From its inception in 1959 to the present day, the iconic silhouette of an AR-15 is widely recognizable. It carries with it a host of associations both good and bad, depending on the viewer’s perspective.
Without a doubt, the AR-15/M16/M4 was initially designed as a weapon of war, a dedicated battle machine. But it also found a place in gun safes of law-abiding citizens. In fact, as a “military grade" rifle, an AR-15 is the very best hardware civilians can get their hands on.
As always with guns, it’s not only practicality that drives development. Legislation - some of which is good and some - well, we won’t talk about - also plays a role. And recent legislation in California and some other states has spurred the development of “featureless rifles” with “featureless grips”.
Comparison Chart of the Best AR Featureless Grips
Monsterman Grips - AR-15
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Shark Fin Grips Kydex Wraparound Grip for AR MOE/A2
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Strike Industries AR Simple Featureless Grip
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Exile Machine Hammerhead CA-Legal AR-15 Stock Adapter
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Exile Machine Headbutt SGW-515 AR/Shotgun Stock Adapter
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What Is a Featureless Grip
Basically the whole idea of a “featureless rifle” is one that has been made somewhat difficult to cause large-scale damage with. We’ll discuss some more details of the laws later.
But in short, California banned pistol grips. If you want to keep that (or several other features), you need to register your gun as an assault weapon.
Here’s the definition of what exactly is prohibited:
"A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon means a grip that allows for a pistol style grasp in which the web of the trigger hand (between the thumb and index finger) can be placed below the top of the exposed portion of the trigger while firing.”
Wait - what? In English please, right?
Basically they don’t want a grip that goes lower than the trigger. And that the space between your thumb and index finger has to stay higher than the visible part of the trigger. Sound uncomfortable? Yeah, it is. Basically your trigger finger is going to be at a downward angle with any trigger that can count as featureless.
Why Use a Featureless Grip
In our day, the term Modern Sporting Rifle has obtained popularity as a more descriptive name for AR-style rifles. However, among anti-gunners and their like-minded elected representatives, the "black rifle” is considered only as a killing machine created to kill as many people in as short a period of time as possible.
States including California and New York states have passed laws against assault weapons as well as other semiautomatic centerfire firearms (rifle, pistol, or shotgun). According to the California State law, a rifle with the following characteristics: pistol grip, forward pistol grip, thumbhole stock, telescoping or folding stock, grenade or flare launcher or flash hider is considered an assault weapon.
According to recent California law, AR-15 rifles with any of the characteristics as mentioned above are considered restricted. Subsequently, it will be mandatory to register those AR`s as assault weapons as of January 1st, 2019.
Fortunately, there are creative workarounds with specific furniture to make your rifle a “compliant featureless," but keep in mind that many of them maybe not comfortable or functional as original parts.
So in short, the answer to why to use a featureless grip is that you may not have another choice.
If a California gun owner doesn’t want to register his AR-15, then he has the option of converting his gun to "featureless" hardware. The most cost-effective solution for most of us is converting our current platform to the featureless style. This conversion will mean that it remains an entirely functional rifle without the generic features which define an assault weapon.
You could of course choose to use a “featureless grip” just as a matter of taste, but we expect that will be quite rare. But there are a couple options that are available to stay on the right side of the law.
Inventive manufacturers have made efforts to create a functional, non-pistol-style grip that meets the legal requirements. There are two ways it’s being done so far. One is replacing the pistol grip with Kydex grip wraps, also called “shark fin” grips. The other is by grip design, which will prevent the web of your hand from being placed below the top of the exposed trigger while firing.
Keeping Your AR-15 in California and Elsewhere
Owning an AR in one of “those states” may require several modifications. It can give your rifle a "Sporter" look and more importantly keep it legal in jurisdictions where such an "assault weapon" features are restricted.
Of the seven non-acceptable features, the pistol grip is the biggest aesthetic and functional change and toughest to deal with. However, it’s an important adjustment to make as quickly as possible. The assault weapon classification carries with it severe restrictions on what you can do with your gun.
Quick Take - The Best AR-15 Featureless Grips
These are our recommendations for the best featureless grips for the AR-15:
Reviews of the Best Featureless Grips
Most of our recommended grips are simple to install without any real gunsmithing. At the same time they can give the rifle a bit of an odd look and shape. However, they do not adversely affect handling your firearm. It’s just a matter of getting used to it.
One of the oldest patented grips in the market, the MMG-AR "Featureless Grip" renders yours AR-15 a California-approved featureless rifle. It also keeps the rifle’s ability to have a detachable magazine. The MonsterMan grip changes the normal pistol grip to prevent the thumb from wrapping up and over the grip.
The MMG-AR is a molded polymer grip designed to replace the Mil-Spec standard A2 pistol grip. As a bonus, the MonsterMan grip attaches easily and fits snug without requiring alterations of any kind.
While the angled grip is similar to a "Sporter" style stock, it resembles the body contours of a Mini-14 or M1 Garand. The MMG-AR installs with the existing grip screw and its side panels feature rounded edges and aggressive surface texturing for a comfortable yet secure grasp.
Not everyone may appreciate this nontraditional Rifle grip. Some describe it to be like shouldering a standard hunting rifle stock and keeping your thumb on the side of the stock. Another complaint concerns a distorted balance. With the MMG-AR installed grip you cannot hold the rifle with one hand securely.
The Shark Fin Grips can be manufactured from either Boltaron or Kydex, depending on style and color. Since the MOE grips have a slightly reduced angle compared to the A2, this model will specifically fit only on standard AR MOE pistol grips.
The grip wrap is not adjustable to accommodate grips of non-standard size, as the screw holes would not line up when mounted.
Since the Shark Fin is riveted to a standard A2 grip, it cannot be removed from the grip. When used in conjunction with other de-featuring items, it can help you stay legal in California.
On the other side, the screws protrude from the plastic material and scratch your palm. Also, when mounted and fully tightened, the shark fin grip is a little loose, causing it to wobble some.
The most affordable option for a featureless grip in our lineup comes from Strike Industries. As its name says, it is a straightforward and low-cost component for your featureless AR build.
The SFG requires no permanent modification to the lower receiver. With easy installation, it quickly converts your AR-15 to featureless to circumvent California registration.
SI Simple Grip is constructed of durable reinforced polymer. The textured side plate areas offer a comfortable grasping surface in adverse conditions. Although the SI Simple Featureless Grip is drop-in ready, you might need to take a little plastic off with a hand file the first time you install it.
Obviously, Strike Industries has designed this featureless grip with the same contours and gripping angle as their enhanced pistol grip.
Some users did regret that SI hadn’t created a product with a bit of padding. Instead, it’s solid plastic. Another occasional gripe is that this wrap-around grip is not optimal for the left-handed shooter.
The Exile Machine Hammerhead is a unique grip configurable in many different ways. It provides your AR the feel of a more traditional wooden rifle stock. This ergonomic non-pistol grip replaces a prohibited protruding grip on your modern sporting rifle. It allows your AR-15 to comply with California laws.
The Hammerhead Stock Adapter can be utilized along with the AR’s original buttstock. It allows clearance for the thumb, enabling you to wrap your thumb around the top for a secure assertive hold.
Another possible configuration would be to attach an AR stock to the back of a Hammerhead while the buffer tube is used as a cheek rest. Nevertheless, in both options, the stocks must be of a fixed type or pinned to a fixed length for CA compliance.
Built from a very strong polymer material, this product from Hammerhead is designed to work only with Mil-Spec-forged AR-15 lower receivers. The package includes a mounting screw, a washer and thin polymer hole-caps created to cover the rear holes. This helps improve appearance if you are not mounting a stock to the back of the product.
While it offers relatively solid shooting stance, this grip can create an uncomfortable position for thumb since it rubs against the stock latch plate. Others have complaints about the fitting and raw surface finish.
Another device from Exile Machine, the Headbutt adapter replaces the protruding grip on your modern AR-15 sporting rifle. It allows you to have a secure wrap-around wooden shotgun-style hold, except that you will find your neck is less cramped.
As one of several alternatives to a "featureless" pistol grip, the Exile Machine Headbutt SGW-515 allows you to get your finger closer to the trigger. Besides the low cost and ergonomically made Strike Industries Simple Featureless Grip, this is our favorite alternative to the regular pistol grip.
This odd-looking, non-pistol grip mimics a Mini-14 grip angle and creates a grip attachment point for a compatible shotgun-style stock or even a bird’s head grip. Nicknamed the "Shotgun Wedding," this device is designed to accept only the Mossberg 500 stock and compatible shotgun stocks such as Magpul MAG490 and the Hogue OverMolded.
The Headbutt Shotgun Stock Adapter is manufactured by 3D printing a strong nylon polymer via fused deposition. That partly explains the much rougher surface finish than what you have come to expect from either traditional glass-filled nylon injection molded parts.
There are definitely other ways to make your AR-15 CA compliant, but this Exile Machine Headbutt saves AR-owners from buying an expensive featureless grip and buttstock.
Though the nuts and washers are also included, there are reports that they have to purchase a slightly longer mounting bolt since the standard bolts from Mossberg 500 stocks are a bit short.
Certainly, these alternatives to a "featureless" pistol grip are not as comfortable as a normal pistol grip, but shooters won’t take a long time to get used to them.
Making these changes is never popular among gun aficionados, but it’s important to check out your options and make the necessary changes if you live in a state where certain “features” are now illegal.