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ATF’s Perplexing Interpretation of Stabilizing Braces

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Redefine or Redesign?

Photos by Rob Curtis and Henry Z. De Kuyper

The following story is for informational purposes only and is not, nor is it intended to provide, legal advice. The reader should consult with an appropriate professional regarding their individual situation. Any use of the information contained in this article shall be solely at the reader’s risk.

Mentioning the benefits of using a stabilizing brace-equipped pistol rather than a short-barreled rifle is an easy way to start an argument among gun owners. While SBRs provide individuals with the benefits of a compact rifle, the headache of having to traverse the National Firearms Act registration and transfer process and notify the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) any time it’ll be taken over state lines discourages plenty of sane people from getting one.

AR pistols, and now brace-equipped pistols, have become popular for everyday carry because of their small size, rifle caliber cartridges, and ability to be carried lawfully in most states with just a concealed carry permit. Compared to the SBR, the benefits of an AR pistol increase since there’s no burdensome National Firearms Act process to comply with and pistols can travel freely over most state lines.

However, one potential drawback stands as the fulcrum of the SBR versus AR pistol debate; can a pistol be fired from the shoulder without fear of prosecution?

rifle arm brace atf arm brace

Alex Kincaid, Esq., a former District Attorney who now specializes in firearms related matters, says prosecutors have a lot of latitude in determining the charges brought against individuals. “It’s unlikely for a reasonable prosecutor to charge an individual solely for shouldering a brace-equipped firearm absent any other crimes,” Kincaid says. Typically, someone who’s only shouldering a brace-equipped firearm isn’t the type of individual law enforcement wishes to devote resources to find and charge. However, that’s not to say a prosecutor with an agenda wouldn’t bring charges. Kincaid also notes the arm brace question is a classic example of law-abiding citizens trying to get a clear answer as to what is lawful and receiving different responses from an agency over a period of time. Essentially, the BATFE has changed its stance a number of times, resulting in confusion when gun owners are simply trying to learn, understand, and abide by the law.

Stabilizing braces mainstreamed in 2013 with SIG SAUER’s introduction of the SB-15 stabilizing brace, a product design licensed from SB Tactical. Prior to the brace hitting the shelves, the inventor, Alex Bosco, submitted a prototype to BATFE’s Firearms Technology Branch for a determination request. FTB responded, “[a] shooter would insert his or her forearm into the device while gripping the pistol’s handgrip — then tighten the Velcro straps for additional support and retention. Thus configured, the device provides the shooter with additional support of a firearm while it is still held and operated with one hand. We find that the device is not designed or intended to fire a weapon from
the shoulder.”

In its letter, the FTB continued, “the sample provided, when attached to a firearm, does not convert the weapon to be fired from the shoulder and would not alter the classification of a pistol or other firearm.”

In other words, a pistol would remain a pistol. It wasn’t long after the product hit the market that individuals quickly figured out they could shoulder a pistol equipped with this brace.

Joe Bradley, a Colorado police officer, asked the BATFE in March of 2014 if firing an AR pistol from the shoulder would result in a pistol being reclassified as an SBR. The FTB responded that it wouldn’t because the agency classifies weapons based on their physical characteristics and not, generally speaking, on how they’re used. More importantly, the letter noted, “certain firearm accessories such as the SIG Stability Brace have not been classified by FTB as shoulder stocks and therefore … [u]sing such an accessory improperly would not change the classification of the weapon…” This led to a flood of letters being sent to FTB so everyone could have their own permission slip.

pistol brace

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