banshee 9mm pistol
AR platform pistol with a pistol stabilizing brace
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By Emily Taylor

Since 2013, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) estimates that over 3 million stabilizing braces, or pistol braces, have been sold in the U.S. With over a dozen designs available on the market, they are mostly meant to be used with AR-15 style pistols. Pistol braces are devices meant to improve the shootability of large-format, intermediate caliber pistols, without shouldering them with a stock.

Putting a stock on a pistol would require the possessor to have registered the item with the ATF in accordance with the National Firearms Act (NFA), since it would make the item a short-barreled rifle (SBR)—this also means paying a $200 tax stamp and going through an enhanced vetting process (see 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(8)26 U.S.C. § 5821).

Pistol braces have drawn much more attention from the public recently, as the President and the ATF have targeted them for increased regulation.

Whether you think pistol braces are a practical addition to an AR pistol, an attempt to skirt federal law, or a range-toy with drawbacks in real-world settings, it’s impossible to avoid the fact that they’re at center stage in the current gun rights debate.

What is an AR-15 Pistol?

Simply put, an AR-15 Pistol, commonly known as an AR Pistol, is an AR-15 platform firearm that has been modified to meet the legal definition of a pistol. Although there’s generally a buffer tube about 7.25-inches long projecting behind the action, as this is where the recoil spring is housed, it has no stock.

ar-15 pistol
Shutterstock

Prior to the introduction of pistol stabilizing braces, some people had put foam sleeves (or other coverings) on the end of their buffer tubes to facilitate shooting them more comfortably. However, it was debated as to whether or not this was legal to do.

Can I Make an AR Pistol into a Rifle, or Vice Versa?

This is one of the few simple questions surrounding this topic. A pistol can become a rifle, even a short-barreled one, but only once. A rifle can’t become a pistol, though it can become an SBR.

short barrel rifle SBR
A short barrel rifle

To clarify, the path on this is a one-way street: if you want an AR pistol, you can’t use a lower receiver that has been configured for a rifle. This is an important distinction because if you put a pistol upper on a rifle lower without getting ATF approval and completing the necessary regulatory steps, you’ll most likely have manufactured or configured an unregistered SBR and committed a federal felony.

What is the Real Difference Between an SBR and a Braced Pistol?

In 2012, SB Tactical debuted the Pistol Stabilizing Brace, with multiple manufacturers first producing a model for either AK pistols or AR pistols in 2013. The AR model attached using the existing buffer tube, much like a regular stock, and the rear surface of it appeared large enough to provide a decent shouldering area, which was immediately noticed by consumers.

Eventually, in March of 2014, the ATF replied to an inquiry from law enforcement asking if it was legal to shoulder an AR pistol with a brace attached, or if it would reclassify that pistol as an SBR, and their reply was clear and straightforward.

The ATF addressed the brace in question, noting: (1) it was not classified as a shoulder stock; and (2) improper use did not change the classification of the weapon. As stated by the agency, firing a gun from a certain position, including while shouldering a pistol brace attached to a firearm, did not change the classification of the weapon. As such, while not what the manufacturer intended or recommended, firing an AR pistol in this manner did not change the classification of the gun from a pistol to an SBR.

This interpretation issued by the ATF helped provide clear and concise guidance to a subject involving pistol braces, one that had previously been dominated by vague suppositions.

Can You Legally Shoulder an AR-15 Pistol with a Stabilizing Brace on It?

At the time of this writing, it’s best practice not to shoulder this item. But know that the ATF has a long history of issuing conflicting interpretations on this issue.

Despite the 2014 determination, the ATF completely reversed course in January of 2015. In its “Open Letter on the Redesign of ‘Stabilizing Braces,’” the ATF asserted that the mere use of a pistol brace as a shoulder stock “constitute[d] a “redesign of the device” and did indeed change the classification of the pistol into an SBR.

As such, anyone shouldering a braced pistol was “redesign[ing] a stabilizing brace for use as a shoulder stock” and the firearm was then subject to NFA requirements, including the completion of a Form 1 (ATF Form 5320.01) and paying the applicable $200 tax stamp.

Essentially, pursuant to the 2015 letter, anyone who shouldered an AR-15 pistol with a stabilizing brace attached had “redesigned” the device into an NFA item—a short-barreled rifle—and may be subject to charges.

The ATF then issued another letter 26 months later in March of 2017, changing course again.

shoulder ar-15 stabilizing brace shouldering
Foghorn for TTAG

In this new letter, the agency clarified that “redesign” did not necessarily apply to a brace that was not “re-configured” but was still attached to a gun fired from the shoulder. The ATF noted that a pistol brace was not intended to be fired from the shoulder and ”reconfiguration” would occur when affirmative steps were taken to alter the stabilizing brace to make it more like a shoulder stock—such as by affixing it permanently to the buffer tube or removing the arm strap that allows it to be used around the forearm—before then firing it from the shoulder.

Per the ATF, this reconfiguration would then fall under the NFA’s meaning of “redesign.” See 26 U.S.C. § 5845.

Why Is This So Complicated?

Writing laws and drafting regulations that are intended to govern a subject as old and broad as “firearms” is difficult, while interpreting existing statutes and rules can be equally as challenging. Guns have been around in one form or another for hundreds of years, and there are countless ways firearms can be operated, modified, or accessorized. Attempting to manage every possibility is very complicated, especially as designers find new ways to innovate.

Black Collar Arms APS
Courtesy Black Collar Arms

The concept of the pistol brace is a fantastic example of this in action. Short barrel rifles have been regulated by the NFA since 1934, and over past decades, people have found new and innovative ways to modify pistols without automatically creating an NFA item. Even the ATF seems to have conflicting conclusions surrounding the legality of some of these innovations, including that of pistol braces.

What is Being Done About It Now?

In April of 2021, the Biden administration directed the Department of Justice (DOJ)—of which the ATF is a part—to determine when a pistol brace “effectively turns a pistol into a short-barreled rifle” and should be regulated under the NFA. In June of 2021, the ATF responded with a proposed rule— Factoring Criteria for Firearms With Attached “Stabilizing Braces”—which included the creation of a worksheet and factoring criteria to determine whether a device would be classified as a “firearm” or a “short-barreled rifle” under the NFA and Gun Control Act (GCA).

Through a proposed point system, the ATF would decide whether a pistol with a certain brace on it constituted an SBR and would thereby be subject to the applicable requirements of the NFA.

ATF pistol stabilizing brace factoring worksheet
Courtesy ATF (click here for full worksheet)

When examined by law-abiding gun ownersSecond Amendment advocates, and some members of Congress, most found the proposal to be an example of executive overreach and its factoring criteria so vague as to allow nearly all pistols with stabilizing braces to be classified as SBRs, not to mention some of the concerns with the ATF’s rulemaking process.

The backlash was immediate, intense, and entirely expected.

What Should We Expect in the Future?

The ATF published its final rule in the Federal Register in January and will take effect some time in August of 2022. To be clear, the new rule does not outlaw AR-15 pistols or pistol braces. It will continue to be legal to make, buy, sell, or own them. The ATF’s new regulations will only apply to the configuration of the complete firearm on which a brace is used. ATF can’t rule on the brace itself, but they can rule on a complete firearm that includes a brace. Those complete firearms will be evaluated based on the ATF’s points-based factoring system.

The long, strange journey of the AR-15 pistol brace is an excellent example of the seemingly arbitrary nature of “gun reform” in America. However, it is also a lesson on how necessary and effective the vigilance and genuine concern for the rights and liberties of the average firearm owner can be, reaffirming that Second Amendment advocacy and the voices of lawful gun owners are an important part of preserving everyone’s rights.

 

Emily Taylor is a partner with Walker & Taylor, PLLC

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80 COMMENTS

      • Funnier than the memes in an ironic sort of way.

        Of course, I’m sure there’s a meme somewhere in all the ATF bs and doublespeak.

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  1. “We’ll know it when we see it…”

    The Government’s answer to the question, “Hey, can you provide me with a clear definition of what the AFT considers to be an SBR so I can make an informed decision for myself?”

    • Go ahead and make one and bring it to our office. We’ll let you know then. It’s a feature not a bug. Have your lawyers on speed dial.

      How many points does my unmodified Springfield Saint garner under this stupid points system I wonder?

      • I dunno, but I’ll bet I’d win high score on my home-assembled gat. Was completely legal at the time of acquisition and assembly, but the winds, they keep a-changin’…

    • Supreme Court Justice Stewart Potter said basically the same thing about pornography. When presenting his threshold test for obscenity in the 1964 case. Jacobellis v Ohio. “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that”.
      It seems the the Federal Bureaucracy complex has taken that “Ruling” and transferred its implication to cover anything they wish to control or deny. By defining it in such a way that it’s meaning is ambiguous enough to cover anything they wish it to.

      • “By defining it in such a way that it’s meaning is ambiguous enough to cover anything they wish it to.”
        That right there is what is so infuriating. Being subject to arrest by simply making an honest mistake. Not having the deep pockets to defend yourself against the government that is using your tax money to nail you to the wall. Abolish the Unconstitutional ATF!

    • If the ATF sees it, it will be a SBR. It’s not about solving/preventing crime, it’s all about controlling citizens. Merely another stepping stone along the path to Socialism.

      “….shall not be infringed.”…..doesn’t mean much anymore, because we have allowed them to do what tyrannical bureaucrats do. Our bad. Only gonna be one way to change this.

    • Does BATFE also regulate holsters & clothing ? Suppose a person made a “Shooting Jacket” with a built-in pad(s) at the shoulder that included a hollow articulating tube into which the buffer tube of the pistol could be inserted and “holstered”. The holster is part of the clothing, not a part of the firearm. Would the authorities deem it a “Stock” ?

  2. A rifle cannot become a pistol without filing a Form 1, but a pistol make be converted to a rifle and back again as many times as you want. It is not a “one-time” conversion.

      • Can I lawfully make a pistol into a rifle without registering that firearm?

        Assuming that the firearm was originally a pistol, the resulting firearm, with an attached shoulder stock, is not an NFA firearm if it has a barrel of 16 inches or more in length.

        Pursuant to ATF Ruling 2011-4, such rifle may later be unassembled and again configured as a pistol. Such configuration would not be considered a “weapon made from a rifle” as defined by 26 U.S.C. § 5845(a)(4).

        [26 U.S.C. § 5845, 27 CFR § 479.11]

    • The USSC ruled in US v. Thompson Contender that a frame/receiver sold as a pistol could be arbitrarily configured as either a pistol or a rifle. Care must be taken to not have a rifle stock and barrel less than 16″ equipped at the same time, which makes an unregister short barreled rifle. A rifle frame/receiver sold as a rifle is always a rifle and must be registered as a short barrel rifle before mounting a barrel less than 16″, regardless of the presence of a stock. One might want to select a firm other than Walker & Taylor for a gun related case.

  3. The following is incorrect.

    “This is one of the few simple questions surrounding this topic. A pistol can become a rifle, even a short-barreled one, but only once”

    An AR lower first assembled as a pistol may be reassembled as a rifle. It can then be disassembled and reassembled as a pistol. There is no limit on the number of times this can occur. Asked and answered numerous times by ATF.
    As for SBR. A SBR built on a lower which was originally a pistol can be returned to such by notifying ATF that the weapon has been restored to original non NFA condition and request it be so de-registered

    https://www.atf.gov/firearms/qa/can-i-lawfully-make-pistol-rifle-without-registering-firearm

    • “An AR lower first assembled as a pistol may be reassembled as a rifle. It can then be disassembled and reassembled as a pistol. There is no limit on the number of times this can occur. Asked and answered numerous times by ATF.”

      Every one of my ARs ‘started life’ as a stripped lower, neither rifle or pistol.

      What (currently, obviously) does the BATF have to say about that?

      (Noting it likely won’t matter in the very near future, according to what the little birdies whispering in my ear are telling me about the sh!t-storm due to arrive in June and early Fall… 🙁 )

      EDIT – Also, I’m kinda looking at it this way – Doing it when they are doing it (right before the mid-term elections) will be a *massive* plus for us, enraging us, and angry people make a point of showing up to vote…

      • Every one of my ARs ‘started life’ as a stripped lower, neither rifle or pistol.

        What (currently, obviously) does the BATF have to say about that?

        From ATF 2011-4 the operative phrase is “originally assembled.” If originally assembled as a rifle always a rifle. If originally assembled as pistol it can reassembled as either.

      • @Geoff

        “Every one of my ARs ‘started life’ as a stripped lower, neither rifle or pistol.”

        So…on the 4473 they are listed as “non-binary” when purchased? 😏

  4. It’s real simple.

    “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

    …shall not be infringed. No Federal gun law is constitutional.

    It’s time for Clarence Thomas to make this clear.

    • He has made it clear that he wants some important 2A cases to make their way to SCOTUS. Out of an estimated 4000 appeals submitted per year, about 80 are granted cert, which means the Court hears, decides, and writes opinions for an average of two cases per week that they’re in session. That’s quite a workload, and unfortunately it’s been very difficult to get anything on the table since Heller (2008) and McDonald (2010). The pending ruling on the current NYSRPA may potentially act to set back gun control efforts, but Clarence wants more cases to come his way.

      Here in CA, San Diego v. Peruta was an abomination, in that the Ninth Circuit ruled that “the Second Amendment provides no protection for concealed carry” and denied a private individual’s complaint (Peruta) for a CCW permit in light of CA’s general ban on open carry passed by former Governor Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown in 2012. CA is a “may issue” state, so those of us in repressive Counties (such as my home Los Angeles) have no legal ability to carry. As some here already know, I myself submitted my CCW application last year, the LASD promptly cashed my application fee within only three days, and then violated its own policy of providing an answer within 90 days…it’s now been seven months, and not a single person I personally know who has also applied has received any answer. We have no recourse. Basically, if LASD had done their job, I would have had my permit by now, so guess what?…I carry and keep it super private. And I’m not the only one. Government is untrustworthy to do the right thing.

      We’re all waiting for the decision on NYSRPA, and for SCOTUS to take up more 2A cases.

      • “…unfortunately it’s been very difficult to get anything on the table since Heller (2008) and McDonald (2010).”

        That changed with the seating of Amy Coney Barrett. We no longer need to rely on squishy John Roberts to vote as the conservative he was claimed to be.

        If we get the ruling on ‘NY Pistol’ we expect, what they grant cert. on going forward (with the current bench make-up) gives us confidence as to how the Court may rule on successful petitions of cert. presented to them.

        Even if we win big on ‘NY Pistol’, there will be little cheering, as states such as yours throw up every roadblock they possibly can to deny you and everyone else in Cali your civil rights.

        A long legal road will still have to be traveled… 🙁

  5. I cheek shoot my large form pistol now anyway. I even took the stock of my tax stamped SBR AR and cheek shoot that now too. They are now lighter, faster (less muzzle rise), have more natural shooting position, are closer to your body, and other sorts of good things.

      • I place the buffer tube or rear frame of other large pistols along my cheek on the mandible. Rhett Neumayer is the guru of the technique. He does it with birdshead grip shotguns with good effect too. The YouTube channel is Demonstrated Concepts and his most recent video most completely explains the technique.

  6. So far, I haven’t seen an answer to my main question: Is the fight for using pistol braces the way we all have the past few years over? The August date is coming, no more hurdles, no more appeals? We’re just giving up (or ignoring the rule)?

    • IMHO, the very fact that such a large volume of braces are already in consumer hands (3 million) puts the issue’s toes right on the light of Heller (in common use) and makes its contentious, and therefore potentially ripe for a direct challenge if the AFT issues a decision that braced pistols violate the NFA.

    • “The August date is coming, no more hurdles, no more appeals? We’re just giving up (or ignoring the rule)?”

      Whatever you do, don’t just “ignore it”, some or Leftist Scum will try and make an example out of you.

      If it were me, I’d keep mine on the down-low until it shakes out.

      We will still have a lot of legal options to exercise for a very long time to come, such as attacking the ruling on Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) grounds. Another angle the SCotUS may prove helpful on (and the action about to happen may prove to be a *perfect* example to inspire them to act), is squashing flat the ‘regulatory state’ making up laws as it goes along.

      That’s Congress’s job, not theirs.

      The Leftist Scum built some *very* sharp teeth into the ADA to force the recalcitrant into complying, OR ELSE.

      Alinsky’s ‘Rules For Radicals’ in action, rule # 4 – “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”

      Then we can be the ones cheering… 🙂

      • “Alinsky’s ‘Rules For Radicals’ in action, rule # 4 – “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”

        The light dawns, very good!

      • When one recognizes that Geoff here is a barely literate jizzstain who’s never laid down with a woman, one can better tolerate his incoherent musings. He’s still a better writer that Lamp though….

        • “Leader Of The Pack”?

          *Snort*!

          The only ‘pack’ you lead is comprised of the incels no one wants to be seen with… 😉

        • “barely literate jizzstain“

          These personal attacks do nothing to advance the discussion.

          It might be different if your insults were entertaining, but they fall far short in both content and tone.

        • Imagine my shock, that MinorIQ and I actually agree that the nameless, brainless troll is a useless idiot, dispensing juvenile, drive-by insults! There may be hope for you, yet, child. Get over your irrational Leftist delusions, and we’ll talk.

      • My comments on the brace proposal made the point that they were very clearly violating the ADA with this. I am sure lots of others made the same point, so they are on notice about that.

  7. That ‘Depends’. In fact, ALL future totalitarian gun disarmament controls ‘Depends’ on how effectively and finally we defeat the current Marxist Communist agenda next November 2 in the midterm elections with seriously Pro 2nd Libertarian representatives to replace the current scum of commies and RIOS so that the attack on “Shall Not Be Infringed” Never returns, and a new slap-back of repeals against the NFA and the 68 GCA, with serious criminal indictments and heavy sentencing for any more attempts to Deprive us of our rights with illegal firearms Registration databases and disarmament laws commences.

    • Golly I don’t have a gat with a brace. No sbr either nor home built weapons. But I DO have an AR. With lotsa standard capacity mags. And handgun mags way over 10. I have no plans on handing in any of the stuff. As we head into a war with a senile bozo at the helm…

  8. Congress needs to nullify the National Firearms Act and just say, “a firearm is a firearm.”

    In other words, from a legal standpoint, there is no differentiating between a pistol, rifle or machine gun.

    A firearm is a firearm. That’s all we need.

    • Really, truth. I have no idea what this thing I have is, but it’s rather small, has a binary trigger, and I can shut the F out of it.

    • Not exactly. Worksheet applies to pistol with brace. Does not apply for example to .22 survival rifle that has a barrel cut to less than 16” Even though under 4lbs. still a sbr.

      • So not if it started as a rifle, sure. But if it was a pistol it seems even the most rifle-stock-ish shoulder-mounting “brace” could be added and it would still be a pistol as long as it is under weight? This almost looks like an improvement to me.
        Sounds like a new manufacturer could sell the short barreled survival non-rifle as a braced pistol from the get go?

        • Unfortunately you need to read the entire rule to get a full explanation but in short it says the first two criteria weight and length are automatically exclusionary. A pistol with a brace weighing under 4 lbs is automatically assumed to be a rifle because the pistol does not require a brace to be fired with one hand. A pistol with a brace measuring under 12” is to small to require a brace so it is automatically assumed to be a rifle and a pistol with a brace over 26” is to big to be fired with 1 hand so it is automatically a rifle.

    • Knock yourself out. Register it as an SBR and then you can put any kind of stock or not, fwd handgrip, whatver you want on it. I’m doing aall my AR platform guns and have already done my roller delayed guns.

      For 200 bucks each I can tell them don’t come fucking around bothering me anymore. And do.

  9. I have no desire to use one, nor do I anticipate ever needing one. That doesn’t mean I accept the government’s petty and childish obsession over them. Even the standard restrictions on SBR’s are an assault on logic and our individual liberties. Of all the issues needing our government’s attention, this is towards the very bottom. Just let it go already.

  10. My question is not answered. IF a firearm was legal to buy at the time, no matter whether I shoulder it or however I shoot it, can or will the AFT come back and say “you need to register this and pay the $200”, whether they see it or not? Do they have a record that I bought this legal-at-the-time weapon? Would I be expected to comply even if not contacted?

    • Yes, not necessarily, and yes. In that order. They can also order confiscation without compensation, as they did with bump stocks.

  11. My understanding is the only reason that SBRs and SBSs are regulated is because the early drafts of the NFA included pistols, and when it was pointed out that a rifle or shotgun could be shortened to a concealable size they were added into the document. Later, there was too much opposition to banning handguns so they were removed, although the ban on SBR/SBS remained, possibly through oversight?

  12. Others have asked this. How does the BATF simply determine what a stripped lower originally was?

    If the owner places a short upper and no stock, it is a pistol. If the owner places a longer barrel and a stock on it, it is a rifle. How does an agency or law enforcement know what the original assembly was?

    What they can enforce is having an unregistered SBR. But it has always baffled me how they could assert any legal standing over AR receivers.

  13. Here is the practical question: If my home security camera captures me shooting at home invaders while shouldering my “pistol” equipped with SB brace, will i be prosecuted for that?

  14. The author is WRONG. The final rule was not published. The aft published a schedule for when they would publish the rule. No replies to comments have been sent, no update to the proposed rule made.

    Nice disinfo.

    • They’re not laws….they’re bureaucrat-written regulations that were not approved by any body of elected officials. It’s due to a Biden Executive order that granted sweeping powers to federal agency pointy-headed bureaucrats.

  15. I understand this is a very late entry, but can somebody answer a couple of questions:

    One distinct advantage of a 5.56/.223 rifle over any pistol is the muzzle velocity, which allows for a flat trajectory and devastating terminal effect in the target. Why would anyone wish to shorten the barrel to pistol length and thus reduce said muzzle velocity?

    How in the world does one aim through the sights while using the pistol brace?

    • Late answers to late questions.

      The proposed regulatory changes apply to the platform, not the caliber. 9mm, 300 BLK, 350 Legend, and several others can be pretty effective out of 9-12 inch barrels, with appropriate loads. Nobody says it has to be 556/223.

      You use a sight system that is made for arm’s length. Put an optic on it, and/or use a sling. I have a 10 inch Contender with a long eye relief 4x scope on it. Left hand on the forend, right hand on the grip, pushing against the sling, makes for a pretty stable shot with a bit of practice. Reflex sight and sling on the AR pistol, no brace but a foam sleeve on a 5 inch buffer tube in case I need to cheek shoot, but it also does what I need it to do with a two hand hold pushing against the sling.

  16. I say we say screw it and come August we all put real stocks on our braced ARs. If they want to make them illegal SBRs might as well go all the way.

  17. I really want to buy an AR pistol with installed stabilizing brace from an OEM, should I just wait until after any upcoming ATF ruling? I am reading that an announcement will be coming in the next 2-3 months? It sounds like the ruling will not be favorable for braces…

  18. Real Question: If stabilizing braces are truly banned soon in August with the new ATF ruling, what will be the replacement weapon without having to get a tax stamp? Is the 14.5 pinned AR the next best answer for anyone who wants a compact AR type without having to register?

  19. At the time of this writing, it’s best practice not to shoulder this item.

    No one was ever prosecuted for shouldering a braced pistol because federal prosecutors intuited correctly that juries would probably laugh them out of court for arguing that a legal pistol becomes an illegal SBR when it touches your shoulder.

  20. If ‘the industry’ writ large- particularly involving youtubers and other personalities- had kept the “pistol brace” as such with a wink and a nod, we’d all be better off. but every tom dick and harry had to showcase it being an end-around the sbr laws.

    I supposed it’s inevitable in today’s world that such a thing cannot remain below the radar, so to speak.

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