Pistol Braces & The ATF: What You Need to Know

Heard about the ATF taking on pistol braces but feel a little lost as to what’s going on?

With the sides battling on and off for years, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and confused as to what’s legal and where the ATF actually stands on braces. 

So Much Drama

Well, instead of making you scour the internet, we made things easy with a top-to-bottom look at pistol braces and the ATF.

We’ve pulled all the essential info together to walk you through the brace’s humble beginnings, how AR pistols got involved, and the long-standing feud with the ATF over what you can (and can’t do) with a brace.

Buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Table of Contents

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Disclaimer: We are not attorneys. As always, do your research regarding state and local laws before owning a brace. As with anything regulatory, federal rules can change. If that happens, Pew Pew Tactical will update this page accordingly.

First Things First: What is a Pistol Brace?

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty, let’s take a look at braces and get a solid understanding of what they are and how they differ from a buttstock.

A pistol brace, also known as a stabilizing brace, is an accessory that attaches to the rear of the gun and allows the firearm to be fired one-handed.

A pistol brace on the end of a Springfield Saint.

It basically slips around the forearm of the shooter and, using Velcro, secures to the arm. The goal is to stabilize the gun as you’re firing.

It gained steam, especially among disabled shooters, because it allowed them to control and fire AR and AK carbines safely.

Using the Roni brace
A Micro Roni with brace. Note how the brace fits on the forearm.

In fact, the inventor of the brace, SB Tactical’s Alex Bosco, came up with the idea in 2012 after shooting at a range with a disabled combat veteran and witnessing the struggles disabled shooters face.

Despite a certain cool factor, braces actually help gun owners who struggle using full-length, shouldered rifles enjoy AR-style firearms comfortably.

Brace vs. Buttstock

What makes a brace different from a buttstock?

The critical element comes down to how a brace and buttstock are used.

A buttstock fits against the shoulder, allowing for better management of the rifle’s recoil. But it is not secured to the shooter in any way.

BCM Gunfighter Stock on Recce-16
A buttstock rests against the shooter’s shoulder.

As we mentioned earlier, a pistol brace uses Velcro to attach to the shooter’s forearm.

It provides stability while firing the AR pistol.

Using the Recover Tactical 20/20 brace
Using the Recover Tactical 20/20 brace.

Pistol braces have opened up a world of accessories and options to gun owners who need a way to stabilize the AR pistol but don’t have the means or want to add a buttstock (or pay for the SBR classification…more on that in a minute.)

130
at Optics Planet

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Understanding AR Pistols and SBRs

Again, before heading into the tangled legal battles surrounding the ATF and braces, we need to make a pit stop and discuss AR pistols.

Let’s face it, braces and AR pistols go together like PB&J.

So, we can’t talk about one without spending a little time diving into the other.

Three AR-Pistols
Three AR-Pistols

AR Pistols

Put simply; an AR pistol is an AR-style firearm shrunk down to meet the ATF’s definition of a pistol.

Thanks to a bit of vagueness on the Gun Control Act’s part, AR pistols are able to occupy a weird space between pistols and short-barreled rifles.

As long as the firearm measures less than 26-inches in overall length and features a barrel length of 16-inches or less AND do not come with a buttstock or vertical foregrip, they fall into the AR pistol realm.

1449
at Faxon Firearms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

But to reiterate, an AR pistol cannot use a buttstock.

A brace, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter.

A 2014 letter by the ATF determined that adding a brace to an AR pistol would not move it into SBR territory. A braced AR pistol would still be considered a pistol.

Best AR-15 & AK Pistol Braces
AR and AK pistols alongside their buddies.

Now, that ruling would be called into question a few times, eventually coming to a head in 2020, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

Short Barreled Rifles

While we’re on the topic of shorty firearms, we should also discuss short-barreled rifles and how they differ from AR pistols. Honestly, they look very similar and it can be confusing differentiating between the two.

By definition, an SBR, or short-barreled rifle, is also a firearm with a barrel under 16-inches.

But there’s one major difference between an AR pistol and an SBR — the addition of a buttstock.

Adjustable AR-15 Buttstocks
Yeah, don’t slap one of these on an AR pistol.

Unlike an AR pistol, SBRs may sport a buttstock for shouldering. And this is where the ATF gets involved.

SBRs fall under the National Firearms Act and are, therefore, regulated by the ATF.

To own, there’s an entire ATF process a gun owner must go through first. This includes filling out paperwork, undergoing a background check, fingerprinting, and paying a $200 tax to the ATF.

short barreled rifle
Get ready to pay a $200 tax on this bad boy.

After a waiting period, the gun owner eventually receives a tax stamp. That stamp allows for legal ownership of the SBR.

Waiting periods can be as short as a couple of months or as long as a year, depending on the ATF’s backlog.

Suppressor ATF Stamp
You have to have that little stamp before you can legally own any NFA item, to include suppressors or SBRs.

Why an AR pistol over an SBR?

Basically, an AR pistol undergoes the exact same process as a regular gun purchase.

You roll up to your local FFL to choose your model or buy online and ship to an FFL to handle the transfer.

It’s that easy. No waiting periods, no $200 fee.

Used Gun Sites
Doing a little internet shopping…

Braces can also be legally purchased as accessories and added to an existing AR pistol by the owner. Again, there are no extra steps like you’ll see with an SBR purchase.

Pair of AR-15 Pistols
Not the same as an SBR…score!

So now that we have a good grasp on AR pistols and braces, let’s explore the contentious relationship between braces and the ATF.

SB Tactical Has Entered the Chat

At the heart of the brace debate rests SB Tactical – inventor and makers of the most popular pistol braces.

From AR to AK pistols, SB Tactical has supplied the industry with a bevy of braces for several years.

120
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Founded in 2012, the company did its due diligence asking the ATF for input on the brace design before launch.

The ATF initially cleared the device, stating that “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.”

SB Tactical Patent Schematic
SB Tactical Patent Schematic

By 2013, SB Tactical had partnered with Sig Sauer and Century Arms in exclusive sales agreements for the SB15 and SB47 braces. By May, the first Pistol Stabilizing Braces were hitting the firearms marketplace.

1578
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

The ability to lend control and stability to AR pistols made braces a popular accessory.

Given the design, some users soon took to shouldering the brace, which led to confusion as to whether this moved the AR pistol into SBR territory.

Check out Johnny B wield a few AR-15 braces below.

2014: Shoulder that Brace, Says the ATF

In 2014, the ATF clarified that even when shouldered, a braced AR pistol did not constitute an SBR. An AR pistol was an AR pistol despite how the shooter used the brace.

It was all smooth sailing, or so it seemed…

Ralphie Danger

2015: The ATF Changes Course

Just before SHOT Show 2015, the ATF published a letter reversing its 2014 stance on braces.

In the decision, the Bureau clarified that braces were not designed for shouldering, and to do so would create an SBR, not an AR pistol.

so now what

This caused a myriad of confusion as it contradicted the earlier 2014 decision by the agency.

Ultimately, Sig Sauer and SB Tactical waged a two-year battle with the ATF, for clarification on the sudden about-face.

Game of Thrones Battle

2017: ATF Backs 2014 Ruling

After fighting with SB Tactical and Sig Sauer for a couple of years, the ATF would ultimately back down and change direction…once again.

In 2017, the Bureau reverted to its previously held belief that firing a pistol brace from the shoulder does not reclassify the gun.

Notebook What Do You Want
Us and the ATF

The issue seemed to be at rest, but gun owners were still feeling uneasy…

If the ATF could change its mind so quickly, what would stop the agency from flipping again?

2020: Q and the Honeybadger

After a few years, it looked like the brace debate was finally put to bed; but in a startling twist of fate, the ATF reignited the brace debate in 2020.

Taking the form of a legal battle between Q’s Honeybadger and the ATF, braces entered the limelight again in August.

Honeybadger AR Pistol
The Honeybadger Pistol by Q.

On August 3, 2020, gun maker Q received a cease-and-desist letter from the agency regarding its Honeybadger AR pistol.

The order indicated that the Honeybadger, in large part due to the SB Tactical pistol brace, was an SBR – not an AR pistol. Therefore, it fell under the NFA, and all owners would need to register with the ATF.

Looks like the ATF is NOT happy…

This decision effectively turned Honeybadger owners into violators of the NFA overnight.

Q moved swiftly, encouraging owners to disassemble the Honeybadger or register it with the ATF (which they offered to pay the $200 fee for).

Honey Badger Pistol Extended
I mean, how can you be mad at this?

Meanwhile, the company took the ATF on, asking for clarification on the matter.

Things began heating up as gun owners protested the ATF decision, and it wasn’t long until the Department of Justice stepped in.

After calls to senators and pressure from citizens, the DOJ called for a 60-day hold, pushing an official ruling until after the November 2020 presidential elections.

Gun owners held their breath and waited…

Gordon Ramsey Suspense

ATF Proposals…and Withdraws

Two months passed with radio silence from the ATF until, in mid-December, a new proposal published in the Federal Registrar.

The 16-page document addressed AR pistols/braces offering “proposed guidance” on classifying weapons with stabilizing braces.

The ATF gave citizens just 17 days to make their opinions known via online, public comments.

Backlash was immediate. Within days, comments totaled over 60,000 – mainly in opposition to the proposal.

Angry Mob
An accurate portrayal of the comments section.

By December 22, Congress jumped into the fray with 90 House members publishing a letter to the ATF rejecting the proposal.

The letter stated, “This decision is alarming and jeopardizes law-abiding gun owners across the country.”

It went on to suggest that the proposal was “ambiguous” and “subjective.” Many of the feelings echoed by the gun community.

As gun owners clamored to fight the bureau’s proposal reclassifying braced AR pistols, they were in for yet another surprise.

Bernie Stinson Whhhat

On December 23, 2020, less than a week after the proposal’s unveiling, the Department of Justice reversed course and promptly withdrew the proposal.

Though it’s important to note, the proposal is still “pending further review” meaning that it could resurface at a later date.

Conclusion

So, where does this leave brace and AR pistol owners? For now, the ATF has seemingly backed off the debate. Braces continue to legally be sold and fitted onto AR pistol platforms. Further, as of now, braces do not cause the AR pistol to become an SBR.

That said, the ATF could always revisit the topic in the future.

120
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

If you own a brace, you’re currently in the clear. If you don’t own one, now might be the time to invest should anything change in the future.

Should braces fall under the NFA or should they be a legal accessory? Sound off in the comments below. In the meantime, check out our roundup of the Best AR-15 & AK Braces.

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36 Leave a Reply

  • Mike B

    I live in CT where ARs are banned but what is interesting is that the loophole (for now) is to build a firearm classified as 'other'. Typical this is an AR with a 14.5 or 12.5 inch barrel in common AR calibers (.223/.308/300BO, etc.), vertical fore grip and arm brace (can be collapsing arm brace as collapsing butt stocks are illegal in CT too). The Irony of course is that in an effort to 'protect' the good citizens of CT from evil ARs the law ends up effectively pushing people to shorter and more concealable ARs (so typical gun law logic). I assume purchasing a short AR classified as 'other' is legal in other states so it would be interesting to see a similar article on 'other' firearms classification here at some point and what the ranges of accessories are available as an 'other' before list crosses a line to become a 'pistol', 'rifle, or 'SBR'. Also, I wonder if any of this ATF arm brace stuff discussed here affects the 'other' firearms in my state as its the only way to legally own an AR here.

    3 weeks ago
    • Fyrfytr998

      I live in CT too. Even if they revisit braces and ban them. All an owner of a CT “Other” need do is remove the offending brace. As long as your barrel is more than 12 inches. Your overall length is more than 26 inches. And your length of pull of the buffer tube is less than 13.5 inches. Your legally defined firearm will be fine as long as the other ATF firearm requirements are met. Original CT “Others” we’re not built with braces. At the time they were useless to put on, because you could not shoulder them. Once the ATF said you could shoulder a brace, they became all the rage.

      2 weeks ago
  • Josh

    The SBR argument is ridiculous to begin with. Practically nobody who owns a brace is using it as a brace. We all know this. Arguments over length and configuration are stupid and a waste of time and money. There's no good reason for it then to obstruct law abiding citizens. The laws have no impact on criminals.

    3 weeks ago
  • Nicholas Flamel

    Generally speaking, I'd like to see the NFA repealed. Having said that, I clearly do not support anything being reclassified to fall within the restrictions of said Act. However, I am a law abiding citizen and will always use my firearms for any lawful purpose. I'm thinking about tax stamping my MPX anyway, then throwing a stock on it.

    3 weeks ago
  • Nes

    As I recall from reading the ATF proposal, any braces already sold would be grandfathered. So if you want one, I suggest you buy it now.

    3 weeks ago
    • Connor Haughton

      There is no guarantee that this will be the case; they could just as easily follow the bump stock playbook and ban existing possession through executive order. I think it's less likely, but it's certainly within the realm of possibility.

      3 weeks ago
  • Bob

    And as Walt Kelley's "Pogo" oft said, "We has met the enemy and he is us!" Look through just about any gun magazine and you will see somebody with an AR Pistol and a brace using it exactly as it was not intended to be used, i.e. as stock for a short barrelled rifle. Talk about feeding the BATF all the ammunition it needs to take a new position regarding braces.

    3 weeks ago
    • Allen Dye

      Bob, I've thought about this and at one time, I agreed with your premise. But then, I began to think about the phrase "as it was (not) intended." Does the ATF get to decide intent? If one "conceals" a long gun, what does that mean? If one fires a rifle like a pistol, what does that mean? Many of our gun laws (i.e. firearm classification laws) are silly and came from an era when legislators attempted to create "gotchas" for organized criminals. They did (and do) little to actually stem crime, but are effective in stacking charges against criminals. This leads me back to intent; NFA and the Firearms Act was intended to entangle bad guys who were already in the act of committing other crimes. Not necessarily for the person who simply was enjoying the weapon. See how that intent thing is so slippery?

      3 weeks ago
      • Bob

        I don't disagree with your position at all, Allen. It's not a guessing game for the BATF when the law clearly states that a brace is a device to stabilize an AR pistol and shall not be used as a de facto shoulder stock and folks are posting pictures of whatever the "brace du jur" is jammed up against their shoulders firing off a string. It's the old "if you don't like the law, change it. Don't just ignore or mock it publicly." That sort of logic won't fly and can only bring problems. Coming from a LE background, I know that there is nothing so great or innovative that a dedicated copper, somewhere, cannot screw it up for everyone. It didn't take long for stun guns to hit the street and some moron think to himself or say to his buddies "Damn, this would be a great interrogation tool" I believe that NYPD first made the news with this novel approach (not to pick on NYPD). LOL! My point was simply if given a gift (an accommodation or loophole in the SBR law/classification) don't look that gift horse in the mouth and don't shoot it either.

        3 weeks ago
  • Roguesam

    Personally, I think I am going to SBR my CZ Bren S1 and be done with all of the drama. YMMV....

    3 weeks ago
    • Nicholas Flamel

      Hear, hear!

      3 weeks ago
    • Josh Thomas

      I would not bother registering any thing yet. If you want to register just weight thier is a good chance that if BATF changes thier mined again you will be able to register for free.

      3 weeks ago
      • Clay

        I'm not doing cartwheels over a "free registration"..... because it's exactly that....A REGISTRATION with many rules and caveats. No free ride here.

        3 weeks ago
  • Retired SOF Guy

    A better question would be “Should the NFA, GCA, CCW permits etc all be done away with or should we remove the 2A from the Bill of Rights?” Don’t miss the bigger point in all of this—the NFA clearly violates the plain language of the 2A.

    3 weeks ago
    • Mark

      I think you raise a valid point about permitting in general. Who has authority? Why do they have it? What are they doing with it? Do they work as intended? Do they keep us safe? That being said, I do take GREAT umbrage with your argument’s “all or nothing” stance. We can have a second amendment AND have sensible laws about their ownership and use. The NRA has supported gun legislation throughout much of the 20th century. Additionally, while the words are plain, they are anything but clear in their intent. The 2nd amendment is a grammatical nightmare that leaves the most excellent of scholars scratching their heads about whether it was intended as a protection of personal rights or group action. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Is the protection for: a militia (a requirement for freedom) AND our right to bare arms or a militia (required for freedom, a right of the people) ALSO did you catch that part about a well REGULATED militia? It’s hard for me to swallow the notion that our forefathers were against rules.

      2 weeks ago
  • Bob

    I've avoided the Pistol w/brace configuration in any buy or build. I like the ergonomics of it (my nephews' is a blast to shoot), but it always seemed a loophole ready to be choked. One way I thought about would be an extended buffer tube w/fat padding, tucked between the collar bone and cheek. That would seem to bridge the loophole.

    3 weeks ago
    • Clay

      Be mindful of your overall length (26" max) and barrel length if you are trying to call it a pistol. Just real easy to bumble into SBR territory if you don't really, carefully, research the law.

      3 weeks ago
  • Scott

    Absolutely should be legal!!!! The use by able bodied shooters not withstanding, the initial reason for their existence is still very valid. They were designed to allow disabled shooters to participate in a shoot sport that they might not otherwise be able to safely. Making them illegal is taxing them under the NFA means depriving a segment of the population of their 2A Right based on a HANDICAP!!! Imagine doing the same to wheelchairs or crutches.

    3 weeks ago
  • Bob

    If you have a pistol with a folding stock adapter, where are the length measurements taken? From the end of the barrel to where?

    3 weeks ago
    • Bob

      Thank you Chuck for that! Question, a pistol with a folding brace adapter. Where are the measurements taken. ie... end of barrel to where?

      2 weeks ago
    • Chuck

      Any gun with a barrel under 16” is not allowed to have an actual stock, folding or not, without becoming an SBR and requiring a tax stamp.

      3 weeks ago
  • Nathan

    This Problem is being handled all wrong I think, the question is not are braces allowed. the real question is where is the authority to enforce an Act of Congress and what jurisdiction is this said act enforceable? Acts of Congress are not enforceable nor are they constitutional in the Fifty States.

    3 weeks ago
  • terry_tr6

    where does the home builder stand? A very functional version of the tailhook brace can be made in a few minutes from a short piece of 6"pvc pipe, a heat gun, and a nut and bolt. do we need to get ATF approval for building something that duplicates a commercial item?

    3 weeks ago
    • Clay

      Absolutely. If these braces are banned or registered, the penalty for fabricating such a restricted item would be a felony, just the same as fabricating a drop in auto sear for an AR. Same law, same penalty. "10 years and $10,000". Think about it.......can you be charged with having an unregistered suppressor if you are using an oil filter on the muzzle? HELL YES ! It's a felony.

      3 weeks ago
  • Clay

    The BATF & E was emboldened by the lack of backlash over the "Bump Stock" ban. This stock did not "make a machine gun", but it played well in the media. Especially the anti gun media. Trump didn't even say much about. Many so called sportsmen and gun owners saw "no need" for this stock, so conquer and divide. It is the same on AR-15's, AK's and so on. The Second Amendment is not about "hunting" nor is it based on "need". It is about a Right, not a blessing or permission from the Government. If we loose the Senate, we'll have "hell to pay" when it comes to guns, ammo, magazines, self defense. I am very worried. So many hunters and gun owners don't even belong to a pro-gun organization. Many of these same people are out trying to buy ammo, guns, and so on to hoard. Not even thinking about the future for our Children and Grandchildren.

    3 weeks ago
    • Retired SOF Guy

      Yep. It’s sad how many “gun friendly folks” think I’m “extreme” in my beliefs that any free American should be able to own, use and carry whatever they want. No permits, no background checks, just treat the 2A as a Right.

      3 weeks ago
  • Boolitschuuter

    The fundamental problem is two fold. First is there is no congressional oversight of ATF. 2nd is the NFA is an unconstitutional infringement on 2A. There is no justifiable reason for SBRs, SBSs, or suppressors to be taxed and regulated differently from any other firearm or firearm accessory.

    3 weeks ago
  • Cutter

    ***QUESTION ?*** So where does a tail hook brace fall it the definition of “brace” requires the Velcro strap ? Thanks

    3 weeks ago
  • John A Bird

    I am not a proponent of braces or the ATF! If you are using your build for tactile purposes, you should be able to build it to satisfy your requirements. When the SHTF do you really care what the ATF thinks?

    3 weeks ago
  • Down River

    I haven't seen anyone address the pistol brace and sub-guns like the Scoprion or B&T. 9MM pistols with SB braces. All the discussion is focused on AR/AK pistols. Does the ATF brace logic apply to these subgun/pistols as well?

    3 weeks ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      Yes, caliber and style doesn't matter.

      3 weeks ago
    • Chuck

      Yes. Caliber is of no consequence.

      3 weeks ago
  • Connor Haughton

    Please add a section emphasizing the fact that you CANNOT modify a brace in any way that makes it work better as a stock. For example the rubber plugs that are sold by a 3rd party and placed in the space at the back of the SBA3 brace, making it less functional as a brace and intended to be fired from shoulder. I'm looking for the ATF letter now, ill post when I find it. Good article, I've owned AR pistols since 2015 and have followed the many ATF letters shared and debated on arfcom. The NFA as a whole is a clunky outdated law that was passed to deal with Prohibition era gun violence. At the very LEAST remove SBRs, SBS's, and suppressors from falling under the NFA; in a perfect world it would be repealed, but we have to choose our battles wisely. I think it's a matter of when they will be restricted, rather than if, based on recent developments. I encourage every gun owner to drop $50 on a budget blade-style brace and keep it in your safe. There are already several MILLION braced firearms in the U.S., the higher we make that figure the harder it will be for them to restrict ownership. If nothing else, you can get a free SBR stamp if/when they are deemed unlawful.

    3 weeks ago
    • Retired SOF Guy

      Yeah, the old rewriting history claim of “Prohibition is why we have NFA” rears its head again. Prohibition ended in 1933, with the 21A proposed in Feb and passed in Dec. The NFA ‘34 was passed in June 1934, half a year after Prohibition formally ended and easily over a year after the handwriting was on the wall that Prohibition was ending. And of course Capone and his buddies could afford the taxes—normal Americans couldn’t. And the socialist FDR who signed NFA? The same guy who proposed Court packing and so many other ills? He lovingly referred to Stalin as Uncle Joe. Fight to end the NFA—not grudgingly accept it.

      3 weeks ago
    • Clayton

      Connor, you are exactly right on modifying a brace. Very good point. This would be a very easy way to bumble into a Felony arrest. Good info and valid point! If the law was enforced in it's strictest wording, I think one would be in violation if you just took the velcro strap off of a brace. Remember, common sense, or ignorance of the law does not matter.

      3 weeks ago
    • Clay

      The problem with the "free tax stamp" is that it creates a legal registry for future use such as confiscation. This same system has been used at least three times since 1933. One was the "streetsweeper shotgun", another was the "Commando Arms" Thompson look-alike. The other was the 1968 Registration Amnesty. May have been other "free registrations". The Form 4 Stamp changes up many things you can do with that registered weapon. You need written permission to take it out of state. You can't loan it to anyone. you can't send it to get it worked on. The list of "can'ts" is long. The BATF&E can legally come to your house at anytime and demand that you produce the registered item so that they may be sure you have not disposed of it. The list goes on and on. Yes, it's a choice better than surrender, but maybe just what the Gov't wants...a registration. What's next is anybody's guess. Prob all AR's and so on. This is also a trap to the uninformed. A felony conviction. This waffling back and forth creates much confusion and false information. Just perfect scenario to bumble into an arrest.

      3 weeks ago
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