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Can You Shoulder an AR Pistol? - Brace Legality Status & ATF "Rules" thumbnail image

Can You Shoulder an AR Pistol? - Brace Legality Status & ATF "Rules"

80 Percent Arms   |   Jul 12th 2023

*Updated July 12, 2023

What is an AR pistol brace?

Is it legal to shoulder a pistol brace?

ATF Ruling in 2012

ATF Ruling in 2014

ATF Ruling in 2015

ATF Ruling in 2017

ATF Withdraws Proposal in 2020

ATF Flip Flops on ruling in 2021

ATF Pistol Brace Ban 2023 Update

So can you shoulder an AR Pistol?

Build your next AR Pistol with 80% Arms!

What is an AR pistol brace?SBA4 brace

Photo Source: Free Range American

A pistol brace assists in stabilizing the wrist or forearm, enhancing accuracy, and providing support during shooting. It is particularly useful when using an AR 15 Pistol or other firearms. AR pistol braces come in different styles, some look like stocks while others are just padded buffer tubes.

There has been a long-standing debate about whether these products were intended to be shot from the shoulder. This debate has resulted in rule changes by the ATF and court cases focused on this topic. This led to rule changes by the ATF and court cases on this topic.

Is it legal to shoulder a pistol brace?

Usually, we recommend individuals be aware of their local laws. However, in this case, we are specifically concentrating on the regulations of one particular agency. Ironically, their regulations are not the same as federal laws but are often treated as such. Below you'll find the complete record of all ATF rulings and issues regarding the use and ownership of stabilizing pistol braces.

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 an SBR.

This decision made it so that weapons would be classified based on their physical design, and 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 an ATF 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 an ATF 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 be made into criminals overnight if the proposal was enforced as

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? 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 Pistol Brace Ban 2023 UpdateCZ Scorpion with a PDW style pistol brace

Photo Source: Cheaper Than Dirt

The deadline that the ATF had set for individuals to register their AR Pistols per 2021R-08F as "SBR's" was June 1, 2023. Out of the 40 million pistol braces in circulation, only 255 thousand plus applicants took the ATF bait to apply for their "tax-free" incentive for registering their now, new short barrel rifles.

To be fair, most of the applicants were likely going to apply for the SBR tax anyways so they said "thanks for the tax discount." Based on the ATF's numbers, they estimate there are only 3 to 7 million pistol braces in circulation around the United States. Even if that were the case the ATF couldn't possibly chalk this up as a win. It's very simple math.

What you need to know is that the ATF's pistol brace ban attempt was blocked when  FPC won a preliminary injunction in a federal court. That case was then escalated to the 5th Circuit of Appeals where it was further clarified that all of FPC's members (past, present, and future) are covered and protected by the injunction. 

So can you shoulder an AR Pistol?

What does this wishy-washy ruling mean exactly? Can you shoulder a pistol brace or not? In layman's 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 od 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.

Post June 8, 2023 opinion:

It's become clear that millions of Americans had decided to protest the ATF's unlawful rulemaking policies via non-compliance. This is something we applaud. More importantly, due to the great work done by the Firearms Policy Coalition, we can now use our AR pistols without fear of getting in trouble (so long as you are a FPC member). However, legally speaking we've essentially turned the clock back to the status quo post-2017... accomplishing nothing. 

Build your next AR Pistol with 80% Arms!

If you're asking yourself, "Should I SBR my AR pistol" it's really up to you. It is understandable that some want to remain as compliant as possible while enjoying their 2A rights. On the other hand, the ATF has been getting pretty wild as of late with their overreaching actions in the name of "law enforcement" or "gun violence prevention." Some might want to avoid giving the ATF a reason to visit their home.

Either way, it's undeniable that AR-15 pistols are a ton of fun and a great way to exercise your 2nd Amendment right! Regardless of what caliber you choose to configure your next pistol build in, shop our wide variety of upper receivers and 80 percent lower receivers for your new AR Pistol build!