PMR30 is unlike anything else out there.
For starters, the PMR30 is all but weightless. No kidding, the gun weighs 14 ounces empty. You can slap this rascal on your hip for a stroll around the rural farm and literally forget it is there. The PMR30 runs zippy little .22WMR magnum rimfire rounds. The hybrid blowback action is reliable and fun, while the single action trigger is pleasantly crisp. The grip to frame angle is a bit blocky, but the gun is nonetheless a hoot to shoot. Each round produces the most delightful little softball-sized muzzle flash. The real magic happens, however, in the gun’s remarkable magazine.
The box magazine of the PMR30 is a polymer contrivance infused with some sort of high tech Information Age lubricant so as to be maintenance-free and thoroughly easy to load. It is compact and handy enough to hide in your pocket while producing a grip geometry that is manageable even by folks with modest mitts. It also packs a full thirty rounds into the sorts of spaces that might tote half that many 9mm.
The safety on the PMR30 is in the same spot and operates in the same manner as does that of the 1911. The gun has what appears to be a slide release on the left side of the frame, but looks can be deceiving. To drop the slide on a fresh magazine one should grasp the slide and give it a quick snatch to the rear. The switch is actually intended to lock the slide back manually, not to facilitate rapid reloads. The magazine release is located in the heel in the manner of most classic European handguns. However, there is a nifty recess to accommodate your thumb so dropping the magazines remains fast and intuitive even if not thoroughly optimized.
The end result is a compact lightweight cutting edge handgun that offers literally unprecedented firepower. The gun is fast in action and fun to run, while being environmentally resistant and pleasantly accurate. It is also, for what it offers, remarkably reasonably priced. As a result, there was a time when demand outstripped supply by a breathtaking margin. Back in those days PMR30’s were being scalped on Gunbroker for twice their MSRP. Nowadays these nifty little guns are fairly easy to find.
Pocket AR PMR30
Caliber .223 REM .22WMR
Operating System Direct Gas Impingement Hybrid Blowback
Takedown System Cry Havoc Quick Release Barrel N/A
Barrel Length 7.5 in 4.3 in
Overall Length 20.25 in collapsed/24.8 in extended 7.9 in
Weight as tested 112 oz 14 oz
Pocket AR .223 Performance
Load Velocity (fps) Group Size (inches)
HSM 55-gr Sierra Blitzking 2208 0.65
Gorilla Ammunition 69-gr Matchking OTM 1982 0.7
Winchester 62-gr FMJ 2178 0.7
Hornady 75-gr BTHP 1959 0.8
Kel-Tec PMR30 .22 Win Mag Performance
Load Velocity (fps) Group Size (inches)
Winchester 40-gr JHP 1215 1.5
Notes: Caldwell Ballistic Precision Chronograph set 10 feet from muzzle. Accuracy is the best 4 of 5 shots at 16 meters from a simple rest.
If the point really is to put horsepower downrange a comparison of these two comparably radical smoke poles is illuminating. The 5.56mm Pocket AR throws a 55-grain bullet at about 2,000 feet per second from its stubby little tube. The PMR30 tosses its 40-grain pills at about 1200 feet per second. While these two ballistic solutions are obviously not interchangeable, they remain close enough to each other to facilitate some interesting deductions.
The Pocket AR obviously benefits from the addition of a buttstock, if even a tiny one. The folding, pivoting buttstock of the MAC-series submachine guns has been vigorously maligned, but it yet remains markedly more effective than a comparable gun lacking any such appendage. The stock produces an adequate cheek weld, but it really is small. However, the mission of the gun is to be compact, not to ring steel a kilometer away. In such applications, the lithe little heater is indeed superb.
The Pocket AR runs fast and shoots straight at typical handgun ranges. At 100 meters or more the gun becomes an area weapon system, but we expected that. The primary detriment to this gun is all the wasted energy that is expelled out its snout. The short tube only allows for a fraction of the ample propellant charge behind the 5.56mm round to conflagrate prior to the bullet’s leaving the barrel. As a result, the muzzle blast will clear your sinuses, and the gun’s racket is adequate to alert the Air Force technicians who render yeomen’s service monitoring the planet for errant nuclear detonations. The muzzle flash in dim light is also readily visible from the International Space Station. The gun drops its magazines freely. The practical ergonomics of the M4 platform set the standard for everybody else.
Importance of Control
By contrast, the PMR30 is a sedate and thoroughly controllable machine. Modest recoil makes for fast follow up shots, and the gun’s ergonomics offer fairly rapid magazine changes. Literally, nothing is more maneuverable in tight confines than a lightweight polymer handgun. The fiber optic sights on the PMR30 glow nicely in sunlight, and there is plenty of railed real estate on the dust cover for cool-guy stuff.
The PMR30 will punch those zippy little .22 bullets right where you want them as fast as you choose to stroke the trigger. You can conceivably hide the gun in a generous pocket, and the compact spare magazines allow you to pack a truly ridiculous amount of spare ammunition. I invested in five mags total. If I cannot solve my problems with 150 rounds of .22 Magnum I should likely find some new problems.
The Pocket AR requires federal registration, takes up about as much space as a proper toaster, and cost me a fun Saturday afternoon in the shop to bodge it together. The gun thumps you in the face every time you stroke the trigger. Imagine fighting Chuck Norris when he was a toddler to get an accurate mental picture of the experience. The gun indeed runs fast and has been imminently reliable in my extensive experience. At typical close quarters ranges the combination of the Pocket AR and a nice compact Holosun combat optic will reliably secure your home and family against most reasonable threats as well as many of the unreasonable sorts.
The Kel-Tec PMR30, by contrast, transfers like any other handgun and weighs less than your lunch bag. It is small enough to conceal easily and packs just as many rounds onboard as does the chunkier black gun. Additionally, Winchester offers .22 Magnum versions of their superb PDX1 Defender defensive loads in this caliber. These horrific little monsters deploy razor-sharp petals on contact with something moist and soft. The downrange effects would be intuitively vile.
At the End of the Day
At the end of the day if the point of the exercise is to be secure and look cool doing it then the Pocket AR does undoubtedly have the edge. Nothing screams Spy Gadget like a takedown black rifle that will fit inside an aluminum briefcase. However, if the mission is more utilitarian in nature the argument can be made that the bantamweight PMR30 offers most of what the expensive AR does at a fraction of the cost, weight, and hassle. If practicality is the answer then the humble PMR30 from Kel-Tec might be a sensible choice.
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