The Differences Between AR-15s & AR-17s

by Peter Hall ; Updated April 12, 2017

The AR-15 and the AR-17 are two long guns designed and built by the ArmaLite Company. The AR-15 was later adopted by the U.S. Department of Defense and as of 2011 remains a popular rifle for civilian, military and law enforcement more than 40 years after its initial development. The AR-17 is a shotgun that never achieved the same popularity; ArmaLite built parts for about 2,000 of these guns before cancelling the project.

What is ArmaLite?

ArmaLite, a division of the Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation established in 1954, was founded to apply new manufacturing technologies including new alloys and plastics to the design and manufacture of firearms.


ArmaLite developed the AR-15 at the request of the U.S. Army, which was looking for a replacement of the M-1 Garand rifle. The AR-15 was designed to use a smaller-caliber round so dismounted troops could carry more ammunition. The design of the rifle also replaced all wooden parts with plastic parts, which would not be affected by changing temperature and humidity. ArmaLite sold the design and manufacturing rights to Colt in January 1959. In 1961, the Air Force began purchasing AR-15 rifles from Colt. These rifles received the military designation of M-16. By 1965, all branches of the U.S. military adopted the M-16 as the standard-issue rifle.


The AR-17 was ArmaLite's first shotgun. The stock and forearm incorporated brown plastic. The metal parts of the gun were made of aluminum, which was anodized to add strength. The anodization process gave the aluminum pieces a golden color. This gun is often called the "golden gun." ArmaLite only sold 1,200 AR-17s.

Availability of the AR-15

The AR-15 rifle, first developed in 1956, remains in broad production as of 2011. The rifle has undergone several improvements and is still the primary weapon of the U.S. military. It is now called the M-4 and has a shorter barrel and a folding stock, but many of the parts are interchangeable with the earliest AR-15s. The AR-15 is legal for civilian ownership and use, if certain laws are followed. If you are considering purchasing an AR-15 or any other rifle, contact your local police department to ensure that your weapon is within legal bounds.

About the Author

Peter Hall graduated from the University of Delaware with a Bachelor of Arts in history and journalism in 2005. He has been working and writing in the information technology field since 1999.