The United States of AR-15

posted on January 17, 2017

The popularity of AR-15s and related gear has changed the face of the firearm industry, and while major manufacturers still command prime shelf space, a cottage industry is flourishing in every corner of the nation.

More than likely there’s a company producing AR-15-style rifles in your state. The odds are also good there are also others churning out stocks, magazines, sights, scope mounts or other essential gear for the platform. Some are one-man custom shops that specialize in tuning gas systems to specific loads, while others are an established, or soon-to-be, national success. 

American innovation and manufacturing is alive and well, somewhere near you, but finding these mom-and-pop up-and-comers is a challenge. An industry steeped in more than two centuries of tradition didn’t anticipate the thirst for everything AR-15, or the way young and inventive entrepreneurs responded to consumer demand. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives lists firearm manufacturers by state, but gun type isn’t noted and companies that produce accessories aren’t included.

Tackling that informational void is an ambitious project, but Rick Cesak has taken the bait with his ambitious The 50 States of AR-15 project. Readers might be familiar with his work at or on his identically named YouTube channel, so he’s no newcomer. The fact he started building AR-15s back in 2012 and established his website in 2014, however, did provide a fresh perspective and the vision to understand the frustration when enthusiasts had a limited ability to discover good companies nearby.

“The idea behind the project is to showcase the companies and people behind the components and to tell their stories,” Cesak explained. “Each state will have a rifle build, where as many components as possible will come from that home state. The rifle will have a video talking about the components and where they came from, and there are—and will be—separate video interviews as well with company owners and reps from all around the country.”

At, guns are run, products are showcased and company reps step in front of the camera, allowing you to decide whether you want your next purchase to have some local flavor—or prefer to build your brand loyalty across state lines. “Another goal of the project is to show that American manufacturing is still alive,” Cesak said. “And what better way to do this than with America’s rifle, the AR-15?”

The project was hatched at the 2016 Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show, and the first video (Wisconsin) premiered in July. Companies involved in that build include American Defense, Bravo Company, Criterion Barrels, MGS Firearms, Midwest Industries and Vortex Optics.

California was next with Juggernaut Tactical, Spinta Precision, Strike Industries and Xtreme Precision. Then came Minnesota with HiperFire, JP Enterprises, Luth-AR, Obsidian Arms, Taccom and US Arms. Massachusetts followed, and as this magazine was going to press Arizona was in the final editing stage. The goal is one build a month until every state in the union is covered.


Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 2.0
Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 2.0

First Look: Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 2.0

A new look and a higher magazine capacity is just the tip of the iceberg.

First Shots: Leupold Mark 4HD Riflescopes

Leupold's latest riflescope line is affordable and feature-rich.

First Look: B&T SBRS Suppressors

Slimline design, reduced back pressure and available in a variety of calibers and materials.

First Look: Two New Pistols from Smith & Wesson

Smith & Wesson expands its lineup of polymer-framed, striker-fired pistols. 

Strengthening Your Weak Links

There's more to self-defense than just carrying a gun.

Review: Tisas PX-5.7 Pistol

5.7x28mm pistols get even more affordable.


Get the best of Shooting Illustrated delivered to your inbox.