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ATF Pistol Brace Rule: A Step Toward Increasing Public Safety or Massive Bureaucratic Overstep?

Major public service announcement. Please read this one through! Are you a firearm owner who owns an AK Pistol or AR Pistol with a pistol stabilization brace? Congratulations, a new ruling issued under the table by the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives) has now made you a felon! Well at least not immediately a felon, but if the ruling is not struck down in 120 days’ time from being published in the US Federal Register, you will be. Let’s dive into what happened and have further discussion.

First Off, What Is a Pistol Stabilizing Brace?

A pistol stabilizing brace is a rearward firearm attachment which is equipped with a strap and intended to be attached to the forearm for purposes of “stabilizing” the gun while firing. These accessories’ original purpose was to provide those who may have physical disabilities the opportunity to fire rifle styled weapons with improved control and safety. The brace was originally created in 2012 by SB Tactical’s Alex Bosco, after he observed the struggles of a disabled combat veteran while attempting to fire a standard rifle.

What’s the Situation?

On Jan. 13th 2023 the US Attorney General Merrick Garland signed ATF final rule 2021R-08F “Factoring Criteria for Firearms with Attached ‘Stabilizing Braces’”. In this ruling, firearms with a barrel length less than 16 inches, with an attached pistol stabilizing brace have been reclassified as SBR’s (Short Barreled Rifles) and as such, are now subject to legal requirements under the NFA (National Firearms Act of 1934) and the 1968 Gun Control Act. The rule issued by the ATF amends the definition of “rifle”, classifying the definition to include a weapon made, designed, or redesigned for firing from the shoulder and include rearward components/attachments (e.g. pistol stabilizing brace) providing surface area to be fired from the shoulder.

As such, now your commonly owned AK or AR pistol of barrel length of less than 16 inches is now defined as a short-barreled rifle. The ruling does not affect stabilizing braces objectively designed for use by individuals with disabilities and not for shouldering the weapon as a rifle. Under the law, the weapon would be required to be registered with the ATF within 120 days from the official ruling publication in the Federal Register ( .

What Options Are There to Remain Compliant with the Law?

Options precribed by the ATF for the citizen owner of aforementioned NFA items are as follows..

1. Replace short barrel with one of 16 inches or longer. Can be a shorter barrel with a pinned and welded muzzle device (flash hider or muzzle brake) which brings the overall barrel length to 16 inches or longer.

2. Destroy the weapon

3. Remove the brace so that it can’t be reattached

4. Surrender the weapon to the ATF

5. Register the firearm with the ATF as a short-barreled rifle within 120 days of compliance date and the tax stamp fee of $200 is waived.

What Is the Penalty for Non-Compliance After the 120 Day Grace Period

1. Violations of the Gun Control Act: 5 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

2. Violations of the National Firearms Act: 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

ATF’s Prior Stance on Pistol Braces

In 2012 SB Tactical, the inventor and major retailer of pistol braces in the US appealed to the ATF prior to large scale launch of the product to the public. The ATF at that time cleared the design, reporting that the addition of a brace to an AR or AK styled weapon did not constitute as creating an SBR.

In 2014, the ATF further stated that even when shouldered the addition of a pistol brace did not convert an AR or AK styled weapon into an SBR.

In 2015 the ATF began to back pedal in its previous stance, now saying in an open letter that shouldering a pistol brace would constitute as converting a weapon to an SBR. This confusing reversal of position by the ATF comes after 3 years of allowing the marketing and sale of these products to the general public. As of 2023 it is estimated that over 3million of the pistol braces are in circulation within the United States.

After a campaign of legal battles brought against the ATF by firearm manufacturers, in 2017 the ATF fell back on its previous stance. The addition of a pistol brace did not reclassify a weapon to an SBR. In 2020, the ATF again takes a jab at trying to reclassify pistol braces by issuing a cease-and-desist letter to firearms manufacturer “Q LLC.” for the production of their flagship weapon the “Honey Badger”. In this cease-and-desist letter the ATF classified this weapon as a SBR, and overnight made thousands of legal purchasers violators of the National Firearms Act. The matter got so heated that the Dept. of Justice got involved calling for a 60-day hold pushing the decision on the matter until after the 2020 presidential elections. Mid December 2020 the ATF published its new proposal on pistol braces in the National Register, which after massive public upheaval, congress got involved issuing a letter of proposal rejection to the ATF. The ATF proposal was rejected due to its ambiguity in verbiage that threatened to make many law-abiding citizens criminals overnight.

Now here we are in 2023 with much of the same flip flop in position as has become customarily expected from the agency.

Is This an Overstep of the ATF’s Power?

To answer this let’s first start with how a federal law comes to be. A law first begins in the legislative branch of government with an idea which is sponsored as a bill by representatives. The bill then is assigned to a House committee for study. If the bill is approved of by the committee it is put on a calendar to be voted on by the House, where a majority vote (218 of 435) will advance the bill to the Senate. At the Senate, the bill is assigned to a committee where the bill is debated and voted on. A 51 of 100 Senate vote is required to pass the bill. From here a conference committee of House and Senate members smooth out differences between House and Senate versions of the bill. The resulting bill is returned to House and Senate for final approval. The government printing office prints the revised bill in a process called enrolling and deliver to the US President, who has 10 days to sign or veto the bill.

Laws can also be created at the level of the executive branch of government, by direct executive order from the US President.

The ATF is a bureau of the Department of Justice which is an agency in the executive branch of government. As such, the executive branch and its agencies can issue regulations that carry the full force of law, but these are only under the authority of laws enacted by congress. So essentially, the ATF is attempting to create enforceable law by changing the accepted definition of what constitutes a short-barreled rifle and will use the power of the National Firearms Act of 1934 and the National Gun Control Act of 1968 to enforce this new regulation.

In my opinion, it’s an effective yet backdoor way of trying to implement something as law, which can be a quicker process than going about the creation of law through the prescribed process of the legislative branch of government as earlier mentioned. In my opinion if this slides it sets a dangerous precedence for other government agencies creating laws that negatively impacts citizens without the checks and balances and voting process as is prescribed by the legislative process of this countries government system.

What Can I Do as A Citizen?

If this is a matter that affects you, step one is don’t panic. There is time before any such prohibition on pistol braced weapons would take effect, so you have time to become more knowledgeable to make a well-informed decision versus a rushed decision. I would definitely stay dialed into the news relating to the issue. Currently there are many firearms advocacy and 2nd amendment rights groups that are launching lawsuits against the ATF and the Dept. of Justice in regard to this ruling. Without doubt there will be tons of new information to digest and understand as the processes are carried out. You may also choose to keep an eye on the federal government’s publication source the “Federal Register”. As was stated earlier, the ATF’s ruling on pistol braces would go into effect as law 120 days after publication in this journal. If you are a member of any firearms liability insurance groups such as Firearms Legal Protection or USCCA, reach out to their corporate offices to ask for a release of legal advice in regard to the best legal courses of action for you as a law-abiding citizen. Contact your state Senator’s office and voice your concerns with the matter at hand so your voice can be heard in Washington, D.C. Above all stay in the loop of things, support reputable organizations that fight to defend your 2nd amendment rights, and make the best educated decision for yourself and your situation to remain compliant with the law.

Resources for Further Information

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