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Can an AR-15 be Automatic? Modifications and Legality

AR-15 sporting-style rifles can come in an automatic platform if you have checked all the appropriate boxes. Some people need as much firepower down range as they can get, and an AR-15 that goes full auto does that in spades. So can an AR-15 be automatic?

Having a fully automatic AR-style rifle is legal but very expensive. However, by acquiring a few federal firearms licenses and spending a boat-load of money, you can make or buy an older AR that is fully automatic.

The waters surrounding automatic weapons are very murky. You have to jump through several hoops, and once you make it through them, there’s money to be paid. The fees for older rifles are not for the faint of heart. So read on and learn about an AR-15 that is automatic.

Can an AR-15 Shoot Fully Automatic?

Yes, there are fully automatic styles of the AR-15 rifle. The name AR-15 is often used for any type of sporting or assault rifle. Certain sporting rifles can be purchased as automatic, and others must meet specific criteria.

The only company able to label their rifles as an AR-15 is Colt. They repurchased the patent in the day and have had a stranglehold on the weapon since.

Other armories and gun makers have built their rifles around the AR platform for decades, and these new rifles can be purchased. However, having an automatic Colt could cost tens of thousands to acquire or upgrade.

Is It Legal to Own an Automatic AR?

Owning an AR-15 that is automatic is perfectly legal. Perfectly legal as long as you meet steep requirements and fill out paperwork to become a federally licensed firearms dealer. This might seem like a steep slope, and you would be right. It is steep and treacherous. However, knowing if you fit the criteria for ownership is an excellent place to start.

Some of the criteria for ownership of a fully automatic firearm are:

  • No Felons – If you have been convicted of a felony, you could be denied the permit to own a fully auto AR-15. This extends further to those who have served jail terms for over a year or are currently under indictment.
  • Restraining Order – If you are under a restraining order of any kind, you will not be able to purchase the permits. Restraining orders are often used to protect someone by keeping a set distance between the people at all times.
  • Renounced Citizenship – If you are someone who has renounced your citizenship from the United States of America, you cannot own a fully automatic AR-15. Political dissonance is a great way to get firearm access restricted.
  • Dishonorable Discharge – Getting drummed out of the military is another thing that will keep you from owning a fully auto AR. By having problems in the military, the government believes you are a risk and will not allow you to buy a firearm.
  • Domestic Violence – Being convicted of Domestic Violence is another way to keep your name off the AR-15 auto list. Having crimes that are violence related is never a good thing when it comes to applying for firearms at a federal level. Unfortunately, it is often fruitless to try if you have a record.

The fences to keep people from owning fully auto rifles are high. The weapons are hazardous for the untrained, and even for those with the proper training, there’s a high level of danger. So always use the utmost care when firing weapons and respect them, or the consequences could be deadly.

The Criteria for Owning an Automatic Rifle

The steps to get your own fully automatic rifle are akin to the trials of Hercules and will take time and money. They extend the process over a long period, approximately a year, to weed out those who are uninterested or unable to afford the fees.

Some of the criteria for owning a fully automatic AR-15 are:

  • State Laws – The first step to starting your search for a fully auto rifle is checking to see if it is allowed in your state. State law could often be hard to determine, so check with local gunshops if you have any questions that can’t be tracked down on the internet.
  • Find the Rifle – The niche of owning a full auto requires that you can find one. Another hurdle at this stage is the model. If the rifle was made before 1986, you are good. If the gun is newer, you must continue down the list with your checkbook in hand.
  • Make the Buy – Now that the weapon is pinned down, it is time to buy it. But, first, you must choose to form a trust, which has its benefits or buy the gun as an individual. Either way, you are subject to fingerprinting and investigation by the ATF.
  • Do the Paperwork – The paperwork required by the ATF is going to cost you $200 and eat up the bulk of time in the process. The ATF Form 4 is an important form that transfers the taxes paid on the firearm.
  • Play the Waiting Game – Once the fees are paid, you might have to wait up to nine months for the proper steps to be taken. However, while you wait, you can save up for all the gnarly tactical appliances you will add to it.

Once the waiting period is over, you can take the gun home and shoot it to your heart’s content. The biggest thing is to ensure that you don’t cross any legal boundaries or jeopardize losing your status as an available owner.


AR-15 assault rifles can be automatic. In addition, adaptations and gear can be added to take their status from semi to automatic. Still, the federal definition says that any automatic rifle fires more than one bullet from a single trigger pull.

The path to an automatic rifle is fraught with fees, waiting times, and heartbreak. Sometimes you can check all the boxes and not be able to purchase the firearm because the FFL dealer forgot to fill in a box on the application. So be prepared to wait and to pay no matter what happens during the process.