The Truth About SIG SAUER’s AR-15 Pistol Arm Brace

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There has been considerable discussion online about the new pistol arm brace that SIG SAUER was showing off at the NRA Annual Meeting this past weekend, specifically some concerns that the ATF will rescind their approval of the device, and I wanted to get to the bottom of the theories and rumors. Over the past couple days I’ve talked with people “in the know” about this new product and its legal implications, and I wanted to put to rest some of the myths and misconceptions about this product, the ATF’s technology branch and possible legal implications.

When a product is sent to the ATF’s technology branch to be investigated (as in, when an inventor wants some feedback on the legality of a product), the only thing that can be considered is the stated specific intended use of the product. They cannot contemplate possible mis-uses of the product, they can only evaluate it based on the designed usage. And should that product be mis-used by the consumers, they cannot take retroactive action based on that mis-use.

From what I can see, this product hasn’t changed at all since it was originally sent to the ATF for approval. Even though the pictures of the original design look more orange-y in color, according to what the designer has posted online it was made from a tough rubber-like compound. At the NRA Annual Meeting, that same description (tough rubber-like compound) applies to the final iteration of the product as well. So even though the color changed, nothing about the product (from the material to the overall shape) has changed. Therefore, since it is the same product that was given the green light by the ATF, they will not reconsider their approval.

That’s what people seem to be most concerned about, that the ATF will re-consider their approval and possibly rescind it. The fear mostly comes from the old Akins Accelerator issue, when the ATF issued a letter of approval to the inventor and then later classified his final product as illegal. In that instance, however, the design of the device (a spring kit, like the current generation of bump fire stocks, but one that automatically moved the rifle forward without the user applying pressure) changed significantly between when it was submitted to the ATF and when it hit the shelves. The version submitted to the ATF was perfectly fine, but the commercial version was apparently unacceptable. Anyway, that’s the ATF’s story and they’re sticking to it.

In this case, we have a device that is nearly identical to the one submitted for ATF approval. And even if people do actually start using the thing as a stock, how is that any different from using the buffer tube like a stock? How many people who own a pistol AR-15 have put that little buffer tube up to their shoulder and fired it? If the ATF hasn’t re-classified the AR-15 pistol (or even just the padded buffer tube) as a rifle already, it doesn’t really make sense for them to do it with this new device either.

What we have here is a device that was intended expressly to help people aim and fire pistol AR-15s and similar handguns. In fact, the designer stated that the original intent was to allow some disabled veterans who owned such firearms to aim and fire them easier. And based on that good faith statement of purpose, the ATF approved the device. The device is being marketed in that same manner, and the accompanying instruction manuals will no doubt emphasize the proper usage. And in the eyes of the ATF, if a designer and manufacturer produce and market an acceptable product, it isn’t a reflection on the product itself if the end users mis-use their device.

In short, while this absolutely looks like a stock, and can be used as such, these guys have gone the distance to lay the legal groundwork such that the ATF cannot go back on their statements and make these illegal. Even if they did start going on a crusade against NFA-defying devices, the bumpfire stock would be the canary in the coalmine; not something produced by a company that employs a battalion of lawyers.

There is, however, a way for this device to become illegal. Politicians, should they become suitably peeved at this affront to some “common sense” ideal, might try to get it banned in their areas. However, there are currently no such restrictions that I know about, and the process to get such a law enacted would be much longer and typically open for public scrutiny. Even then, banning this specific device would definitely be very low on their list of gun control priorities.

In short, this wrist brace is here to stay.

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About Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he's a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), aspiring pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!

38 Responses to The Truth About SIG SAUER’s AR-15 Pistol Arm Brace

  1. avatarWilliam Burke says:

    “tough rubber-like compound”

    i.e., an elastomer?

    • avatarTom in Oregon says:

      Probably more like that yellow stuff on my Quarter Pounder…

    • avatarEco says:

      This item is made of a rubber compound that closely resembles the structural integrity of a car tire sidewall up towards the treads. Very solid and not at all flimsy.

  2. avatarCrunkleross says:

    Constructive intent?

  3. avatarTim U says:

    For people who would use it as a stock, I’m not seeing how this would be much more advantageous to just the buffer tube. The contact point if you were going to ram it into your shoulder is only slightly bigger because the rest of the “stock” has been hollowed out for where the arm fits in the brace.

  4. avatarArmchair Command'oh says:

    “[T]he process to get such a law enacted would be much longer and typically open for public scrutiny.”

    Tell that to the good people of New York.

  5. avatarMy Name Is Bob says:

    “They cannot contemplate possible mis-uses of the product, they can only evaluate it based on the designed usage. And should that product be mis-used by the consumers, they cannot take retroactive action based on that mis-use.”….
    Yeah, AT FIRST… The ATF can’t change their mind… You know, until they do. And would anybody here be surprised if they did?

  6. avatarMark N. says:

    I don’t think it will make any difference out here in LaLA land–they are already working on banning the pistol.

  7. avatarRalph says:

    OK, it’s legal. But it still looks, oh, ineffective. Or perhaps ridiculous. Pick one.

    • avatarAlphaGeek says:

      Behind every AR pistol I’ve ever seen has been someone who really wanted a short-barreled AR, and had to use the “AR pistol” legal hack to get one.

      This is yet another SBR-but-not-really hack. Gotta admire how they’ve carefully followed the steps, CA-legal-AR-flowchart style, to get this onto the market as an ATF-approved device, though.

  8. avatarfull.tang.halo says:

    Nick, what about the original GSG5-SD “barrel shroud” issue? These were approved and imported and only after over a year for sale were they “deemed to be a silencer” and required to have everyone who owned one turn in their silencer tube for destruction and issued a non-silencer tube in it’s place. These tubes were to spec as to the importation docs and were administratively, retroactively classed as an NFA item, though ATI had to foot the bill to replace them.

    ATI was never given anything they could post that spelled out what happened from the ATF. Best we ever received was an MS-Paint drawing of what the “bad” ones looked like and how the “good” ones fixed the problem.

    • avatarTCBA_Joe says:

      They approved the shroud until it was measured reducing the decible level of the rifle. The ATF approved a barrel shroud and ATI accidentally imported a bunch of silencers based on that approval.

      It’d be analogous to being given approval to import a bunch of 14.5″ Saigas with perm attached muzzle breaks to 16.1″ only to find out the importer used Rocksett and not a legal pin and weld.

      I dislike the ATF as much as anyone, but it’s necessary to look at the technical side of things before jumping on the hate wagon. I don’t see the ATF trying to screw with a company as large and established and with as many lawyers as Sig has. Plus, IIRC Sig makes the ATF’s sidearms.

    • avatarTCBA_Joe says:

      The GSG-5 shrouds turned out to reduce the sound of the weapon.

      The ATF approved a barrel shroud and rescinded their approval when it turned out ATI had imported a bunch of silencers.

      It’d be analogous to getting approval to import 14.5″ Saigas with permed flash hiders only to find out the importer used Rocksett instead of a legal pin and weld.

      • avatarfull.tang.halo says:

        NOPE:
        “The previously submitted GSG-5SD barrel shroud incorporates a large expansion chamber and integral end caps and, therefore, was classified as a firearm silencer.”

        ATI tested it and there was no noticible change. The GSG5 used an identical hollow shroud, in a smaller dia, and wasnt recalled. There were no “alternate” configurations, the samples provied for the import tag were the same as the 13k that were imported.

        ATF appoved something then decided, oh shit, /unapproved

        I’m not assuming malice, when general incompetence will do.

  9. RE: ‘I’ve talked with people “in the know” about this new product ‘ and with respect to the ATF, “they will not reconsider their approval.”

    Respectfully, I would have to ask what legal foundation these people are relying on with respect to whether nor not the ATF can change its mind at a later date, due to either widespread misuse, or even contemplated misuse, and if it does so, why the determination could not be retroactively enforced.

    I realize that ATF Technical Branch letters have, as a practical matter, been relied on by the public as the be all end all of whether a device is legal or not. But I have never seen pointed out the specific legal framework which a) binds the ATF to any of its letter determinations, even with respect to the specific person to whom the letter is issued, b) binds the ATF to its determinations for eternity, unless a statute intervenes.

    Aside from “fair dealing,” what legal framework actually binds the ATF as so many people assume?

    • avatarfull.tang.halo says:

      The ATF will tell you that a Tech Branch letter is only good for the person to which it is addressed to

      http://i.imgur.com/Eh4Pe.jpg

      As far as changing their mind I keep these 2 letters on my phone just to prove such a point.

      Letter saying you do NOT have to mark the gun when you do a F1.
      http://i.imgur.com/wchsODl.png

      Letter saying you DO have to mark the gun when you do a F1.
      http://i.imgur.com/zHzEMV4.png

      • avatarLisa says:

        1. They aren’t saying that the presented letter is only “good” for the person who sent it. They are saying that only the person who sent it is privy to that info and can use it as he pleases. The FTB branch is there for people who invent stuff and need a legal answer. Those legal responses apply to everyone…and that is why the Slidefire is valid for everyone and not just the guy who invented it.

        2. This first letter is sent to the FTB and is asking about the registration and manufacture of a class 1 ar15 pistol and the validity of different buffer tubes.

        3. This letter is sent to the NFA not the FTB, so a completely different entity found at the ATF that responds only in regards to NFA items. The letter is also asking a seperate question regarding the requirements of what needs to be written on a firearm when manufactured.

        The ATF never changed there mind here…and if that is what you are attempting to demonstrate, maybe you should re-read the letters.

        • avatarfull.tang.halo says:

          1) Um, “is intended only for the use by the addressed individual or campany…” you and I read that completely differently apparently.

          2) that is the incorrect letter I uploaded. I keep that for people that say you cant use a standard buffer tube that can accept a stock on a ar-pistol.

          Correct letter is: http://i.imgur.com/VmutpPB.png

          Sent to the same department, NFA branch, 4 year prior to the 2nd letter and specifically says you do not need to add makers marks when making a SBR via Form 1.

          As for it being a “different entity”….yes I will hang my hat on the fact that only the NFA brach can change it’s mind 4 years after the fact….wait, how bout no.

      • avatarLisa says:

        So you are telling me that all of the gun manufacturers that send letters to the FTB apply only to them??? That is not what the letter says at all. Not to mention it would negate the whole purpose of having a Branch that is there to answer questions regarding legality about new technology. So if the theory you think holds true…the ATF approval letter for the slide fire applies only to slide fire and not to the people who buy the product????

        • avatarfull.tang.halo says:

          In my other post someone, I’d imagin it was the tech brach in conjuntion with the whoever oversees importing of firearms, allowed for ATI to import and then sell roughly 16,000 firearms that then administratively, retroactively, had their barrel shrouds declared NFA items, and reqired ATI, at their expense, to collect, cataloge and then destroy said NFA items. ATI then didn’t strictly have to but I don’t see how they couldn’t, replace all the barrel shrouds with “correct” ATF approved, non NFA versions.

          That incident, the corrected NFA branch letter I uploaded where they changed their stance on makers marks on SBR’s, another instance where there is an approved transfer of a machinegun that they say “shouldn’t” have happened, but we are going to let you keep it till you die….I have a legit skeptical view of anything coming out of the ATF being “forever ever”.

      • avatarLisa says:

        Again…in the case you sight it seems that ATF did not do its’ due dilligence and check what was under the “bonnet” so to speak (But I would be curious to see what was presented to the ATF and what was actually imported). If that was the case then I completely understand a retraction, as in the case of the Akins trigger actuator. Both cases are not a blatant nonsensical retraction but a thought out process done with the rules and regulations in mind. As to the first of your letters, I ask again…Do you think that the ATF approval letter placed in each box Slide Fire sells apply’s only to slide fire as a company or apply’s to the buyer too?

        • avatarfull.tang.halo says:

          This isn’t like the 80′s, samples of the firearm are provided to the ATF prior to importation. To this day there has not been an Official ATF letterhead public explination for the reclassification on the SD’s. ATI had/has asked for one and the ATF refuses to provide one.

          To answer your specific question regarding the slidefire, I think they “should”, do they, until someone goes to court and proves them to be binding, no one can say for certain. I’m not gonna volunteer to be a test case. I’ve seen too much nonsense come out of the ATF over the years.

      • avatarLisa says:

        Maybe the ATF has replied and ATI simply didn’t release that letter…better for business. Because it seems to me very strange that a company just keels over and decides to change things on the “whim” of the ATF. The United States is notoriously litigious and lawyers and court cases abound. If this was just a capricious decision on ATF’s part and it was me you can be damn sure there would be a lawsuit stating that the ATF due to their incompetence caused my company to lose money…and if it really was blatantly capricious, and negligent they most certainly would lose. On the other hand what if ATI failed to give the ATF the correct product…would they have told everyone that they failed to do things correctly?

        • avatarfull.tang.halo says:

          13k imported guns. If ATI made 20% selling each gun, you are talking 1.3 million dollars in revenue. That is nothing to go to war with the gov. And ATI doesn’t manufacture anything it sells, it’s dependent on ATF import documents. Even if it won, it’d be a Pyrrhic Victory, they’d be put out of business in a sea of red tape.

      • avatarLisa says:

        As I tell my husband…I’ll agree to disagree! It’s good to know that we can have a discussion without name calling though! ;-)

      • avatarelnonio says:

        full.tang: After looking at the “good” first and second letter, I see that the second letter that says that nothing need to be added to the receiver (the second letter) does not, as is normal, restate the question asked of the ATF.

        So, if the question the ATF attempts to answer in the second was “I’ve already engraved my lower receivers with my name and all other SBR-like information even before I decided to turn it into an SBR, just because I like to have my firearms engraved with my information. Since then, I have decided to make them SBRs and so I sent my form for approval.” then yes, the answer “you don’t need to add any *additional* markings” could be both correct AND consistent with the first letter.

        Devil is in the details. That is why we are often told to not rely on others’ letters, because if your fact pattern is different from the other person’s (and, as may be the case here, you happen to not know of the differences) then the ATF could use to do that which attorneys (self included) love doing: distinguish the facts of one case from the other to reach a different result.

  10. avatarSoccerchainsaw says:

    “In short, this wrist brace is here to stay.”

    Nick: Hope that this doesn’t become your version of RF’s “Obama isn’t coming for your guns” statement.

  11. avatarBlake says:

    ATF is not to be trusted. Even if you get it in writing, ATF reserves the right to toss you in jail without ever really explaining why. Unless ATF decides they need to prove a point, then they’ll come in gun blazing.

  12. avatarakira says:

    I kind of hope they do try to ban it, because it will bring public attention to the whole SBR thing, which is one if the stupidest feel-good laws on the books.

    • avatarAlphaGeek says:

      100% agree. The SBR restrictions are right up there with “pistol grip + adjustable stock == assault shotgun” law here in CA for sheer irrelevant idiocy.

  13. avatarJim Barrett says:

    Interesting side note – the picture at the top of this post shows the pistol brace mounted on a Sig P556, not a P516 (Sig’s AR-15 pistol design). The P556 uses a long stroke piston and therefore does not need a buffer tube to catch the bolt on its trip back.

    So, someone evidently removed the cap at the back of the P556 and screwed in a buffer tube then wrapped this gizmo around it.

  14. avatarWetwrks says:

    “Will not reconsider their approval?”

    Oh really? Have you looked into the story surrounding the original Akins Accelerator?

    The ATF approved it for manufacture and sales. Stated that it is legal to own. Then a few years later revisited it and rescinded their approval and made them illegal to own. If you are caught with one (with the spring in it) you are charged with posession of an illegal machinegun.

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