May 04, 2020
By Alfredo Rico
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. It’s an appropriate adage for what California’s anti-gun legislators are doing to our rights, and the voting public is helping them.
When I bought my first AR, bullet buttons were standard on ARs sold in California, and 30-round magazines were just about to become outlawed. A bullet button looks like a regular magazine release button but with an inner core. The inner core is what’s depressed to release the magazine; the outer shell doesn’t move. In essence, this turned a detachable magazine into a fixed magazine and thus did not fall under the definition of an “assault weapon” at the time.
In 2016, lawmakers passed legislation outlawing ARs that had the features of an assault weapon and a bullet button. This prohibited sales of ARs with bullet buttons and subsequently required registration of such ARs with the California Department of Justice. In June of 2018, many AR owners who tried to register their ARs within the last weeks of the deadline were met with incomplete applications due to the website crashing and thus making criminals out of many legal AR owners.
Fortunately, there are other options to keep an AR compliant within California’s laws. Most of the solutions are kludgy, but at least we still have options. One option is to replace the components that are characteristic of what California law defines as an assault weapon, mainly the pistol grip, telescopic or folding stock and flash hider. Another is to use a device like the AR Maglock to convert the AR into a fixed magazine rifle. This is a grossly simplified overview. For extensive details, do a web search on California’s “Assault Weapons Identification Guide.”
One of the most recent creative innovations is the Kali Key. This is a charging handle and special gas key that converts a semiautomatic AR into a bolt-action rifle. This retrograde sidesteps California’s assault weapon definition completely, since in the case of ARs, the law applies to semiauto centerfire rifles and not to bolt actions.
The Kali Key is designed for Mil-Spec, gas-operated AR-15s and AR-10s. It will not work with piston systems. The current Kali Key model is a Gen 2 and has been redesigned to be streamlined to work more efficiently with ARs that may be slightly out of spec or have heavy coatings. It’s available with the charging handle and key or can be bundled with a bolt carrier group (BCG) without a gas key.
Bolt carriers with well-staked gas keys can be a bit of a pain to remove or restake properly, so unless you have an extra BCG laying around, purchasing a Kali Key with their BCG is the way to go. The Kali Key BCG has been heat-treated and has a black-nitride coating, giving it excellent durability and performance.
The Kali Key is ingenious in its simplicity and effectiveness. Assembly takes minutes. Install the Kali Key on the BCG (per instructions), then slide the charging handle’s nub sideways into the key. The bolt carrier group and the charging handle are now effectively one unit. Then, drop it into your upper; no other modifications are needed. The key diverts the gas to the ejection port, leaving you to cycle the bolt manually. To revert your AR back to semiauto, remove the Kali Key and install a standard charging handle and BCG.
I love bolt-action rifles, so manually cycling a rifle is second nature to me. Shot after shot was fun because I’m familiar with bolt-action rifles. The felt recoil is firmer than with a semiauto due to the recoil force being transferred directly to the stock instead of being absorbed by the buffer spring, but it’s not harsh. The oversized handle was welcomed as it gave my hand a large platform to grab and aggressively cycle. The mating of the key with the BCG was solid, so there was no play in the unit as I pulled the charging handle back.
Is One Shot Better?
One thing I was curious about was whether the Kali Key would improve the accuracy of my AR-15. Bolt-action rifles are said to be more accurate because there are fewer moving parts. So, I installed the Kali Key during an accuracy test of my new Aero Precision AR-15.
The build shoots sub-MOA consistently with SIG Sauer Elite match ammo and 1.5 MOA with the other ammo I tested. I fired three different types of ammunition with the Kali Key installed, and none of them bested my shots with my Aero Precision BCG.
Overall, the Kali Key performed great for its intended purposes, but I see another important benefit to the Kali Key that doesn’t pertain to California compliance laws. Bolt-action rifles are a great learning platform to teach children or adults who are intimidated by firearms. It’s easy to explain the functioning of a rifle, and it forces the shooter to slow down to learn the fundamentals of safety and shooting. It gives a shooter confidence since they are in control when a round gets chambered. The Kali Key would make transitioning a student from a bolt-action to a semiautomatic easy.
Let’s face it, most of us have many ARs and very few are configured the same. The Kali Key gives you another option to keep your AR compliant with California laws and out of the hands of anti-gun legislators. I wouldn’t deck out my self-defense AR with the Kali Key because a semiauto AR is much more effective tool for the task, but the Kali Key is a worthy and affordable addition to your AR collection.
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