The ATF’s False Narrative Surrounding the Legality of SB Tactical Pistol Braces Exposed

SB brace feat

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.

ATF criminal referral document

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:

  • 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:

  • Alabama – Sen. Richard Shelby (R) – Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations and oversees funding of DOJ/ATF. www.shelby.senate.gov/public/
    • (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.org/

comments

  1. avatar d says:

    The ATF should be declared a domestic terrorist organization

    1. avatar The Election Was/Is A Fraud says:

      So the deep state used Never Trumpers complaining about bump stocks (that they never owned) to drive a wedge between the 2A voter and Trump?

      Got it, the deep state and their accolades like RHINO’s, Never Trumpers, Lincoln Project, and their sycophants like enuf, completely suck ass.
      ….

    2. avatar Southern Cross says:

      F-Troop have clearly shown they wish to be the Democrats political police. Watch for the “shock and awe” actions soon after inauguration day.

  2. avatar Spencer says:

    I feel like this was a REALLY well written article, up until this part “Still, the ATF found a way to circumvent it in an attempt to hurt the Trump administration”. Can you determine without any doubt, with evidence that this is the case? I love TTAG, but sometimes it borders on silly when it comes to the partisan politics stuff. Give me clear evidence or leave it out and allow me to make my determination. If a left leaning site said something like that you would feel the same way I believe.

    1. avatar bob says:

      TTAG did an article just a bit ago about secretive meetings with the Biden administration once he was deemed “president elect” in an effort to put pistol braces on the chopping block first on the list when inaugurated. I would say this shows a strong connection that they would drag their feet in hopes it would be Bidens choice and not Trumps.

      SBR’s and SBS’s need to just be removed from the NFA list completely, it is a needless law that protects nobody and does no good as its filled with loopholes that make it useless.

      With that said, the NFA is unconstitutional as it forces you to pay for a right.
      $200 gets you everything on the list (one at a time). It doesn’t “ban” anything, it just makes you pay more for it and do a little more paperwork.

    2. avatar Jeremy S. says:

      I’m forced to be vague here, but the ATF’s October surprise was not a surprise to me and some others in the industry who received repeated, independent information from sources very much in the know about what was in the works at ATF going back to at least early spring this year. Not only what was going to happen but the reason behind it (suppress the “NRA vote” by making it appear that the Trump admin was either going after gun rights like the bump stock thing or at a minimum not acting sufficiently to protect them). Congress and DOJ’s action against the ATF in spring/summer was not coincidental, but was in response to these same internal machinations at ATF. As stated in the article, ATF still found a way to skirt the restriction that was put on the technology branch and released their October surprise anyway. All of the companies that received the cease and desist letter knew it was coming. That letter was, in the truest meaning of the term, an October surprise aimed at the Trump reelection campaign. If you want me to show you proof I’m sorry, I’m not at liberty to do that (and most of the sources provided this info over the phone to me anyway rather than in writing), so you’ll have to just decide for yourself what and how much to believe. All I can say is that this plan was known and its purpose was explicitly discussed and leaked way ahead of time, and the best I can do is assert that my sources have direct knowledge (which was further corroborated by everything they had been saying for many months coming true word for word).

      1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

        “All I can say is that this plan was known and its purpose was explicitly discussed and leaked way ahead of time,…”

        I don’t doubt that one bit.

        If that was happening ‘behind the scenes’, I can only imagine the mayhem coming if Biden is sworn in and determined to pull ‘the levers of power’.

        Tighten those seatbelts, kids. We’re about to experience the metaphorical Chinese curse of ‘living in interesting times’…

      2. avatar Baldwin says:

        The swamp remains undrained.

        1. avatar Shwiggie says:

          Swamp? Let’s just be explicit: it’s a festering pustule that needs to be drained before the nation succumbs to the sepsis it is causing.

        2. avatar Montana Actual says:

          If we haven’t drained it by February, it never will be drained.

          I have nothing to lose, and I’d die fighting any way possible…. Even taking out just one single tyrant. But majority will not change a single thing about their daily routine.

      3. avatar Spencer says:

        Jeremy, that’s journalism. I realize this article is long, very technical and likely most will only be read for the title and first sentence, but you are a really skilled journalist, and I wish you would have elaborated on that like you did in this comment. I believe that a lot of the gun media stuff ends up in an echo chamber of partisanship that ends up making folks look stereotyped. “Fudd” is the word often used, but I think that labeling folks like this makes it worse for everyone. Again, your journalistic skill is honed, show me deep into this stuff.

        I hope your sources also see a way out of this situation that doesn’t suck and thanks for writing a very well detailed article.

        1. avatar steve says:

          maybe – if they actually ban these — MAYBE they’ll do what they did back in the 90’s to the USAS 12 — fill out the paperwork and no fee

          OR maybe Trump will make a national amnesty everyone having purchased one prior to Jan 20th – send him an email

      4. avatar Serpent_Vision says:

        I’m a bit confused on this October Surprise claim – how did the ATF know that Q would sit in their early August letter and not publicly announce it until October???

    3. avatar neiowa says:

      ATF, like most fed agencies, is FULL of Trump hating swamp critters and progs. They LIVE to snipe at Trump and conservatives. Don’t be a Polyanna.

      1. avatar Missouri_Mule says:

        They hate Trump, but they live to step on our necks.
        They live to step on the neck of the free liberty loving American.

    4. avatar JB says:

      Lota worthless fudds on here. And trolls

      Fuck atf, they are a govt terrorist org. Period

  3. avatar AlanInFL says:

    Defund the ATF and turn it into a convenient store

    1. avatar FedUp says:

      Been to Kingman AZ lately?

      https://atfcstore.com/

  4. avatar ITS A KILLER WHALE MY DUDES!!! says:

    The Office of Constitutional Rights Adherence (OCRA) is going to have a field day when they review this and audit the ATF, their doctrine, files, SOPs, field reports and “interpretations”.

    The OCRA doesn’t exist…but they should.

    1. avatar Jeremy S. says:

      I’m hoping BATFE picks up a couple more regulatory duties and they have to add CES to the end.

  5. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

    All well and good (so to speak, *cough*), but they win. I’m not interested in being the test case.

    The build I’m working on I’ll just begin the process of filing for an SBR tax stamp, and go that route.

    I simply don’t have the resources to fight it in court, and I’d rather not risk potentially being a future convicted felon and a prohibited person.

    What I will do is support a constitutional legal challenges to SBRs and SBSs being illegal in the first place without governmental ‘permission’…

  6. avatar Nunya says:

    This is a cute attempt at defending your buddy organization (people know your editor(s) worked for grant shaw and have kissed alex bosco’s hiney for years) but sorry, the letter clearly states the SBA3 is a stock. SBT should’ve played the game fairly and sent in their brace for an evaluation like everyone else. This came around to bite them and people are rightfully upset.

    1. avatar Mike V says:

      Who’s rightfully upset?

    2. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

      “This is a cute attempt at defending your buddy organization…”

      That’s ‘cute’, an anonymous (Nuna) commentator making what he thinks is a stinging rebuke…. 😉

    3. avatar Jeremy S. says:

      SB is the only one playing fairly and above board. I’ve never worked for them in any capacity. The person you’re referring to helped design the IT at The Range Austin (in which Shaw and Bosco are both part owners), and was summarily blamed unfairly and fired for The Range going over its construction budget. He is NO fan of Shaw’s by any stretch. If you think personal feelings motivate our editorials and the past working relationship of one of our ex-editors was a factor here even though he didn’t write or know anything about this article, this would have been a hit piece instead of a factual account.

      1. avatar In the know says:

        So how do you explain TTAG editor and writer giving a deposition in support of Bosco and SB Tactical in the current lawsuit that SB Tactical is engaged in against Sig Sauer. At this point I feel sorry for Bosco and SB Tactical. The ATF is eviscerating them and SIG is about to have their patent thrown out or narrowed to such an extent that it is worthless.

        1. avatar Jason says:

          Lol…as a good friend of Bosco and SB Tactical…you’re obviously involved, but misinformed. TTAG has never given any deposition in favor of SB and sigs product is going to make extra millions for SB. Why don’t you out yourself with a name and who you are and who you work for, instead of spouting bullshit over the net.

        2. avatar Jeremy S. says:

          An ex-TTAG editor was subpoenaed, if that’s the correct term, as a subject matter expert on the pistol brace market. He gave factual testimony to the best of his knowledge. Facts may be in the favor of one side more than another in a lawsuit or a trial or whatever, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t facts and it doesn’t mean that the person giving them is intentionally supporting one side or another for personal or other reasons. I know the person you’re talking about well, and it’s my opinion that he would give honest testimony and identical testimony regardless of personal connections to either side. I stand by my prior “bad blood” comments, and if you think this person giving whatever testimony he gave is proof that he likes Shaw and team, though I assure you that he is NOT on good terms with Shaw, it only proves what I just said — he’s a person of integrity and he’ll tell the truth regardless. You’re ascribing emotional, personal, immoral motivations to somebody giving sworn, legal testimony when you know absolutely nothing of whom or what you speak. You’re way off base and you’re flat-out wrong here.

  7. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

    What we need to focus on is attacking the possible criminalization of pistol stabilizing braces by using the powerful weapons in the ‘Americans with Disabilities Act’.

    There is powerful Mojo in the ADA to force compliance on those that refuse to abide by it.

    Release the ADA ‘Kraken’…

  8. avatar EWTHeckman says:

    I really have to wonder about the intelligence of the people making these moves. After all, it should be childishly easy to predict the result of putting millions of armed people into a position of “nothing to lose” via flagrant lawlessness. “If you go looking for a fight, eventually you’ll find one, and you may not like the result” ought to be easy enough to understand that even an average moron should say, “Well, duh!”

  9. avatar GS650G says:

    If you think this is bad wait until they try to NFA every AR in America and give us 3 to 6 months to comply. If that.

    1. avatar M1Lou says:

      They can’t handle the current workload in a timely and efficient manner. Adding semi autos and magazines to the system would entirely break it. Maybe that is the point? If you like your gun and magazine, you can keep it. But it will take us 50 years to process your tax stamp and you are currently committing a felony.

    2. avatar Jeremy S. says:

      There’s no way. There are more than 20 million ARs in the country and more than 6 million pistol braces. Not in either case would the .gov make criminals of this many people or violate the 5th Amendment (takings clause). It’s just too many people and too much property. Worst case would be some sort of ban beginning at a certain date and grandfathering in what’s owned. I don’t see any chance of anything worse than that passing (especially w/ R control of the Senate) and don’t see the current SCOTUS upholding it were it an executive order or other BS thing rather than an actual law.

  10. avatar Anymouse says:

    ‘ATF regulatory personnel as well as senior management’ is meaningless. Name names. They may not have had the authority or been following policy. Further, a verbal agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. Get it in writing. How can there be blanket approval if the criteria aren’t publicized? The 7/18/18 letter explicitly maintains the opposite stance and says that they must be submitted. SBT should be looking for a lawyer because they either didn’t have one or had an incompetent one.

  11. avatar Ralph says:

    I am shocked — SHOCKED! — to find the jackbooted thugs of the ATF acting like jackbooted thugs of the ATF. It’s so . . . consistent.

  12. avatar John says:

    Surely no 2A-supporting duly-elected President would allow his Department of Justice to arbitrarily make a simple piece of plastic that attaches to a firearm illegal after having been perfectly legal without any due process of the law.

  13. avatar Docduracoat says:

    First Donald Trump outlawed bumpstocks by executive fiat.
    This set a terrible precedent.
    Of course the next Democratic president would use this precedent to outlaw all NFA workarounds.
    I fully predict binary triggers will be outlawed after braces are outlawed.
    There will be be no grandfathering in these items, just like there was no grandfathering in for bump stocks.
    They tested the waters with forcing legal owner to destroy their bump stocks, it went well, and now they will do it to the 6 million brace owners

    1. avatar steve says:

      they could also do what they did to the USAS12 – just fil out the paperwork and no fee — banned the USAS as a destructive devise — yet there are over 10 other shotguns out there that also now use a 20 round drum — go figure

  14. avatar Ray j Jones says:

    pedo joe might get to be president of the gitmo detainees but he will never be president of the usa…..ever….never pedo joe

  15. avatar Christian says:

    You know? SB Tactical made a ton of money. With all that money they failed to hire lawyers that are worth a shit. Yes, I’m aware that the lawyers they hired are reputed to be real 2A asskickers. The reputation is underserved.

    If anyone involved in manufacturing firearms accessories happens to read this, please for the love of all things holy: ASK YOUR LAWYERS OF THEY ARE PREPARED TO FILE A DECLATORY JUDGMENT SANCTION AGAINST BATFE. If not, hire new lawyers.

    The author correctly states that BATFE was trying to run out the clock. I’m a Democrat, (which isn’t going to win me any friends here but IDGAF) and I would have told anyone that asks that BATFE is a scumbag circus, that they were absolutely trying to run out the clock AND THAT IT COULD EASILY BE PREVENTED. Sitting on your damn hands while you’re selling to the public after you received the 2018 letter is just plain STUPID.

    The BATFE plan is horseshit. But keeping the threat quiet was a fucked up thing to do, too. The failure to sue offensively is legal malpractice and dipshit business. I bought four sba3s two months ago. If I knew about BATFE’S bullshit letter I would have bought the model BATFE can’t weasel on. Neither side of this idiot war did right by me.

    1. avatar steve says:

      if they ban them — SB will be rushing to the courts to file bankruptcy protection

  16. avatar steve says:

    everyone write trump — give a national amnesty to everyone that purchased these before Jan 20, 2021

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