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The Controversial AR 15 Charging Handle

Almost every component of the AR-15 comes in a broad variety of options. From front to back, from the muzzle device to the stock or brace, the aftermarket support for America's rifle has defined the firearm so much you could argue we hold to the ArmaLite origin story in of the firearm out of reverence because calling it OEM would not be enough. Both form and function have molded the AR 15 charging handle as one of the key points of weapon manipulation.

ar-15 charging handle
From stock to niche, the AR 15 charging handle is one of the most personal components of the firearm.

In the long list of similar firearms, the AR 15 charging handle generally stands apart by its location at the top and rear of the receiver. From loading and unloading the firearm to fixing malfunctions, it is typically one of the first locations to show wear from use. In many cases, video games and movies are judged by how they depict a character racking the bolt.

Manipulation

Events as recent as the Kyle Rittenhouse Trial have shown that there's a difference between how the public and professionals perceive proper manipulation of the AR 15 charging handle. In certain circles, the old-school “claw grip” is seen as the sure sign of a novice, as in their eyes, professionals pinch the side and pull the bolt to the rear with their non-dominant hand.

The four basic techniques involving the AR 15 charging handle are 1: Locking the Bolt to the Rear, 2: Using the Charging Handle in a Reload, 3: Simple Malfunction, 4: Bolt Override/Complex Malfunction.

AR 15 charging handle

The basic action of locking the bolt to the rear builds the foundation for both clearing the firearm and fixing more complicated malfunctions. Ambidextrous lower controls and the Magpul B.A.D. Lever also simplified the basic manipulation of the firearm. For stock/standard AR-15's, one hand holds the bottom of the bolt catch paddle, while the other grips the charging handle, pulling it to the rear. The Magpul B.A.D. Lever and various ambi lowers allow the user's trigger finger to be used to engage the bolt catch without having to release the pistol grip.

Students of the school of “train gross motor movements for combat” follow the trend from their (typically) Glock reloads by using the AR 15 charging handle to release the bolt after loading a fresh magazine. The hand that inserted the magazine moves then to the charging handle, pulls back and releases it, typically with a pinch Grip. From this motion, the ambidextrous charging handle was born.

Simple Malfunctions take many forms, but are typically resolved by taping the base of the magazine, pulling the charging handle to the rear with the same hand, and releasing, manually cycling the AR-15. It is from this motion that we get the phrase “tap, rack, bang.” No one said everything would be eloquent.

daniel defense DDM4V5 AR 15 charging handle
Note: never leave the charging handle hanging out like this: if bent, it will disable the firearm.

The most iconic example of a complex malfunction is that of a bolt-override when a piece of spent brass fails to eject from the firearm. Instead, it gets lodged between the bolt and the front end of the charging handle. Of the solutions, the “mortar tube” method is most common. The hand that typically operates the trigger moved to an overhand grip of the charging handle, and rotating the firearm, the baseplate of the stock is slammed into the ground, using inertia to dislodge the bolt carrier group. By holding constant rearward pressure on the charging handle, the bolt will remain to the rear, allowing the user to ensure the spent case has exited the firearm.

AR 15 Charging Handle Variety

Most adaptations from the original AR 15 charging handle aim to make the firearm easier to manipulate with one hand. Ambidextrous versions serve the greater community, further expanded by the increased interest for competitors and professionals to be able to operate the firearm with both hands. Finally, as suppressors have become more common, some have taken a second look at the AR 15 charging handle as well.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of AR 15 charging handles on the market.

Stock AR 15 Charging Handle

stock AR 15 charging handle

Some say there's nothing wrong with sticking with a stock AR 15 charging handle. At the end of the day, you perform best with what you practice most. Note the rounded latch as

Radian Raptor and Raptor SD

One would not be faulted if they assumed that the Radian Raptor was indeed the default option for an AR 15 charging handle, as quickly after its release it became one of the most popular options on the market. By turning the “wings” of the T-shaped handle into part of the latch, it made the task of manipulating the charging handle just that easier.

Radian Charging Handles radian raptor

The Raptor SD sought to make the lives of those shooting suppressed just a little easier by venting the Gas away from the shooter's face. When shooting a suppressed direct impingement AR-15, unless the gas is adjusted via an adjustable gas block, the shooter can experience the stinging sensation of those expanding gasses leaking (read blasting) out the gaps between the Charging Handle and receiver. Retaining all the ambidextrousness of the regular Raptor, the SD model changes the shape of the shaft to help mitigate this phenomenon.

Standard MSRP: $90
Raptor SD MSRP: $120
URL: radianweapons.com

BCM Gunfighter

Similar to the Radian Raptor, the BCM Gunfighter Ambi AR 15 charging handle works so well out of its simplicity. BCM's Charging Handles come in 4 varieties: two ambi, two standard, with the difference between them being the size of the grip portion. A great charging handle if you can get your hands on one.

BCM Gunfighter AR 15 charging handle

MSRP: $57
URL: bravocompanyusa.com

Springfield LevAR

Those familiar with loading their own 5.56 might perceive the Springfield LevAR AR 15 charging handle to be specifically designed with them in mind. In the event that a round or case is stuck in the chamber, tradition would require either a rod to be sent down the barrel or a maneuver like the “mortar tube” to unseat it. Both options have their inherent risks, and the LevAR provides a different solution. Unfold the handle and use the integrated lever to pry back the bolt to unstick the round.

Springfield LevAR AR 15 charging handle
Springfield LevAR AR 15 charging handle

MSRP: $99
URL: store.springfield-armory.com

Strike Industries Collection

Strike Industries produces a long list of products that range from cyberpunk aesthetic to intriguingly practical. One example is their list of AR 15 charging handles, which include standard and extended latches, an ambidextrous version, and a rather unique modifiable latchless option.

Strike Industries AR 15 charging handle

The contour of the Strike Industries AR 15 charging handle makes it easier to grip than a stock model. Like a trendy handgun slide circa 2015, serrations are cut into the handle portion to improve manipulation, especially with sweaty hands. The extended latch furthers this constant with a large textured grippy-rippy part.

Strike industries AR 15 charging handle

Both the T-bone and the latchless designs by Strike Industries look like a broad reimagining of the AR 15 charging handle. The T-Bone replaces the rotating latch of a standard handle with flexing polymer that also conceals a re-routing pathway for expanding gas. Ambidextrous in manipulation, the T-Bone can also be configured to send gas out the left or right side, allowing for user preference.

strike industries AR 15 charging handle

The latchless design can be scaled up in size through additional parts to full race-gun width, or kept at standard. Inherently ambi, it uses spring-loaded tabs to remain forward. In addition to it being ambi and scaleable, this charging handle won't scar your upper receiver.

strike industries charging handle latchless
Note the visible wear from a few years of use.

Standard MSRP: $32
Extended MSRP: $44
T-Bone MSRP: $38
Latchless MSRP: $40
URL: strikeindustries.com

Precision Reflex Inc. M84 Gas Buster

Another tool for improving the experience of shooting suppressed, the M84 Gas Buster AR 15 charging handle has been used by the U.S. Marine Corps. Both the ambi and standard models channel the expanding gas away from the shooter's face, re-routing it using designated channels on the top and bottom of the handle.

The M84 represents a point it time of tinkering with the firearm, as it comes in various configurations, each with different latches. Before the handle portion received any makeover, soldiers would swap the stock latch out for an extended version for faster operation, hence we have the combat latch.

Although the M84 Gas Buster may come across as a niche tool for those who prefer to protect their hearing by shooting suppressed, it incorporates quality of life improvements for every AR-15.

MSRP: $90
URL: precisionreflex.com


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One response to “The Controversial AR 15 Charging Handle”

  1. Mark R Holcomb says:

    Currently, I use the large latch ambi BCM charging handle. Utterly reliabie IME. My second pick would Odin Works DIVERGE simply because it is so over-built that failure is hyper-unlikely, too. Has anybody personally used the Strike Industries T-bone or or Springfield Armory LeVAR charging handles? If so, how they have worked for you? Thank you in advance.

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  • Currently, I use the large latch ambi BCM charging handle. Utterly reliabie IME. My second pick would Odin Works DIVERGE simply because it is so over-built that failure is hyper-unlikely, too. Has anybody personally used the Strike Industries T-bone or or Springfield Armory LeVAR charging handles? If so, how they have worked for you? Thank you in advance.

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