U.S.A. –-(Ammoland.com)- With pistol braces in the news, I decided to build a new AR pistol. I used a Liberty Bell Firearms lower receiver, a random .300BLK upper receiver I had lying around the house, and an SB Tactical pistol brace.
I wondered what would make my pistol a short-barreled rifle (SBR). I decided to look through all the ATF documentation I have and determine what isn’t allowed. After spending hours looking over the documents, I am now more confused than ever. I will not reveal the companies involved because I don’t know their current relationship with the ATF. All information comes from the documentation that AmmoLand was able to acquire from our sources within the ATF.
It is apparent that the ATF doesn’t have any set standards when it comes to pistol braces.
More often than not, what determines what is and isn’t a brace is what reviewer in the Firearms and Ammunition Technology Division (FATD) gets assigned to your product. This reason is why the Department of Justice (DOJ) told the ATF’s industry side not to take any action on pistol braces.
FATD has told several companies that the ATF would consider its brace a stock unless they included a Nylon strap. At the same time, another company submitted a very similar brace that did not have a Nylon strap in the design. Another FATD reviewer determined that the second brace was not a stock even though it didn’t have a Nylon strap.
FATD rejected another pistol brace because of a raised ridge design on the back of the brace. The reviewer determined the raised ridges were more than a design feature. The reviewer thought that the ridges could help the shooter shoulder the pistol by adding “grip.” Since the ruling, multiple companies have used designs on the back of the pistol braces, and the ATF gave them the green light even though the previous company had to change their plan to make the back of its brace smooth.
In internal meetings, the ATF discussed whether a company showing a pistol shouldered in pictures and videos would reclassify the gun with a brace to an SBR. If a user shouldered the firearm, it is still a pistol, but if a company representative did the same thing, it would magically become an SBR. If someone in a company misspeaks and calls the gun a rifle or carbine, it would automatically become an SBR. If the ATF can “read between the lines” and determine you are marketing a pistol with a brace as a rifle, they can make it an SBR.
Another reason FATD decided a pistol brace is really a stock is because of surface area that exceeds what is allowed. It seems like this would be an easy thing to avoid, but the ATF doesn’t appear to have a standard. Once again, it depends on what reviewer you are assigned. Some pistol braces have been rejected because of excessive surface area, while the ATF approves other braces with bigger surface areas.
FATD has also rejected pistol braces because the manufacture used hard plastic. The ATF informed the manufacture that the only material allowed is flexible rubber. Another reviewer approved a brace that used the same hard plastic as stocks.
We don’t know if a specific number of characteristics make FATD determine a pistol brace is a stock. Does it have to be made of hard plastic with a particular surface area, or is it just up to the reviewer? The ATF doesn’t seem to know either.
Do I have a pistol with a brace, or do I have an SBR?
Outside getting rid of the unconstitutional NFA, I think the only way for the ATF to fix the problem with pistol brace classifications is to remove SBRs from the registry. So, in the end, I can’t say what is a pistol with a brace and what is an SBR. Even if I could figure out what is what, the ATF could change the definition of a pistol with a brace tomorrow, and we could all have Any Other Weapons (AOWs).
About John Crump
John is a NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. John has written about firearms, interviewed people of all walks of life, and on the Constitution. John lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and sons and can be followed on Twitter at @crumpyss, or at www.crumpy.com.