Interested in a short, compact AR15, but perhaps you are intimidated by the process with the ATF to legally purchase a short-barreled rifle (SBR)? Maybe you have played with some AR15 pistols, and are sick of some of the braces on the market, and want an actual rifle stock to put in your shoulder? I spent some time with the Franklin Armory RS7. In this review, I will cover how reliable the weapon is, the legal issues that Franklin Armory was able to side-step, and whether this weapon might be a good idea to purchase for your next plinker, or home-defense weapon!
Masters of the Loophole
Unless you live under a rock, or perhaps you aren’t up to date on accessories for the AR15, you have probably heard of Franklin Armory. They are the makers of the Binary Firing System, or BFS. They are currently selling the third generation of this product labeled the BFSIII. It is a binary trigger, which simply means that it can fire on the pull of the trigger as well as the release, when in binary mode. Like a select-fire firing control group, the safety selector on the BFSIII system has a “safe”, and “semi” mode of operation. Flipping the safety selector to the third position, instead of “full-auto”, or a “three-round burst”, there is “binary.”
This firing system replicates “full-auto” firing, but for the time being, is legal because the shooter must manipulate the trigger for every shot, whether it is a pull or release. This is an ingenious way of getting a firearm to approach full-auto firing, but it is much more controllable than a “bump-fire” or “slide-fire” mechanism. Franklin Armory has been making waves by developing products that essentially can skirt around National Firearm Act (NFA) laws, which give a shooter an alternate way to purchase weapons that are civilian legal and do not require a $200 tax stamp to be paid.
The Reformation line from Franklin Armory is no different and got a lot of attention prior to the 2018 SHOT Show in Las Vegas. You may still be scratching your head as to how exactly an AR15 with a barrel length of less than 16” can possibly have a stock on it, while still not being classified as an SBR and restricted to regulations per the NFA. The explanation is simple. It all comes down to the barrel’s rifling, or essentially the lack thereof.
Old Tech Meets New
Franklin Armory uses common parts and materials for their Reformation. It is an AR15 down to its core and uses forged T6-7075 aluminum receivers. The bolt carrier group (BCG) is made of normal materials that are used throughout the industry. The BCG in my test weapon was skeletonized and nitrided. The handguard is a typical 6061 extruded aluminum and features MLOK attachment points. The furniture and back-up iron sights were all Magpul, which I have used frequently on builds and were of excellent quality. The fire control group shipped with the Reformation for review was the BFSIII binary trigger. The old technology comes in the way of the barrel.
With the RS7, or the RS11 both barrels technically have lands and grooves, but they are cut straight down the length of the barrel. There isn’t any typical rifling that cork screws at a measured rate like a 1:7, 1:8, or 1:9 that is prevalent in current AR15 barrels currently being manufactured. This meets the legal definition to not be considered a rifle by the ATF even though it fires a rifle cartridge. I can only assume that this gave people at the Firearms and Ammunition Technology Division of the ATF an aneurysm.
Go ahead and grab a calculator. Take any number, for example the number 10, and divide it into 0. Your calculator will probably give an error code or say “undefined”. It just doesn’t make sense. It breaks the calculators understanding of math. This is basically, or at least in my opinion, what happened at the ATF. A rifle barrel has lands and grooves that rotate down the barrel. No rotation means it isn’t a rifle, and their heads figuratively gave an error code. Since the Franklin Armory’s barrel does sit within the legal regulations of not being a rifle barrel, any length is permissible, and a rifle stock can be used. They completely side-stepped the NFA and made the $200 tax stamp obsolete.
Or did they make tax stamps obsolete? You may be asking yourself, what practical purpose does a barrel have if it has no rifling to properly stabilize a projectile? That was what I ultimately decided to find out while the Reformation was in my hands. After roughly 500 rounds of various weights and types of bullets, I tested accuracy and reliability of the shorty.
Accuracy… by Volume
First and foremost, I wanted to test exactly what kind of accuracy can be expected from such an odd design of barrel, and whether the design could be justified. The optic used for the accuracy testing was the Lucid P7 4x optic. After getting on paper with some steel cased TulAmmo in 55 grain FMJs at 50 yards, I ran through different loads to try and find “THE ONE”. While accuracy was by no means stellar, any ammunition that I put through the gun would be minute of heart at 50 yards and essentially suitable for a defensive situation inside of your home.
Every single load that was shot had either all or nearly all impacts showing that the bullet was keyholing through the target. Without rotational rifling, any projectile that I fired lacked stabilization and would have been immediately tumbling through the air towards the target. Regardless of length or weight of bullet, no group was able to punch perfect .224” holes at the point of impact. While terminal ballistics would be gruesome on a tumbling bullet, this weapon is by no means a plinking AR15.
Being somewhat surprised by group sizes at 50 yards, I pressed my luck and pushed the target out to 100 yards to see if it could manage “minute of man” accuracy. I first tested some frangible 35 grain loads from Inceptor. These rounds have proven to be accurate at short range, and phenomenal to shoot steel with at even closer range. I shot 10 rounds at the target to try and get the best possible sample size for accuracy. Upon walking to the target, not one bullet punched paper. Luckily, there was snow on the ground though, and I was able to find impacts around the target. I can only assume that the tumbling was too much for the 35 grain loads, because they weren’t even close to hitting the target.
Being undeterred, I decided to try once more with the Winchester 55 grain FMJs that I had on hand. Firing another 10 rounds showed that I had impacts on target through the 4x Lucid P7. At first, I was pleasantly surprised when I walked up to the target where I found 5 impacts that weren’t horribly spread out. But then I realized that I had shot 10 rounds total. At 100 yards, the Reformation seems to quickly fall apart with usable accuracy.
Running the Gun
After doing some accuracy testing, I decided to run some drills using the Reformation. Its short length makes it incredibly handy while running drills, and the Magpul SL stock is comfortable to shoulder. The MOE MLOK vertical foregrip added a good index point while shooting the gun with an extended C-Clamp style grip. I typically don’t like barrels shorter than 7.5” because of the lack of rail space typically with an AR15 that short. With the stock fully extended though, the Reformation still offered enough length of pull to shoot with thumb over bore without having too drastic of a bent support elbow.
I was slightly surprised to see that the BCG was skeletonized to make it lighter weight. With a typical gas block, running a lightened and skeletonized BCG may not always be the best idea, as it drastically increases cycling speed. Being that the barrel is only 7.5” long, most companies tend to over-gas the system to provide more reliability in cycling when dirty. The Reformation also was over-gassed from the felt recoil and from the ejection pattern of brass at 1 o’clock. This could also be because of the lightened bolt carrier, and much faster cycling rate of the BCG. I have shot much smoother operating, and cycling AR15s, even in sizes as short as 10.3 or 11.5”.
While the Reformation was switched to semi-automatic, I had no issues with cycling or feeding and the weapon fired reliably with just a light coating of oil on the nitrided surface of the BCG. While it did feel over-gassed, it did not adversely affect he function of the weapon and it chugged happily along as I did firing-drills, alternating between failure drills to multiple target engagement. After switching to “binary”, the Reformation continued to operate fine, performing hammer pair and controlled pair drills. I ran into an issue though when I tested feeding and cycling while doing some mag dumping.
I was able to get the Reformation to choke 3 different times while shooting as fast as I could push myself. The issue was hammer follow and resulted in a light primer strike on the chambered round. To put this in layman’s terms, I was able to out-run the gun and was pulling/releasing the trigger too fast for the system to keep up with. This was relatively rare, and I happen to be able to shoot fast. Obviously, YMMV and you may not have an issue with hammer follow from shooting too fast. This is probably why they skeletonized the BCG so that it’s cycling speed could keep with the potential of a shooter to rapidly fire in “binary” mode.
So, who is the Reformation designed for? Who could buy this weapon and not consider it a waste of money, or a bad purchase? It is designed for a smaller niche of the market, in my opinion. With the advent of shoulderable pistol braces for the AR15 pistol, this market has become even smaller. I don’t care what some people have to say, but the pure and simple fact is that stocks are much better to shoulder than any pistol brace on the market. There are some great pistol braces. Don’t get me wrong. But a stock is a much better choice for stability, especially when firing fast.
So, if a shooter absolutely did not want to pay the $200 tax stamp, and they wanted a stock instead of a brace, then this may be a good choice. If someone understands the limitations of the Reformation and understands that the weapon will only serve a purpose of home defense in close quarter ranges, I wouldn’t blame them for purchasing one. But I would be disingenuous if I didn’t point out the limitations of this “out of the box” design with the barrel.
Hard-pressed, if I were to be asked what would be more effective between an AR15 pistol with a quality brace and the Reformation, I would absolutely recommend a quality built AR15 pistol. While the design is different and unique, that does not mean it is effective or that it will fit the needs of most shooters.
Affordability – 3/5
With an MSRP of $1,409.99, the Franklin Armory Reformation is by no means inexpensive. While the weapon does come with the BFSIII which retails for nearly $400 depending on model, overall the weapon is still fairly expensive compared to the amount of companies producing budget minded AR15s even without having to pay a tax stamp.
Reliability – 4/5
The Reformation was very reliable in the time that I had it for testing. It fed perfectly fine, even while I was shooting in “binary” mode. My issue was largely the hammer follow I experienced while shooting too fast in “binary” mode. You may not experience this problem though and is largely dependent on the speed of the shooter.
Ergonomics – 3/5
Everything was a typical AR15 as far as controls go. The Magpul furniture was excellent and a good choice by Franklin Armory. The issue I found was that the weapon was over-gassed and felt recoil was harsher than other AR15s I have tested. My personal 11.5” AR cycles much smoother and felt recoil is practically non-existent due to proper gas port sizing.
Accuracy – 1/5
To be brutally honest, the accuracy level of the Reformation leaves a lot to be desired. Without putting a stabilizing rotation on the bullet, there should be no surprise that the weapon can’t shoot accurately. This is ultimately the major drawback of the Reformation. If used within 50 yards, the weapon will get the job done in a defensive roll, but it is severely limited to that range.
Overall – 2.5/5
The Reformation is a cool idea, and out of the box. It is unique and I am happy to see companies test the boundaries of what I consider to be an unconstitutional law. But there are too many drawbacks for me to consider it a viable option for a shooter that wants a weapon with a short-barrel. In my opinion, most people would be better off building an AR15 pistol, and eventually paying the $200 tax stamp to convert the pistol into a registered SBR.
For more information and to look at other Franklin Armory products check out their website at https://franklinarmory.com/