Since April 2017, when BATFE reversed its ridiculous assertion that touching a pistol stabilizing brace to one’s shoulder magically redesigned it into a shoulder stock, all has appeared quiet on the pistol stabilizing brace front. At least publicly. Until this year, that is. 2020 has brought no shortage of unwelcome surprises, including a few from our favorite federal regulatory agency, the ATF. Here are more details of what’s been going on . . . .
In June, we learned of Congressman Matt Gaetz (R – FL) targeting the ATF for its shifting “standards” and “rules” regarding what constitutes a pistol brace, and how the agency has refused to set objective standards with the firearm industry. This sparked concerns that the ATF was going after braces — accessories they had previously approved — and seeking to restrict them. Made public for the first time, these were issues that had been worked on within the industry for years, including with direct cooperation between attorneys representing firearm industry manufacturers and the top lawyers and officials within the ATF itself and the DOJ.
Then, as we neared the election, the ATF dropped an October surprise, declaring some braced pistols were actually SBRs — NFA-regulated short barreled rifles — only to later back off that determination under pressure. That declaration was in direct disobedience to the Department of Justice’s edict (which happened, in a big part, thanks to Rep. Gaetz with help from brace manufacturer SB Tactical) that ATF could not pursue any new rulings or regulations on pistol braces without first setting clear standards for the accessories in cooperation with the firearm industry.
The DOJ had barred ATF’s Firearms Technology Industry Services Branch (FTISB) from doing this. They’re the department within ATF that has historically created all of the approvals, reversals, reversals of the reversals, double-secret rules (e.g. 13.5-inch length of pull limit rule RE braces), and approval determinations of pistol brace designs.
The ATF got around the DOJ’s edict by having a Special Agent from the agency’s Boston Field Division (“banned in Boston?”) of its criminal branch issue these cease & desist letters. Yes, that was in flagrant disregard of the clear intent of DOJ’s order. Still, the ATF found a way to circumvent it in an attempt to hurt the Trump administration in the run-up to the election and potentially mount a future attack on our gun rights.
All of which brings us to today. Well, yesterday. Perhaps you saw the Ammoland article detailing a 2018 letter — provided to Ammoland and others as part of a FOIA request — that was sent from ATF to SB Tactical accusing the company of selling braces that were never ATF-approved.
Click here to read the full document.
The short version of this letter is that, 1) SB Tactical had advertised braces that hadn’t been evaluated by the ATF as being ATF “evaluated and approved,” and 2) the only SB Tactical braces approved by the ATF were the SB15 and MPX PSB models, but none of other 23 brace models being sold by SB at the time.
There are only a couple of things wrong with the ATF’s assertions . . . they’re completely false.
First, regarding SB Tactical’s marketing of “non-approved” braces, the ATF’s 2018 letter includes images of the language SB Tactical used at the time. The language used did not, as the ATF asserts, say that the braces in question were sold as “evaluated and approved” by the ATF. SB Tactical’s marketing materials describe the braces as “ATF Compliant.”
The ATF also objected to SB Tactical claiming that . . .
ATF has reviewed this product and determined that attaching a Pistol Stabilizing Brace to a firearm does not alter the classification of the firearm or subject the firearm to NFA control.
We’ve talked with SB Tactical and they’ve told us that both of these marketing claims are based on extensive in-person meetings with the ATF following the approvals for braces such as the original SB15 and the MPX PSB.
SB Tactical was told directly by ATF regulatory personnel as well as senior management that there was no need to submit future brace models using the same, previously-approved technology — i.e. two rubber flaps and a strap to secure the brace to the forearm — for ATF approval.
Nevertheless, after receipt of the 2018 letter, above, SB Tactical removed the referenced language from all of its marketing materials.
Second, regarding the claim that only two SB Tactical braces had ever been specifically approved by the agency, that is also false. In addition to the SB15 and MPX PSB braces, two other models had specifically been approved by the ATF. They are the SOB and the SBM4.
TTAG has obtained additional ATF documents referring to those approvals. Here is a Firearms Technology Criminal Branch Report dated August 2, 2017.
Click here to read the full document.
This is a referral to the ATF from a prosecutor in a local criminal case asking for the ATF’s opinion on the status of firearms involved in a criminal prosecution. Two of the weapons in question were equipped with SB Tactical braces, one with the SOB pistol brace and one with the SBM4 brace (see images at the bottom of the document).
As one of the ATF’s firearms enforcement officers and a member of the Firearms Technology Criminal Branch confirm, both of the firearms in question were classified as Gun Control Act firearms, meaning they used approved pistol braces. If the braces had not been approved, they would have legally been considered stocks and the firearms would have been classified as National Firearms Act weapons.
But wait…those aren’t the only inaccuracies in the 2018 letter. Note that on page two, the letter states this:
FTISB does not approve “stabilizing braces” which are similar or based off shoulder stock designs.
Michael Curtis, the FTISB chief who wrote the letter, even underlined that sentence to emphasize it. But again, that statement isn’t true. Look at this:
That is a SIG SAUER MPX pistol with the SB Tactical MPX PSB brace. One of two SB Tactical braces Curtis acknowledges in his letter that the ATF had actually approved. Now look at this:
That’s the SIG MPX short-barrel rifle with a stock. The stock that the SB Tactical MPX PSB brace was based on.
Hold on….didn’t Curtis say that his operation doesn’t approve stabilizing braces “which are similar or based off shoulder stock designs?” That statement is obviously, patently false. The FTISB approved the MPX PSB brace and, as you can clearly see, it’s quite similar to the SIG shoulder stock design borrowing not only aesthetic aspects but functional aspects of its mounting system and length adjustment, etc.
Moving on…TTAG is also in possession of another similar Firearms Technology Criminal Branch Report, this one dated September 15, 2020.
Click here to read the full document.
Note the differences between the 2020 FTCB report and the earlier 2017 report. The 2020 report contains paragraphs of information regarding the maker of the pistol brace — SB Tactical — that a local prosecutor would not need or ask for, including this:
None of this information is of any use to a prosecutor who is only trying to determine the legality of a firearm involved in a criminal prosecution. Why, then, would it be included in a FTCB report? The only possible reason would be in order to later leak the document and bolster the ATF’s claim that many SB Tactical pistol braces are non-approved and that the ATF has let SB Tactical know it.
You’re probably wondering what SB Tactical did back in 2018 when they received that letter claiming that many of the braces they were selling had not been approved. They did what any responsible manufacturer would do; they submitted every brace that hadn’t been specifically reviewed by the ATF for their approval.
What was the outcome of those submissions? Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada. As of today, nearly two years later, the ATF has still not issued a final classification letter for any of the submissions that were cited in the 2018 letter.
Why would that be? Because the ATF never had any intention of acting on them. They’ve been running out the clock on what they hoped would be a one-term Trump administration by refusing to respond.
Something else that’s curious: If, as FTISB chief Michael Curtis wrote in that letter back in 2018, SB Tactical was breaking the law, selling un-approved stocks (not braces) by the millions, making their customers felons by creating illegal NFA short-barrel rifles, why has the ATF never issued a criminal cease and desist order against SB Tactical? Why have they not gone to court to get an injunction against them? Why has no purchaser of one of the non-approved braces ever been prosecuted?
Think on that for a while, then ask yourself why this is all coming out…now. Now that we’re past the election and it appears Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. will be inaugurated in January.
In the mean time, here’s a statement from SB Tactical released in response to the publication of yesterday’s FOIA documents:
SB Tactical is aware that in response to FOIA requests from third parties, ATF has released internal documents that confirm the existence of an effort to malign and reclassify products used by millions of law-abiding Americans. Among those documents is an incomplete, redacted criminal evaluation that SB Tactical has never seen before and which contains multiple inaccuracies.
Contrary to the letters’ baseless accusation about SB Tactical’s marketing, SB Tactical has never and would never mislead its customers. SB Tactical has been working with ATF and DOJ for years and has sought determinations from the agency about the status of its products as applied to particular firearms. ATF’s false and irrelevant statements are sadly consistent with an activist and lawless ATF that refuses to engage SB Tactical or manufacturers on the legal status of accessories used by millions of Americans.
SB Tactical finds the motives and actions of the ATF to be arbitrary and capricious. Once again, SB Tactical encourages you to reach out to the White House and ask President Trump to rollback ATF’s agenda while he still can:
- One-Click Link to Contact DOJ:
- White House Comment Line:
- (202) 456-1111 / Email
Residents from the following states and districts should reach out to their congressional representatives to let them know what they think of ATF’s actions:
- Kentucky – Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) – www.mcconnell.senate.gov/
- (202) 224-2541 / Email
- Alabama – Sen. Richard Shelby (R) – Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations and oversees funding of DOJ/ATF. www.shelby.senate.
- (202) 224-5744 / Email
- Kansas – Sen. Jerry Moran (R) – Chairman of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) which is responsible for funding the ATF.
- (202) 224-6521 / Email
- South Carolina – Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) – Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for ATF oversight.
- (202) 224-5972 / Email
- Ohio 4th District – Congressman Jim Jordan (R) – Ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee which has jurisdiction over 2nd amendment issues. jordan.house.gov/
- (202) 225-2676 / Email
- If you’re not from one of these States, you can find your representative’s contact information here: www.contactingcongress.