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Yesterday we reported on a couple big stories. The first was that the ATF is trying to make using a pistol arm brace improperly a felony (more on that in a bit). The second was a story about a group of felons in California who are being charged with possession of a short barreled rifle when what they had appears to simply be an AR-15 pistol with an arm brace. A source within the law enforcement community has sent in a hot tip that the charge might not be because of the pistol arm brace after all, and might instead be because of a much more straightforward (but equally dumb) law.

From our source:

Before anyone jumps to conclusions that the Sigarm brace make a legal AR pistol an SBR you must first understand California law.  In California AR pistols ARE legal and the Sigarm brace IS legal, but as in most things in Commiefornia: the devil is in the details.  AR lowers MUST be registered as a pistol when you buy them and they can not have a means to accept a traditional stock.  IE taking the stock off the buffer tube will not met the requirements of the law.  You must have a straight tube.

The lower in this incident was registered as a rifle, once a rifle always a rifle.

So it seems like the firearm used in the home invasion might have been originally registered as a rifle, which is a HUGE no-no if you want to subsequently make a pistol out of it. I know, it makes no sense — not like the rifle becomes deadlier because the registration paperwork says “rifle” instead of “handgun,” but there it is.

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    • Or to use as gotcha laws when getting a conviction on a real crime seems difficult. That’s the closest these laws come to being useful and that is still a perversion of the law.

    • This is actually nationwide. If your lower was registered by the FFL as a rifle when you bought it, its a rifle in the ATF’s eyes.

      • “This is actually nationwide.” – B

        Why would I need to register it if it’s not a rifle? In FL you don’t need to register pistols and since it’s a PISTOL, well…

        Also, if I finished the lower by myself, for myself, I shouldn’t need to register it since I don’t need a serial number, and you can’t register anything without a serial.

        • The registration he is talking about is not the same registration that gets everyone up in arms.

          When a firearm is created by it’s creator it is created as a pistol, rifle or other. In the case of the pistol and rifle, when they are made they get classified as to what they are. I.e., Bushmaster makes a stripped receiver into an AR-15 20″ rifle, which meets the classification of the ATF’s definition of a rifle, shoulder fired, etc., etc. Bushmaster takes another stripped receiver and makes it into a 7″ barreled AR-15 pistol, i.e. no stock. After manufacture Bushmaster then logs the classification of that particular serial number. That classification follows that firearm to the distributor, the gun shop, and then onto the 4473. ATF can go back to the source and see if a receiver was assembled as a pistol or a rifle at the time of its creation.

          Now we get to the “other” firearm. A stripped receiver that left the factory without a classification. That receiver can be either! But once it has been assembled in a configuration that would place it into either the pistol or rifle classification that is what it is. Let’s take an Anderson stripped AR15 lower. Throw a M4 stock and receiver extension (buffer tube) on it, with no other parts, you have made a rifle! Jump in your time machine, go back to before you assembled the above, and with a pistol tube and 15.9″ barrel you now have a pistol. Now, would the ATF ever know if you assembled the receiver one way, changed your mind, and reassembled in the other configuration? Really doubt it. However, people have been known to post less than smart things on the interwebs for all to see.

        • If it was transferred on a form 4473 as a rifle the first time, then making a pistol out of that lower would be a felony under Federal law. Say you make a pistol AR and it gets stolen. You report it. It gets recovered in Miami or LA. They do a trace to the 1st point of sale and see it was a rifle. They then look at the stolen guns list and see it was reported as a stolen AR pistol. It could get sticky. Since 2012, there is a place on the 4473 at question 18 to check “other” for incomplete lowers so that you can avoid this situation. That was really to keep people under 21 from building AR pistols (and ARs). The problem with a used AR stripped lower is you may not know for sure how it was transferred on the 4473 the first time it was sold. It it was checked off as a rifle, you could have problems. Prior to 2012, there was a choice in question 18 as Rifle or Pistol. Now it is Rifle, Pistol, or Other.

      • I believe stripped receivers are neather a rifle nor a pistol as they do not meet the definition of either. They become either when they are completed as one. They are convertable ( under specific circumstances) from one to the other and back so long as they are only in a legal configuration.

        Here is the relevant language:
        Therefore, so long as a parts kit or collection of parts is not used to make a firearm regulated under the NFA (e.g., a short-barreled rifle or “any other weapon” as defined by 26 U.S.C. 5845(e)), no NFA firearm is made when the same parts are assembled or re- assembled in a configuration not regulated under the NFA (e.g., a pistol, or a rifle with a barrel of 16 inches or more in length). Merely assembling and disassembling such a rifle does not result in the making of a new weapon; rather, it is the same rifle in a knockdown condition (i.e., complete as to all component parts). Likewise, because it is the same weapon when reconfigured as a pistol, no “weapon made from a rifle” subject to the NFA has been made.
        Nonetheless, if a handgun or other weapon with an overall length of less than 26 inches, or a barrel or barrels of less than 16 inches in length is assembled or otherwise produced from a weapon originally assembled or produced only as a rifle, such a weapon is a “weapon made from a rifle” as defined by 26 U.S.C. 5845(a)(4). Such a weapon would not be a “pistol” because the weapon was not originally designed, made, and intended to fire a projectile by one hand.

        • A lower is sold as Pistol,Rifle, or Other on the 4473. Other is the best choice as you don’t have to decide on the spot. For this reason, I tend to build my lowers into pistols first, then make carbines or rifles from them as the need dictates..

        • @Lurker With a used stripped lower, you may not know how it was checked off on the 4473 at question 18.

          @MudPuppy, the other box was added to question 18 in 2012. Prior to that, there were just 2 boxes.

  1. Yeah this doesn’t smell right.

    So was the rifle stolen or did the criminal swap the upper? At least from the picture that barrel looks about in the 10 to 11 inch range.

  2. I am afraid this probably answers the question I was looking to ask. How about, I submit paperwork to have a lower which I already own registered as an SBR? Why can’t I keep shooting it with a 16″ upper until the paperwork comes through, then attach a 12.5″ upper? Other than serial numbers, you cannot tell the difference between that lower and the SBR lower I already own, what is the basis for differentiation? Whatever the answer, does it make any sense? This absolutely MUST be presented to our representatives, they won’t understand it but neither do we. That is the point!

    • You can keep shooting it. Its only an SBR if its in an SBR configuration. Tons of ATF letters on this. With a 16″ upper its not an NFA item, even if the lower is registered as an SBR lower. You can sell the lower on its own or with a 16″ upper without doing a tax stamp transfer, and take it across state lines.

      • I think you’re a little confused on one thing. Correct, Prior to receiving the form 1 back from the ATF you can have a barrel >16″ on the lower that WILL BECOME an SBR once the ATF has approved. Once the form is approved, that lower IS AND WILL ALWAYS BE considered a SBR and subject to the NFA regardless of barrel length unless it gets changed back to a Title 1 firearms. You can do that by writing to the ATF and requesting to have the lower removed from the registry and then it becomes a Title 1 firearm again. If you sell a registered SBR that has a >16″ barrel on it as if it were a Title 1 firearm you’re going to be in a world of hurt if the authorities find out.

        • I hate to tell you but you are incorrect. If you slap a >16 upper, it isn’t considered an NFA item. You can cross state lines with it without an issue.

          You may be correct about the sale but you can ask the ATF to remove it from the registry and sell it like any other gun.

        • I have never in the last 18 years of being around NFA firearms seen or heard of a letter from ATF saying that an SBR can flip flop between the NFA and Title 1 firearm status.

          Once you have made a firearm, ie. AR15 lower, into an NFA firearm, i.e. an SBR, they ONLY WAY to change it back is by having it removed from the registry. Simply changing the configuration to one that falls outside of the NFA regs does not change the firearm back into a Title 1 firearm. That firearm is REGISTERED as an NFA SBR and as such is still controlled by the over riding laws and regulations. It has ceased to be a Title 1 firearm and now falls fully under the rules/regs established by the NFA, GCA, FOPA, etc, until such time as it is removed from the registry.

          Now, if for whatever reason the police were to have reason to look at an SBR that had been configured as a Title 1 firearm, a knowledgeable officer may question why it is engraved Joe Bob’s Living Trust, Duluth, MN. He/she may start asking more pointed questions. 99.999% of cops know nothing about how NFA firearms are regulated so I say the chances of the above happening are really, really, really slim.

  3. Wait, a criminal illegally modified a gun. Why, thats breaking the law!
    Better pass another one! Because, because…guns! For the children!

  4. I am somewhat surprised that (so far) the CA legislature hasn’t acted to outlaw “ghost guns” or arm braces this year. So far the only proposed law touching on firearms, is simply to undo prop 47 with regard to firearm theft. But they still have a while to introduce bills (Jan 30th is the due date for bill requests, and Feb 27th for bill introduction)

  5. I believe the law is to keep people like me from getting handguns.

    I am over 18, so I can buy a rifle, but under 21. This law prevents me from legally purchasing a rifle and turning it into the pistol that I am not responsible enough to buy.

    • You’re responsible enough to join the military and fight our wars. You’re responsible enough to be tried as an adult if you commit a crime. You’re responsible enough to pick our president. You’re responsible enough to own a handgun.

      And drink alcohol.

    • To be fair, the law (NFA) keeps EVERYONE from buying a rifle and turning it into a pistol, without the proper tax stamp. It’s not aimed at depriving a specific (18-20.99999 year olds) demographic….

    • In Texas somebody older than 18 but younger than 21 can purchase a pistol, just not from a ffl. It has to be a private sale, but it’s still legal.

  6. Before January 1, AR (and many other) pistols were available for purchase in California only through the single-shot exemption process, because they weren’t on the approved roster. Now that the SSE process has been eliminated, the only way remaining is to manufacture it yourself and regard it exclusively as a pistol.

    Whatever you do, never let a shoulder stock touch such a lower, because it would get rifle cooties.

  7. I’m not sure how clarification of the first story pertains to the other. The ATF letter was pretty clear in stating that the Sig Brace is not illegal when attached to an upper with a barrel less than 16″. This isn’t about configuration….it’s about implementation. It’s still utterly wrong for the ATF to be arbitrarily deciding this, but I don’t believe this “revelation” puts us any closer to solving the larger problem here.

  8. Uhhh, California does not register rifles. California registers Handguns and “Long guns”, which both Rifles and Shotgun, along with 26″ Title 1 “Other” firearms all fall into.

    As long as this “pistol” is 26″ in length then it’s still a Title 1 “other” that would be otherwise legal in CA.

    If not, then every PGO shotgun sold in CA is now an illegal SBS because they too have no stock and are registered as “long guns”.

  9. The entire idea behind these “pistols” is stupid to begin with.
    Remove the stock from what is a carbine in all but name and call it a pistol…
    Then buy this arm brace…I understand people with disability using it but come on, most people using this pistol-brace combo are trying to tap dance around the law and get a short barreled rifle.
    Fine I agree the law is stupid and it sucks to not be able to shoot it down in court. If however you are prepared to use legal fine print and loopholes because you absolutely have to have a short barrel rifle then you better make sure you have your ducks in a row and don’t complain if it comes back to bite you in the rear end.

    • George,
      Please don’t call it “tap dancing around the law” and “using legal fine print and loopholes”. Instead, call it “acting in compliance with the law” and “carefully observing the legal intricacies to avoid a violation”.

      Laws define acceptable and unacceptable behavior, with the expectation of compliance. If you’re on one side of the line, you’re an upstanding law-abiding citizen. If you’re on the other side, you’re a criminal. The problem comes when the line moves.

  10. Unfortunately, because of the “DOJ Approved Handgun Roster”, and the elimination of the single shot exemption, it’s not nearly impossible to acquire an AR/AK pistol unless you manufacture the lower yourself. Not sure if any manufacturers ever had their pistol ARs “certified” by the DOJ as “safe” for sale in CA. By that, I mean they likely didn’t pay the CA DOJ’s extortion fee to sell their goods in CA.

    The roster really makes life miserable here, and has absolutely nothing to do with safety. Can’t wait til it’s struck down.

  11. I was just wondering if someone could point me to where it specifically says in the law that once a firearm is a rifle is can never be a pistol?

    Is this supposed to make us safer? If so, how exactly?

    What is the government interest here?

  12. Rep. Honda is introducing H.R. 376 – 378, which if passed would ban 80% lowers, parts kits, the building, assembling of firearms at home without serial numbers/ must be transferred to ffl holder, ban civilian purchase of bulletproof vests.

    Just wanna say, Mea Culpa on the whole anti gun thing, I’m a democrat but I dearly love guns and respect them. Been viewing the site for a time and it is my go to place for gun news. Almost had a heart attack when I saw california and SBR mentioned in headline. Keep up the great articles, I’m out here in an ocean of gun haters, I can’t wait to move to a state that respects my 2a rights!

  13. If you buy an ar stripped lower (register it as a pistol), can you legally convert it back into a rifle if you place a 16in barrel on it etc.?

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