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Ryan Cleckner of writes:

During an industry meeting with the ATF at SHOT Show 2015, I argued with the ATF over their absurd determination that shouldering the an AR pistol with a shoulder brace made it a short-barreled rifle.

Outside the meeting room I was told by two very senior members of the ATF that this was a determination based on a request they received from someone who had rolled a towel and inserted it into the arm cuff of the brace and then wrapped the thing in duct tape thereby making a shoulder stock.

This person apparently sent in pictures and asked the ATF if it was a brace. To this day I don’t know if it was a foolish gun owner or an anti-gunner looking to make a stink.

I told them that I agreed with their determination of the sample that was submitted. That person clearly used parts (a pistol stabilizing brace, a towel, and duct tape) to make a shoulder stock.

However, their letter didn’t mention any of that and it went so far to say as “use as a shoulder stock constitutes a ‘redesign’ of the device.”

They insisted to me, in person, that merely shooting a pistol from the shoulder didn’t make a rifle. They agreed with my arguments that the law focused on “designed and intended” and that subsequent use didn’t redesign something.

They clarified that only if someone went through the effort to make something new or truly redesign the pistol brace was it an issue. I told them that they should have written that in their letter because as it stands, use = redesign.

I appreciate these relationships I have in the ATF – I have respect for both of these guys and, believe it or not, I understand the position they were in. I also think the letter was either worded poorly or the ATF wanted the result.

AR-15 pistols have long been a thorn in the side of ATF. After all, they are what started the whole problem with ammunition that was normally considered to be rifle ammunition being treated as handgun ammunition for purposes of banning armor-piercing handgun ammo (this is a story for another day).

I even asked them if I used my pistol to keep my papers from blowing off my desk, is it no longer a pistol? Clearly I’ve redesigned it through use into a paperweight.

To be fair, “redesign” is in the law. The NFA defines both rifle and shotgun to include any “weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder.” Presumably this was to cover people sawing off a shotgun barrel at home. They would have then redesigned a shotgun into a Short Barreled Shotgun (SBS).

The industry was then stuck with this guidance from ATF:

The pistol stabilizing brace was neither ‘designed’ nor approved to be used as a shoulder stock, and therefore use as a shoulder stock constitutes a ‘redesign’ of the device because a possessor has changed the very function of the item. Any individual letters stating otherwise are contrary to the plain language of the NFA, misapply Federal law, and are hereby revoked.

Any person who intends to use a handgun stabilizing brace as a shoulder stock on a pistol (having a rifled barrel under 16 inches in length or a smooth bore firearm with a barrel under 18 inches in length) must first file an ATF Form 1 and pay the applicable tax because the resulting firearm will be subject to all provisions of the NFA.

In a March 21, 2017 letter from the ATF to the inventor of the pistol stabilizing brace, the ATF reversed its opinion. The ATF says they just clarified a misunderstanding, but the industry was stuck with what they put in black and white on paper, not what they may have meant.

The ATF finally acknowledged that their concern was about people who took actual steps to re-design something into something new. For example, the letter explains that if the Pistol Stabilizing Brace was mounted long enough down a buffer tube to prevent its use as an arm brace and instead was at a length that was only useful as a shoulder stock, then they have redesigned it into a shoulder stock.

The ATF also clearly acknowledged that merely shouldering a pistol stabilizing brace while firing it does NOT turn an AR-15 pistol into an SBR. They wrote, “…an NFA firearm has not necessarily been made when the device has not been reconfigured for use as a shoulder stock – even if the attached firearm happens to be fired from the shoulder.”

This is all good news – although some of it is questionable. For example, what is this new mystery length that can only be suitable for use as a shoulder stock? Exactly where is the line drawn when determining what is a redesign?

Simply, “taking affirmative steps to configure [a pistol stabilizing brace] for use as a shoulder stock.” The ATF adds that “making” an NFA firearm “includes the altering of an existing firearm such that, after alteration, the firearm meets one of the enumerated descriptions [of an NFA firearm].”

Therefore, if you install a pistol stabilizing brace on an AR-15 pistol as it was intended to be installed (on the buffer tube and up against, or at least close to, the rear of the receiver), then you have not “redesigned” anything. If you then fire that pistol from your shoulder, you haven’t changed the original designer’s intent and you haven’t redesigned it. Be careful.

While this applies to all pistol braces, you must ensure that what you have is actually a pistol brace and the firearm you are dealing with is a pistol in the first place! Just because a manufacturer calls their product a pistol brace doesn’t necessarily mean that the ATF agrees.

Also, you may not have a non-NFA pistol – for just one example, if the pistol has a smooth barrel and is designed and intended to shoot shotgun shells, it might be an Any Other Weapon (AOW).

This is good news. An SB-Tactical pistol stabilizing brace may be fired from the shoulder as long as other affirmative steps have not been taken to alter, modify, nor configure the pistol stabilizing brace as a shoulder stock.


Ryan Cleckner was a special operations sniper team leader in the US Army’s 1st Ranger Bn (75th) with multiple combat deployments and a sniper instructor. He has a series of basic online instructional videos. His book, Long Range Shooting Handbook, is available at Amazon.

Mr. Cleckner now offers an online program on how to become an FFL. Click here for more details.

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  1. How about if I make some kind of shoulder pad with a cup to receive the brace that’s sewn into my shirt. You’re not modifying the brace at all but would that be considered constructive intent?

    • Go write them a letter and find out.

      No, I’m kidding. Don’t do that. This whole thing started from people writing letters.

      • Letters and suggestions only play the ATF game.

        My last interaction with the ATF was my middle finger pointed directly at the ATF bureaucrat. I suggest the same.

        Erase this organization from the federal government org chart and retire all these taxpayer-sucking bureaucrats. Fuck the ATF.

        • Yeah, I will not ever interact with any LE agency voluntarily on any level anyway. I have a fundamental lack of trust in them given they are trained in effective techniques in lying to citizens and yet it’s an arrestable offense to do the same to them.

  2. Couple of things.

    First, the “problem” with pistol / rifle ammo being AP comes from Congress, first and foremost. They’re the ones who wrote a law in compositional, not performance, terms and it continues to be a much larger problem.

    Second, the take-away lesson here is that the ATF can and will reverse itself arbitrarily. This only adds to the “whole wiper=silencer … But only for this model” debacle.

    Basically, the ATF seems to be acting like the kings of old – the law is what they say it is and want it to be, at any given time. Any manufacturer or business has to view this as a Damoclean sword over both existing and any new product they make.

  3. “Just because a manufacturer calls their product a pistol brace doesn’t necessarily mean that the ATF agrees.”

    That almost seems like a dig at the KAK Shockwave. Fortunately, KAK has a letter from the ATF, copies of which are included with the stabilizer, that acknowledge that the stabilizer is not considered a shoulder stock, but a brace. I use my stabilizer exactly how the manufacturer designed it to be used. It just so happens that some folks who’ve shot the pistol have also shouldered it, as they’ve attempted to get a stable hold and sight picture. It’s not a redesign, and it’s not a misuse of the product.

    • I have a KAK and a Sig brace. Both came with ATF letter. The KAK is so narrow at the end it’s definitely not designed to be shouldered. Though both can be. They both would be designed completely different if they were intended to be shouldered. I will shoulder them both from here on. Or until a diffent ruling. I use the KAK with a KAK receiver extension and the Sig with an extension designed for the Sig brace.

    • Not a dig at them at all – if they have a letter then they are good to go. Of course, this doesn’t mean that a letter from the ATF is necessary – it just helps.

  4. “I appreciate these relationships I have in the ATF – I have respect for both of these guys and, believe it or not, I understand the position they were in.”

    Ya, a position they asked for. Your stupid neighbors who needed a job got stuck in the typical gov’t OODA loop of “We cannot protect you unless and until you give up the right and the means to protect yourself; and We cannot protect you from unlawful actions of unlawful scofflaw people unless you strictly adhere to our regulation”.

    You know what I hear through all that b.s.? “Gov’t Can’t_________”.

    Good, I didn’t think you could, so, if you notice, I didn’t ask. Pack your sh_t and go home stumpy.

    • Every Day No Days Off site shows some combative pistol training where you’d have to be pretty good with your pause button to see if the ‘operators’ are firing from a double-elbows-out high ready sweep and scan position (essentially shoulder-firing their Glockety GLOCKS). Violation without redesign? Maybe. How much pressure did they apply to the back of the pistol grip with their shoulder. /sarc

      What SHOULD be unlawful as it is WRONGFUL (not just WRONG) is for the idiots at the ATF (and those that empower them with regulations) to claim they are helping/protecting ANYONE with their b.s. push-me-pull-you interpretation of their b.s. rules.

  5. I’m looking forward to the Gearhead Hook braces. They seem like the bees knees. One is adjustable the other is aluminum and attaches to the end of any pistol tube. I think the aluminum one comes out soon. I’m really liking the polymer one that comes with its own unique tube and is adjustable. Looks real nice and light weight. Unlike some of the other adjustable ones on the market that just seems heavy and bulky.

  6. My thought on the issue of length is this: If you are a Wookiee and you have long arms, you’re probably ok to have the brace set out a little further. If you don’t have long arms, and you can’t reach the pistol grip with the brace wrapped around your arms, I think you might have a problem. But it would be tough to prosecute. The real risk I think would be in taking pieces off. They would clearly have a case then.

    As to the rolled up towel thing, it was either a pissed-off ‘stamp-collector’ angry that people weren’t doing things ‘his’ way (meet lots of them on ARFCOM), or some douchebag gun-controller pissed that someone found a loophole in the most cherished piece of law the antis can point to. The NFA is the one legislative victory those guys have had, and they go incandescent when anyone tweaks it.

    • I don’t think that any antis I know are even aware what NFA stands for, let alone cherish it. The just hate scary guns, and believe “it’s for the children,” therefore all guns should be banned, and their understanding of the whole issue stops there.

  7. They talk about the length helping determine intent. Everyone is a different size with different forearm sizes. I’m not sure how they would determine it. It would have to be a case by case and not an exact length. Or it could be based on using the brace with the correct extension designed for that brace. Maybe? If your nose touches the charging handle my guess would be your good to go. But if the brace is at your elbow it’s a no go.

  8. These letters are only opinion letters!
    They do not have any force of law until someone is arrested and a Federal Judge rules on the issue
    While no one wants to be the test case, your local range officer has no obligation to stop you from shouldering and blasting away
    You are not breaking any law

  9. The ATF isn’t going to charge anyone with a felony who shoulders a pistol brace… UNLESS the shooter ADMITS to trying to circumvent the NFA. Which means, if you intend to misuse a product… PLEASE don’t brag about that on social media.

    There is a pile of legal implications if you can redefine something with misuse. “Sir, that’s not a full auto, short barrel, belt fed shotgun, that’s clearly a paperweight. You can tell because I’m using it to keep my papers from blowing away. Remember when, your organization, literally said that using something is all you need to define it?! And then made that argument in court?!? IN FRONT OF A JUDGE?!?!?!”

  10. So the current production brace is considered okay again. What about the original bulkier Sig branded ones before they split off into SB tactical?

    • If you read the new letter they use generic words and plurals like “stabilizing braces.” So it seems the letters intent is for all current ATF okayed pistol braces. But I’m just an idiot with an IPad. So you’re going to have to read it and make up your own mind.

  11. “AR-15 pistols have long been a thorn in the side of ATF. After all, they are what started the whole problem with ammunition that was normally considered to be rifle ammunition being treated as handgun ammunition for purposes of banning armor-piercing handgun ammo (this is a story for another day).”

    When that day comes, can we get a legit velocity test out of different length barrels?

    I truly wonder if AP rounds can actually P various forms of A when fired from pistol length barrels.

  12. I don’t think it was the AR-15 pistol that made a go at regulating ammo. It was originally against the 7.62×25 Tok round that started the “problem”. They complained that they are “cop killer” bullets. The Obama administration allowed the AR-15 handgun builds(did not fight them), just to say that the ammo they used was a “cop killer” bullet and then they could ban or regulate the sale of any ammo that might be used in any commercial handgun.

    The Tok round gets a lot of bad press, but it is the flatest shooting ammo for handguns. If we could have short barrelled carbines, that round would be perfect. a 10-12″ barrel or rifleing would be awesome. Add a suppressor and you would have a great round for smaller game or just plinking with something more powerful than a .22lr. If we could import the ammo again, the milsurp ammo could be much cheaper, even than 9mm.

    I think someone in the ATF is afraid of these milsurp pistols.

  13. “I appreciate these relationships I have in the ATF – I have respect for both of these guys and, believe it or not, I understand the position they were in. ”
    There’s your biggest problem right there. ANYONE who willingly works for that scummy goverment agency deserves NO respect or understanding. F them all in the butt!

  14. I have three relevant words for this discussion:
    — arbitrary and capricious

    The ATF’s opinions, memos, letters, and standards are the textbook definition of “arbitrary and capricious”. Can someone please start a lawsuit and get a permanent injunction against the ATF???


    Ok….im done now.

  16. “AR-15 pistols have long been a thorn in the side of ATF.”

    Mr. Cleckner, could you please explain this?


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