ATF Reverses Decision on Stabilizing Braces

AR shooters, Rejoice! The ATF have reversed their position on the legality of stabilizing arm braces. The popular arm braces became a near-instant hit following their introduction in 2013, but ran into some legal gray areas following an ATF guidance letter in 2015 that stated shouldering the brace would lead to the creation of a Short-barreled Rifle. The letter shocked the firearms community, as the mere act of putting the legal firearm to your shoulder would constitute a criminal act breaking the National Firearms Act (NFA). Luckily, the ATF has clarified their language in a new guidance letter.
SB Tactical Stabilizing Brace, photo courtesy of SB Tactical.

Timeline of Stabilizing Braces

The pistol stabilizing brace has a short but rocky past. Marine and Army veteran Alex Bosco was shooting with a disabled veteran friend when a range safety officer asked the disabled vet to stop shooting due to his lack of control. This embarrassing moment spurred Bosco to assist his friend and other disabled shooters by creating a product that would allow them better control when firing AR-style pistols.

Bosco developed a product that attached to the buffer tube and used a cuff and straps to attach the firearm to the forearm of the shooter. This allowed for much better control during one-handed firing, as the recoil was distributed across the forearm, as opposed to just the grip. Bosco tested his prototype stabilizing brace and founded SB Tactical. Bosco applied for ATF approval and got a response from the Bureau stating:

The submitted brace, when attached to a firearm, does not convert that weapon to be fired from the shoulder and would not alter the classification of a pistol or other firearm. While a firearm so equipped would still be regulated by the Gun Control Act … such a firearm would not be subject to NFA controls.

With his ATF approval and prototypes in hand, Bosco found manufacturing partners that would be able to take his product to market. He signed agreements with Sig Sauer, Inc. and Century International Arms to create pistol stabilizing braces for AR and AK rifles. By May 2013, the products hit the market and the industry fell in love.

Many members of the firearms community were skeptical, though, and many questions were raised. What if you shouldered the brace? Would that mean the brace is actually a stock? That would mean the firearm would be an NFA-regulated item. The ATF released a second letter in March of 2014 to clarify the legality of the pistol brace:

For the following reasons, we have determined that firing a pistol from the shoulder would not cause the pistol to be reclassified as an SBR: FTB classifies weapons based on their physical design characteristics. While usage/functionality of the weapon does influence the intended design, it is not the sole criterion for determining the classification of a weapon. Generally speaking, we do not classify weapons based on how an individual uses a weapon.

Sig Sauer SBX Stabilizing Brace
For a while, it seemed, the pistol brace was here to stay. SB Tactical was able to work with manufacturers to make a slew of new models that could fit on a variety of handguns, and change designs to make them adjustable and more ergonomic. Of course, like all good things, that didn’t last long. Right before the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) annual SHOT Show in 2015, the ATF offered a new “open letter” on the legal use of the stabilizing brace:

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.

Naturally, this spooked many users of the stabilizing brace. The brace remained legal to manufacture, sale, own, and use, but any “misuse” of the brace would inherently lead to some legality issues.

The ATF Changes Their Mind…Again

As we reported a couple months ago, the second-highest-ranking officer of the ATF, Ronald Turk mused in a private white paper that it would be prudent to readdress the stabilizing brace issue to clear up the confusing language and legality.

Then, on April 25th, SB Tactical released a new letter sent from the ATF to SB Tactical’s legal counsel entitled “Reversal of ATF Open Letter on the Redesign of ‘Stabilizing Braces'”. The letter, written and signed by the Assistant Director of Enforcement Programs and Services of the ATF, Marvin Richardson, gives a quick review of the ups and downs of the stabilizing brace’s legal status. Then Richardson explains that the mere action of putting the device to the shoulder does not constitute the “making” of an NFA firearm. That is to say, just shouldering a gun with an attached braces isn’t manufacturing an NFA gun, thus there is no need for a Form 1 to be filed. Here’s Richardson’s words:

With respect to stabilizing braces, ATF has concluded that attaching the brace to a handgun as a forearm braze does not “make” a short-barreled rifle because in the configuration as submitted to and approved by FATD, it is not intended to be and cannot comfortable be fired from the shoulder…Therefore, an NFA firearm has not necessarily been made when the devise is not re-configured for use as a shoulder stock—even if the attached firearm happens to be fired from the shoulder.

And a sigh of relief was heard from all owners of pistol stabilizing braces. Now, accidental or even intentional shouldering of a firearm with the brace installed does not qualify the shooter for criminal firearms charges.

There are, however, some caveats given by the ATF. If the owner of the brace modifies the brace to be used only as a stock, then it would constitute the “making” of an NFA weapon. This includes permanently affixing the brace to the end of the buffer tube (to create a length too long for use as a brace), removing the arm straps, or another other way that prevents its use as a brace (like adding a recoil-reducing pad). If any of these steps are taken, and the firearm is then fired from the shoulder, that person has effectively “redesigned” the firearm to create an NFA weapon.

Long story short, feel free to install your stabilizing brace on your handgun. And if you happen to shoulder the firearm, you won’t be in any trouble. Just don’t try to turn your stabilizing brace into a buttstock without doing the proper NFA paperwork first.

Do you have a stabilizing brace? Are you happy to hear this news? Let us know in the comments!

29 Comments On This Article

  1. It’s about time, it’s a relief knowing if you shoulder your firearm with the sb brace without making any changes on it, that your not breaking any laws. At the gun ranges I would always be so careful as if never to shoulder my firearm with the sb brace, Which i really believed was ridiculous and made me nervous which took the joy out of shooting target’s at the ranges. Now we don’t have to look over are shoulder, feeling paranoid if our brace touches our shoulder, normally I would cheek it or use it on my arm as intended.
    I am sure many law-abiding citizens feel the same way!

    • Anyone that would report you for shouldering your weapon at a range should be banished from the USA. wtf is wrong with people???

  2. Yes, I have stabilizing brace on an AR15 pistol. This is GREAT news and I appreciate you sharing it.
    It’s almost human nature to draw your AR pistol up to your shoulder once in awhile and I always worried about that.

  3. This is good news but I have another concern. I have a KAK forearm brace on an AR pistol. The KAK doesn’t have arm straps and though not permanently affixed to the pistol brace is adjustable and uses a set screw to hold it in a comfortable to the shooter. Many comments on pistol braces state that the ATF has better things to do than monitor gun range shooters for how the hold a pistol but that isn’t the point. It doesn’t make things legal or right just because you can get away with it.
    As a life long gun owner it’s important to be above suspicion to be responsible and law abiding and not to give the Anti-2nd Admin folks another reason. The KAK is designed for a forearm use and that may be enough but the comments on altering the Sig brace is troubling to this reader.

  4. The fact that gun owners even have to put up with this nonsense seems illegal. How does the ATF determine what is law?!?!?
    Seems arbitrary as to who is running the ATF, and has nothing to do with what the law says…like in the Constitution….

  5. All these rules are pretty foolish. I had hoped to live long enough to see the ATF dissolved and this B.S. stopped. I guess that’s never going to happen.

  6. We abide by the 2nd Amendment that states we have the God given right to bear arms. Any arms whether it has a brace or not. Luckily we do not reside in a unconstitutional state like NY.

  7. Bear in mind the United States Constitution is the supreme law of the land. No state has any right to say otherwise. Period !

  8. I have a scorpion pistol, I bought the KAK stabilizing brace that comes with the adapter to mate the buffer tube on the rear endplate of the gun. The buffer tube has six positions on it, the KAK stabilizer has a set screw to tighten it and hold its position on the tube….. does that constitute as a ” permanent brace?” Negating being able to now possibly shoulder fire it?

    • Thank God, so sick of the bull, bad enough CT. took away a lot of good rifles from us, hopefully people will smarten up and vote another way.

  9. I don’t get why this would even matter to anyone. Even if a stock was added it would make the gun less concealable and supposedly less dangerous and basically make it a rifle which is also completely legal anyway.

  10. Good deal. Have braces on AR and AK pistols for home defense. But I wasn’t really worried about any intruders testifying that I shouldered the weapons.

  11. The interpretation of this law changes direction like the winds, determined surely by the political views of the BATFE agent rendering the decision, and the political party in power at the time. During the Eight Years of Darkness, BATFE rendered decision based on pleasing the ruling party leaders, but now that the sun shines once again on private gun owners, things are seeming to go our way. Things would be much easier if they would just realize that the Gun Control Acts of 1934, 1968, and 1986 should be revoked and replaced with common sense gun laws that actually do some good, like going after criminals that use guns in crimes. But democrats need the criminal use and abuse of guns to justify their disarming of law abiding citizens, so they would never agree to any law or action making it more hazardous for armed criminals. Kind of like the Dems fighting anything that would slow or stop the flow of illegals across our Southern border. If it is good for Americans or America, the communist minded democrat politicians will fight it tooth and nail.

    • There are already federal laws about felons possessing guns just not enforced in most cases by San Fran, LA, Chicago, NY, and other blue cities and states.

  12. While the referenced letter indicated it was in response to an open letter, it was addressed specifically to SB Tactical. Other analysis I’ve read so far indicates this, specifically addressed, letter from the ATF applies only to SB Tactical products. It was apparently in response to a petition submitted by SB Tactical.

    So, while this is a good trend, and if you intend to shoulder the brace, I’d suggest catious forward movement when considering anything other than an SB Tactical product resulting from the ATF letter. You would assume a wider interpretation will be forthcoming. Be cautious.

  13. I’m very happy with this decision. Glad to see that someone in government saw how asinine the previous decision was. Scorw one for the good guys, indeed.

  14. As long as the brace CAN NOT touch the shoulder it should be good, But if it is adjustable to the point that it can reach the shoulder then it would be a SBR the way I see it.

  15. I saw an article on the new AR15 Pistol Brace from shot show in Vegas , I sent out e-mails to SB Tactical & Maxim Defence to try to buy one right away . Unfortunately thay were not ready for public sales yet, I got on a waiting list at Optics Planet for a couple months and finally got my brace. It is fantastic ! I love it & am the envy of all my gun friends as thay are hard to get . I can’t wait to buy more braces now for more Pistol type guns I have wanted forever, the Kriss Vector , Sig MPX and definitely more AR Pistols in different calibers . This is the best product to hit the gun market in the last 50 years or more , keep up the great work & Thank You !

  16. Wondering if anyone knows of a good brace for keeping your shoulder in and up. Lost the top of the ball on my humerus and the brachial nerve damage is so extensive the surgeons won’t pull my arm of and rebuild it. I’m not hoping for an AR fix, I can put a few boxes through an old model 1906 .22 winny, but a nylon rem model 66 .22 semi is too much even. The big problem is laying on my back wrenching on my rigs. My arm wants to slide down and back behind my scapula and I can’t have, stretches the nerves to bad and I might lose function in the arm. Any thoughts?