Can Polymer Rifles Really Save the World? The Results of My Plastic AR-15 Stress Test

by Warrior Poet Society

John Lovell was watching the news the other night, watching the world and the country fall to shambles, and so he did what any freedom-loving American is tempted to do in such circumstances—he turned to gun-shopping therapy. Only this time he bought polymer—two of them—two polymer AR-15s in 5.56 and 300 Blackout 

Polymer rifles make me nervous for a variety of reasons, so I'm not sure why I had the impulse to buy two ATI (American Tactical Imports) polymer AR-15s the other night while watching the evening news. I guess I felt powerless, so what better way to cope than to go polymer gun shopping. I bought the 5.56 and 300 Blackout versions of ATI's Omni Hybrid line.

What could go wrong? Glocks are polymer. It's one of the most distinct features they are known for. I shoot those all the time and with reliable outcomes–each round feeding through without fail and (usually) hitting their desired target.

Polymer AR-15 Uppers and Lowers

Unlike the Glock and many other guns that utilize polymer for weight and balance, the ATI rifles I tested are constructed with polymer uppers and lowers.

Fully polymer rifles have potential downsides. I was afraid I might lose my face. I had lots of questions about these guns.

Can you successfully operate a metal slider inside a polymer receiver? Was all that gas going to blow this thing, and my face, apart? Should I don my medieval suit of shining knight's armor so as to maintain my rugged good looks?

Here’s my brief review after a few frustrating hours on the range with both rifles.

Loose Screws Mean Lost Accuracy

Torquing down bolts at potential failure points can prove very difficult between the metal and polymer components.

Before even putting any significant number of rounds through either the 5.56 or 300 Blackout, I was beginning to have my doubts about metal and plastic holding together at stress points–such as where the barrel is attached to the upper. By the way, the bolts in that region were already showing signs of loosening.

This loosening could cost some serious points in accuracy and some serious problems down the road after running the gun through the stresses of regular use. It could be a safety issue.

Stoppages Caused By Magazine Compatibility Problems

Feed problems were apparent on both 5.56 and 300 Blackout, but especially with the 300. It's very magazine finicky and specific.

In the 300 Blackout, it will only consistently feed from a magazine specifically geared for 300 Blackout. The 5.56 magazine and 7.62 magazine that I can typically feed through every other 300 Blackout AR-15, they just won't work on this polymer version.

Regarding the 5.56 ATI, with, obviously, a 5.56 magazine, I experienced repeated stoppages and stove-pipes (when casings don't eject properly).

Why Did I Do A Prelim Test of Rifles Made of Polymer?

A real test of this relatively new combo would require a year or two, shot in bad weather and other circumstances, with thousands of rounds.

I realize I spent a lot of energy talking about the downsides to polymer rifles. There are many. But there are certainly some benefits to the availability of polymer construction. Weight isn't one of them. I'd rather carry a rifle that weighs a bit more that can also stand the test of time, wear, and tear and still deliver accuracy and reliability under stress.

With these particular rifles, your best case scenario is that you'd have a usable rifle. But there is also the danger that you'd end up with something cataclysmically worse.

While I'll probably keep these in my gun collection rather than toss them in a dumpster, they would most certainly be my last resort rifles.

Are There Any Benefits to Polymer Rifles?

Polymer rifle technologies might have a place somewhere in the future, so there's value in their continued refinement. If the firearms manufacturing processes were disrupted, for instance, this could provide us with some options for other ways of creating defensive weapons.

Whatever your opinion or experience with polymer rifles, or any rifles, make sure you know what you're getting yourself into. Train Hard. Train Smart. Stay Free.