Armalite California Compliant SPR Mod-1 – New Gun Review

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.
It also comes in kit form to convert your existing AR-15 to an Mod-1 design.
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.
You can click this to see the full sized sales sheet from Armalite.
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.
This is a picture of the kit if you want to convert your existing AR to a Mod-1.
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.
We shot our test gun with four types of ammo and had no failures whatsoever.
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.

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  • Dave April 8, 2014, 7:40 am

    To CA Resident from another CA Resident (far north end of the Sac Valley)
    We’re pretty screwed here in California, but I’ve acquired –
    Ruger Mini-14 .223
    Bushmaster AR-15 .223/5.56 plus a CMMG .22LR upper
    Ruger Mod 77 .308
    Ruger 10/22 .22LR
    Marlin 336C 30/30
    Saginaw M-1 .30

    I happen to like them all, however, I really like the Bushmaster with the 22 conversion, along with the Mod 77 .308 bolt action. Just wish the .308 also handled 7.62. What I don’t like about the 77 is it uses an internal magazine, so you are very limited in capacity. I am considering another model which uses magazines. As you know, California limits magazine capacity, so, I have a LOT of small magazines. Excellent ranges in the area (up to 600 yards), and a lot of BLM land (as long as it’s not posted).

    In the handgun area, I have my S&W Mod 19 .357 mag which I carried in the mid 1970s, a Colt 1911, a Kimber Target 1911 5″ .45, Kimber Ultra Cary II 3″ .45, and a Firearms International Mod D .380 (same as the old Colt Pony). The .357 hardly gets to see daylight anymore due to weight, although you can’t beat a wheel gun for dependability. My team from the USAF outshot our contemporaries from civil LEOs and USMC, who were then armed with 1911s, due to jams, etc, they experienced. The Ultra Carry II, like similar products in the compact 1911s, is great, and I like a load that puts ’em down the first time (Vietnam taught me that). Personally, I’m all about accuracy over quantity. For anyone with smaller hands, I recommend the single stack over staggered. I find staggered to be to clunky which presents a problem when coming back on target.

    I’m always recommending people actually try out some weapons before they buy, or at least handle some to get a feel before making up their minds and plopping down the green. I’ve known quite a few who bought and ended up not being happy with what they got. Same for rifles. Size matters. I bought a lady friend a Mini-14. She was used to hunting with a 30/30, but fell in love with how well the Mini-14 fit her small frame. She, too, has a Kimber Ultra .45 for personal defense. A lot of people thought she was crazy to go for the .45. First time out she was cutting center paper with no recoil problem.

    Hope this helps.

  • Joseph Oregon December 4, 2012, 1:50 am

    George, thanks for the heads up, I will join tonight and get the word out.


  • CA Resident November 28, 2012, 7:27 am

    I will take “consistently boring” reliability over “Italian Supercar” quirkiness every time.

    Is this a better choice than a newer Mini 14 in CA? I always read that AR-type rifles are battle proven and much more rugged. Then the counter argument goes “at a recent weekend combat training class my Mini 14 made it all the way through, 1,500 rounds flawlessly, no cleaning either. But X number of AR’s failed during the weekend while in class…”. Then an AK guy chimes in and says his “blows all the others away” in both reliability and effectiveness. Then the fourth guy jumps in and says a 22LR will do 99% of all tasks and the others are good, but a 22LR rifle in trained hands even better (cheaper and lighter ammo, easier to go subsonic).

    Who to believe? What to buy? Of course I wish I could buy one of each. Btw: Mini 14’s start at $719 in CA.

    So what is the “best” or “can’t go wrong” choice for a rifle buyer in CA wanting a home defense/earthquake/economy collapses? Currently own an 870 12 gauge, Glock 19 and 26, Bersa 380 (first handgun).

    I respect this sites opinion and reader comments. I have read the site and received email updates for just over a year. I find it one of the most intelligent and insightful blogs on the internet. People seem to hold strong, well argued opinions here. This is why I seek input.

    This Armalite, Mini 14, xxx brand AK?

  • Twotoes November 27, 2012, 6:25 am

    What about those of us in the great state of NY? Would the SPR-1 CA compliant model be legal?

  • Nikon November 3, 2012, 11:43 am

    Idaho, Idaho, Idaho. Left California 10 years ago and have everything we need to servive. It’s actually encouraged by the government.

    • 2nd amendment November 27, 2012, 2:36 am

      Glad you left Ca we don’t need anymore fence jumping chickenslike you here.Ill stay and fight for my right in my beautiful state till I die!God bless America!

      • Dave April 8, 2014, 8:47 am

        2nd amendment – Just my two cents worth, but I think that was unfair. First Nikon didn’t say why they left. Perhaps it was the taxes and high prices we pay for everything. A lot of people come here from other states because we pay one of the highest welfare rates in the nation. Then they find out how much it costs to live here. I remember before Howard Jarvis was passed and saved people from being taxed out of their homes. Of course, the lefties want to get rid of the Howard Jarvis restrictions so they can raise taxes again. In no time we will be paying more in property taxes than in mortgage payments if they succeed.

        Maybe her family got tired of the rat race… of sitting in traffic for 4 hours just to get to work. Maybe they lost their income because the state drove their source either out of business or out of the state. Perhaps it was to escape the crumbling education system which once supported residents up through college. Or perhaps it was to escape the smog, gangs, etc. Maybe they just got tired of living under a socialist state government which is trying to become communist… unless it is given away to the stream of illegals still entering the state in hopes of being granted amnesty and citizenship. Maybe they got tired of fighting the good fight and never winning.

        My family was here in the north state before the gold rush. Four generations plus my children who were born here. My family helped build the infrastructure of the state, from dams and aqueducts, to roads, power lines, phone lines, etc. And they farmed and ranched. Believe me, I get really tired and sick of what is happening to this state… which was once the envy of the nation. I have often thought about leaving. But where to? I love the ocean, so inland is out. Oregon and Washington are pushing to be as liberal as California. I’ve lived in FL, AK, MA, NY, ME, IN, TX, MS, WA, and MN. They all have their pluses and minuses. I’ve lived in a number of places overseas, and it’s the same thing. This is my HOME, and I will likely be interred here in the local Veterans Cemetery. Until then I will fight until there is no fight left.

        What I will not do is attack someone else for making the choice to go where they can be happy and where they don’t have to fight for rights which are supposed to be guaranteed by the government.

    • Dave April 8, 2014, 8:50 am

      Sorry you left. We can’t afford the loss of even one supporter, let alone a family. I don’t blame you though, whatever your reason. I’m glad to hear at least one state doesn’t mind Californians. 🙂 I wish Oregon did.

  • Tony C. October 31, 2012, 5:39 am

    A contributing factor to the gun-hate mentality of California is the number of handguns held by criminals. Most are stolen from gun owners who don’t invest in a handgun safe. The cheapest gun safe is Gunvault GV-1000-S for $150, which is available in digital combination or biometric fingerprint recognition to access the gun. These gun safes can be bolted down to prevent a thief from stealing the entire gun safe. If gun owners invest in a gun safe, less handguns would end up in criminals’ possession. Armed criminals making headline news is fueling the gun-hate mentality of California. It’s interesting to note that when these criminals are caught, they’re not charged with possession of a firearm, which implies they had used a replica airsoft toy gun to commit armed robbery.

    • Administrator October 31, 2012, 9:26 am

      And overwhelming majority of Florida crime is not face to face because of mandatory sentencing for guns used in any crime And Castle Doctrine and stand your ground laws. There is a silent majority in California just like everywhere else that supports personal protection with firearms. If they were as vocal and committed as the tiny anti gun minority things would be much different in California. Everyone thinks it’s the other guys job.

      • Dave April 8, 2014, 8:27 am

        I’m afraid you are a bit off base on this comment.

        Just as most outsiders think that California is all cities and beaches, and populated by retirees, fruits and nuts, if you don’t live here and understand the politics and how the state is divided into zones, it’s hard to understand why people don’t stand up. Every time you fight the tide, you get overruled. Over time, that takes a toll. Just like, every time I turn around, another organization like the NRA, or some pro-gun politician is asking for more donated money. We keep seeing that money going into a dark pit and we still lose. Still, many of us continue to fight the good fight.

        The majority of anti-gunners are your progressive liberals who have never held a gun in their lives. Consider: The historic balance of conservatives to liberals in the military is 80:20. In Congress, it runs about 15:85 on a good day. In California, our legislature is over 2/3 liberal. The majority of them are from the major metro zones. If they have no experience with firearms, how can they ever understand them or the people who want them. Personally, I don’t think someone who lacks personal insight should be allowed to write or vote on restrictions to gun rights. Sen Feinstein is a prime example of someone who shouldn’t have a say. Either she is a liar, or she does not understand anything about weapons or their parts. She is the one who changed the definition of “assault weapon” to include semi-automatic firearms, which, as any veteran knows is not an assault weapon they’d want to field against an AK. They don’t understand that it doesn’t matter whether you have 6 10 round magazines or two 30 round magazines. Or that a flash suppressor isn’t designed to hide the shooter but to protect the shooter’s vision in low light conditions. Them telling us would be like me telling Hillary how to stand by her man.

  • Ron Stowe October 29, 2012, 10:33 pm

    George you convinced me to join the California Rifle and Pistol Association. Sadly the site is having a maintenance problem and you cannot join online at the present time. I will check back in a week or two and try and join again. Seems silly that they would chose to perform maintenance and not accept new memberships even for a minute.

  • George October 29, 2012, 3:23 pm

    I am kinda offended by this line from the article-“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.”
    If it was that easy it would have happened long ago. I’m an NRA member and volunteer at gun shows to recruit members for the California Rifle and Pistol Association. The problem is not ‘the gumption of the few’ it is ‘the apathy of the many’! There are only 30,000 CRPA members out of 2 million plus gun owners in California, so joining CRPA would help. CRPA sued and won to get a ban on shipping ammo to California overturned, and are pursuing county by county the easing of the requirements to obtain a CCW. They ask members to email their Representatives to protest even sillier laws. They are the lead organization in the battle for California gun rights and, like they say, “as California goes so goes the Nation”. So before you say “they should do something”, look in the mirror.If you don’t like California’s gun laws join the CRPA. If two million voters wanted the bullet button law changed it could happen.

    • Mark N. October 30, 2012, 1:59 am

      The probability of a political victory for gun owners in California is 2-1 against; for every gun owner, there are two anti-gunners, and the anti-gunners have nearly two-thirds of the seats in the Legislature. We can than k such people for the loaded guns ban, then assault weapons ban, then the .50 BMG ban, then a handgun open carry ban and an internet handgun ammo ban, followed closely by an attempt to ban bullet buttons (the author of which has vowed to bring it back next year, specifically expressing his intent to ban the “evil black rifle” from this state) and an open carry ban on long guns. While it is still legal to carry firearms while hunting on millions of acres of state and national forests, it is essentially impossible to bear arms in any urban area without a concealed weapons permit, a permit that is essentially impossible for citizens to obtain from any of the big city police chiefs or county sheriffs. These police administrators are sold on the proposition that “more guns equals more crime”, and will fight tooth and nail with their compatriots in the Legislature to limit gun rights as much as possible for as long as possible. Our only salvation will be judicial relief, a solution fraught with uncertainty, much time and effort, and large expense.

      • Dave April 8, 2014, 8:04 am

        It isn’t the apathy of the many, George. We do fight. My reps fight. But the lefties have a supermajority in the state legislature along with the administration. Just about any bill written by the left sails through and gets signed by “Moonbeam” Brown. Couple that with the number of conservatives who have finally given up the fight and left the state. That leaves us with even fewer people to fight for our rights.

        I am a 4th generation Californian and a conservative. Most of the people I know are conservatives but, many of my friends and neighbors are also Democrats, Independents, etc. They actually belong to the Tea Party, along with Libertarians, etc. Of course, we live in rural California. That’s about 96% of the land area of the state. The rest is listed as developed. The voting blocks are in the major metro zones like Sacramento, San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles Basin, and San Diego. So, no matter how hard we fight, we are going to lose most of the time.

        Still, we have won a couple. Ammo purchases was one. The CCW justification was overturned so that now we only have to say we need it for self protection. I’m thankful I live in Shasta Co where our sheriff is pro gun. In CA, each sheriff gets to decide whether to issue or not. In fact, as I recall the wording, a sheriff who is against armed citizens can arrest someone with a CCW from another county. If found guilty, the CCW holder could lose their gun rights in the entire state. Even if not found guilty, it can cost an arm and a leg in defense costs. Which is why I belong to several pro gun organizations.

        Of course, we have, at least temporarily, rid ourselves of Ye. Now if we could get rid of a few more, like de Leon, who I swear does nothing but think of ways to circumvent the 2d Amendment.

        I do think the tide may be turning on the national level.

  • Sixgun October 29, 2012, 1:10 pm

    It will just be a matter of time before the CA government says no to this, once they catch on that is. I bet some anti-freedom group is raising hell right now to their state congress puke.

  • Tom October 29, 2012, 10:58 am

    Be easier to get the heck out of CA and all the liberal BS they have there. AZ sure works for me, CC permit and any gun I want to buy.

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