What You Need to Know About Pistol Brace Laws
Designed as a simple firearm accessory, pistol braces have taken center stage recently in the gun control debate.
Both proponents for and detractors of the rights enshrined in the Second Amendment see pistol braces very differently, and so this simple accessory is no longer so simple.
We’ll take a look at exactly what these braces are, how they’re used, what’s going on with the laws, and how we can move forward from here.
Pistol Braces Explained
Exactly how many pistol braces are in use in the US is unknown. The ATF says that somewhere between three million and seven million braces have been sold just in the last ten years. The Congressional Research Service says the total number could be between 10 million and 40 million braces, and there’s just no way to know for sure.
So what, exactly, is a pistol brace?
A pistol brace is a firearm accessory that is installed at the rear of the gun and allows the firearm to be fired one-handed.
Why Do People Use Stabilizing Braces?
Stabilizing braces are used for a wide variety of purposes, but the two biggest ones pertain to better accuracy and more stability. Let us explain.
Whether you place the stabilizing brace to your shoulder or simply brace it against your arm, you’re increasing your points of contact with the firearm. This results in a more accurate shot because you have more contact and control over the firearm.
They’re called stabilizing braces for a reason, right? Right. Like we mentioned above, a brace provides more contact with the firearm, thereby making it more stable and, in turn, more accurate.
There’s also a medical reason at play here, too. People with physical disabilities use stabilizing braces to counteract their limitations so that they can have a more stable shooting platform and performance.
Newly Proposed Pistol Brace Laws Explained
The laws governing pistol braces have gone back and forth quite a bit in recent years. First, the ATF said you could not shoulder the brace because doing so would turn it into a short-barrel rifle. Then they changed their mind and said that you could shoulder the brace without turning it into a short-barrel rifle.
Now, well, that’s a great question. We’re currently in a bit of legal limbo when it comes to pistol brace laws.
Exclusion of ARs in New ATF Definition of Rifles
In June 2021, the ATF redefined rifles by specifically excluding AR pistols and braces from the definition. Instead, this newly-proposed definition would move braced-AR pistols out of the pistol category and into the NFA-restricted short-barrel rifle realm.
AR Pistols as Short Barreled Rifles
The newly-proposed definitions by the ATF would reclassify AR pistols as short-barrel rifles, which would bring them under the purview of the ATF through the National Firearms Act of 1934. This means that in order to purchase one of these firearms, you’d have to go through an extensive application and background check, submit photos and fingerprints, pay for a $200 tax stamp, and wait for an extended period of time before finding out if your purchase is approved or denied.
Attaching a Brace Heightens Regulations
When they were introduced, pistol braces pretty much flew under the radar, but the tremendous rise in the popularity of stabilizing pistol braces has caused them to be placed under additional investigation and scrutiny by lawmakers and law enforcement, which could lead to more regulations.
New ATF “Points” System
So how do you determine if a firearm is classified as a pistol or a short-barreled rifle? You use the newly-devised ATF point-based system, which applies points to a firearm for given features and characteristics that it may or may not have.
For example, points are assigned for the firearm’s length, weight, method of brace attachment, the surface area of the brace, and more.
That might make sense to some, but that’s nowhere near all of the qualifying criteria. They also apply points for hand stops, backup iron sights, red dot optics, magnifiers, bipods, and a whole host of other items.
If the overall score is four points or more, it’s not a pistol in the eyes of the ATF. Oh, and there are seven different categories that are in and of themselves worth four points, thereby disqualifying a firearm to be categorized as a pistol.
Quite simply, the ATF’s proposed points system is rigged against AR pistols and stabilizing braces.
What This Means for Gun Owners
The newly-proposed rules, definitions, and point system devised by the ATF could have a substantial impact on gun owners. With millions of pistol braces in circulation on AR pistols right now, each one of them would have to be registered as an NFA firearm or the owner would become an instant felon.
To avoid this, the biggest thing gun owners can do is reach out to their legislators and tell them how you feel about this new ATF overreach.
Beyond individual political activism, there are some options that you can take, outlined below.
Detach Your Brace Permanently
Obviously, the simplest way to avoid running afoul of any legal issues is to simply take your brace off of your firearm and sell it to someone else. Or, at the very least, don’t ever put it on any of your guns again. Is that kind of extreme? Yep. But is it incredibly, legally safe? You bet.
Go with a 16″ Barrel
A barrel that is at least 16″ in length is considered to be the legal length of a rifle without needing an NFA tax stamp for a short-barrel rifle. However, if your AR lower receiver is classified at the time of sale/creation as a pistol instead, that barrel length restriction disappears – but not entirely. It does start to get convoluted when it comes to typical pistol-length barrels, such as 10″ or less. However, you can put a 16″ barrel on a pistol-classified lower and run a brace all day long with no issues. Does a 16″ barrel on a pistol kind of defeat the purpose? Yep. But is it incredibly, legally safe? You bet.
If none of the above options are suitable for you, there are some others available, but be forewarned: they’re definitely more extreme.
- Sell It
- You can’t be held legally responsible for a firearm or stabilizing brace that you no longer own.
- Destroy the Firearm and/or Brace
- If the item(s) no longer exists, then you cannot get in trouble for them.
- Hand it Over to Law Enforcement
- Your local law enforcement department will be happy to take the items off your hands if you’re not comfortable with selling them to someone else or destroying them yourself – which is what they will do.
- Apply for a Tax Stamp for an SBR
- If you register the firearm as a short-barrel rifle and pay the $200 tax stamp, then the pistol brace issue no longer applies to you or your firearm.
Stay Up to Date on Pistol Brace Laws and Their Rulings
It can be daunting to try to keep up to date on all of the changing rules and regulations when it comes to firearms, and adding pistol braces into the mix doesn’t make it any easier.
One of the best ways to stay up to date on these things is to join second amendment activist groups and sign up for their newsletters, which will undoubtedly include any pending changes.
You can also check here on Silencer Central’s Sound Off Blog. We’re very interested in anything and everything that pertains to the ATF and the NFA, so you can be sure to find updates here as well.Join Silencer Central’s Inner Circle