A brace being fired as intended to be used per it's design.
*This story was updated on 11/4/2021 due to the new 2021R-08 ruling from the ATF which had a public comment period that expired on September 8th, 2021.
What is an AR pistol brace?
A pistol brace is a stability-improving device that will brace against the wrist or forearm to aid in improved accuracy and support when shooting the heavy AR Pistol. There are various styles and configurations of AR pistol braces, with some resembling traditional stocks, and others being just a padded buffer tube. The key component to these braces, is that they are NOT designed to be fired from the shoulder. That is the key distinction. If you have NOT filed a Form 1 and paid the tax stamp for an SBR, and your AR15 has a stock with a barrel under 16”, congratulations; you just committed a felony.
An AR15 pistol with an SB Tactical Brace next to an AR15 with a traditional stock.
Is it legal to shoulder a pistol brace?
In short? Yes. You can now put a pistol brace to your shoulder. Over the years the ATF has gone back and forth over what they want to allow, but AR pistols are allowed to be fired from the shoulder.
ATF Ruling in 2012
The first ruling that came from the AF regarding pistol braces arrived in 2012 because that’s the year that SB Tactical, the original maker of stabilizing braces, began selling them. Before selling their products, SB Tactical applied for their product(s) to be reviewed by the ATF to receive a determination about whether or not the braces would be subject to the National Firearms Act. In the determination letter it stated, “the submitting 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.” And that’s the story of how pistol brace legality began.
ATF Ruling in 2014
In 2014, when all the AR pistol jargon started to upset anti-gunner politicians, the ATF was asked to review the subject again. Their ruling in 2014 was the first time they decided that even when firing from the shoulder, an AR pistol would not be classified as a SBR. This decision made it so that weapons would be classified based on their physical design, characteristics and not usage or functionality (meaning that AR pistols with a stabilizing brace could be shouldered and it wouldn’t legally change its classification as an AR pistol).
ATF Ruling in 2015
After previously ruling that shouldering an AR pistol was perfectly fine without a Form 1 (NFA) the ATF tried to calm the tempers of anti-2nd Amendment politicians, and made it illegal to shoulder an AR pistol, reversing their decision from the previous year. The ATF claimed that once shouldered, the AR pistol became an SBR; anyone without a Form 1 and paid tax stamp could be indicted on serious federal charges for shouldering a pistol brace.
ATF Ruling in 2017
The ruling in 2015, thankfully, didn’t stand very long. The idea of re-classifying a weapon system based on how you hold it didn’t quite seem reasonable (much like the majority of other firearm restrictions…but I digress), and in 2017 the fine citizens of the U S of A were given a “final ruling” by the ATF. The ruling reads as follows:
“To the extent the January 2015 Open Letter implied or has been construed to hold that incidental, sporadic, or situational ‘use’ of an arm-brace (in its original approved configuration) equipped firearm from a firing position at or near the shoulder was sufficient to constitute a ‘redesign,’ such interpretations are incorrect and not consistent with ATF’s interpretation of the statute or the manner in which it has historically been enforced.”
In the fourth installment of ATF ruling on stabilizing braces, shouldering pistol braces was made legal again as long as it is done “incidentally, situationally or sporadically.” That caveat there is pretty hard to prove so the common understanding among the gun community was that the 2017 ruling was worded in a way that ultimately allowed for pistol braces to be shouldered legally.
ATF Withdraws Proposal in 2020
In 2020, gun owners got an early Christmas present when the Associate Deputy Director of the ATF withdrew its proposal for a new ban on pistol braces which was succinctly titled, "Objective Factors for Classifying Weapons with 'Stabilizing Braces'" after tens of thousands took to the Federal Register website to comment against the proposal. At the time, the proposal was short, weak and murky guidance which only made clear that millions of law abiding citizens would made into criminals overnight if the proposal was enforced as a low.
ATF Flip Flops on ruling in 2021
Unfortunately, the last ruling in 2017 wasn’t so “final” after all and the proposal in 2020 was really just a precursor for what came this year. Shortly after the Biden Administration had declared their war on “gun violence” and utter disdain for the 2nd Amendment, the ATF set their sights on pistol braces again thanks to Attorney General Merrick Garland.
2021R-08 is the code designation for the ATF’s new proposed rulemaking titled,”Factoring Criteria for Firearms with Attached ‘Stabilizing Braces’”. This time around, it’s not just a simple flip flop on policies. It’s not even just about whether or not you can shoulder a pistol brace. As the current Attorney General, Garland wants to effectively destroy the 2nd Amendment with his new “pistol brace point system.”
With the new point system, there are three sections of categories that you have to go through and if your build accrues four or more points, it ceases to be legally classified as a “pistol” and becomes a “rifle” instead. If put into effect it would be a huge blow to the gun community, but the better question might be… how will it be enforced? And by who? See a template for the official form that would be used here, also titled, ATF Worksheet 4999.
Some of the categories that the ATF will be looking at to assign points include accessory design, rear surface area, adjustability, stabilizing support, length of brace pull, buffer tube attachment method, brace features, optics and iron sights used, even ergonomic accessories.
ATF Proposed 2021R-08 Comment Period Has Ended. Now What?
As the ATF pushes out more and more nonsensical and arbitrary gun control rules and regulations, we the people have a civic and moral duty to speak out against such legislation. 2021R-08 had a public comment period open 90 days on the Federal Register’s government website and expired on September 8th, 2021. There were over 211k comments received but the ATF said that they will need some extra time to process all the comments. So we’re expecting to see an update around January or February of 2022. Heavy pushback in Congress for previous ATF proposed rules were dropped in the past and not put into effect so we are hopeful for that to happen again.
You can still run-and-gun just as effectively with a brace as with a stock.
So can you shoulder an AR Pistol?
What does this wishy-washy ruling mean exactly? Can you shoulder a pistol brace? In lay-mens terms: yes. Per the 2017 ruling, you are allowed to shoot an AR pistol braced on the shoulder, and should continue to be able to do so for the foreseeable future. Previously, the ATF would use terms like incidental, sporadic, and situational; meaning essentially that your use of your AR pistol is open to the ATF’s interpretation. Our old advice still stands, don’t draw any extra attention to yourself when shooting from the shoulder or when using a pistol brace — just to be on the safe side.
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