The recent proliferation of “large format pistols” has exploded onto the scene in the past few years. These pistols are often based on traditional rifle designs like the AR15 and AK47, and now includes a host subgun-like pistols like the Sig MPX and CZ Scorpion. This class of firearms is very novel. The ATF has recently enacted some new regulations pertaining to large format pistols equipped with a pistol brace
With more questions than answers swirling around, we are going to attempt to bring some clarity to the ATF pistol brace update. But first, some backstory is in order.
AR-15 Pistol Brace Regulations: Legally Speaking…
The National Firearms Act of 1934 (commonly called the NFA) restricts the ownership of certain firearms, sound suppressors (silencers), and destructive devices (think explosives like rockets or grenades). Fully-automatic machine guns are regulated by the NFA, as are short-barreled rifles and short-barreled shotguns. Understanding this unique legal classification is the basis for comprehending the new ATF regulations to come.
A rifle with a barrel of less than 16” is considered a Short-Barreled Rifle (SBR) and the owner of a SBR is subject to some additional red tape. He or she must pay a $200 tax stamp and wait months until the ATF approves the application for ownership. This is a rigorous process, and one intentionally designed to make ownership of these firearms difficult in an attempt to increase safety.
A pistol can’t have a stock. The installation of a stock changes a pistol’s definition from a pistol into a short-barreled rifle. The owner of such a firearm would have to apply for a tax stamp to own such a device, as mandated by the National Firearms Act of 1934.
Note: This blog is for informational purposes only. Any language is figurative and does not attempt to provide any kind of legal advice. Firearm owners must know and follow the law as provided by the ATF.
AR Pistols and Braces
The braced pistol has allowed shooters to enjoy many benefits of short barreled rifles without all the legal red tape. A firearm that is manufactured as a pistol can’t legally have a stock attached to it. Otherwise, it becomes a short-barreled rifle, subject to the red tape discussed above. The pistol brace concept, however, changed the game.
A pistol brace is a rigid device attached to the rear of the pistol’s receiver. It is designed to stabilize a large-format pistol against one’s arm, making a more accurate firearm. Most have a bulky end that is similar to the rear portion of a buttstock. The legality of pistol braces has been an ongoing legal saga, and a lot of things have been in question for a long time.
Some users adopted the braces, though at somewhat tentative pace. Would they remain legal? Were they legal if fired from the shoulder like a rifle stock? The ATF later clarified in another letter that shooting one from the shoulder like a rifle was legal, too. This opened up an entirely new sector of the firearms market. Sales of pistol braces took off at a rapid rate.
The Appeal of Braced Pistols
The appeal of such devices is obvious. These firearms are very compact and a user doesn’t have to jump through legal hoops to own one. Despite their compactness, they are a very accurate firearm compared to “conventional” pistols. The AR15 pistol brace turns a novelty firearm into a very workable platform. Braced pistols make outstanding home defense firearms and are incredibly fun to shoot. Other than the benefits of shooting from the shoulder there is another huge benefit of braced pistols.
Namely, they are still legally considered pistols, allowing them to be carried. For individuals desiring a compact, fast-handling and light recoiling, accurate firearm, that can be carried in a backpack, a braced pistol is the go to firearm of choice. Being fired from three points of contact they are more accurate than a “regular” pistol, and their longer barrels tend to offer better ballistics.
The popularity of braced, large-format pistols is hard to overstate, and over 3 million pistol braces have been sold in the United States. Everything from high-end AR15s like U.S. Arms’ UTAW Champion Series to the venerable Ruger 10/22 is being built as a pistol and sold with a brace, or easily adapted for the installation of one.
Trouble in Paradise
Some new rules are inbound from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE, commonly shortened to ATF) that are going to seriously impact the ownership of braced pistols. If you own – or plan to own – a braced, large-format pistol, you should be aware of these new regulations. The ATF provides the following justification for these new rules:
• “Because short-barreled rifles are among the firearms considered unusual and dangerous, subjecting them to regulation under the NFA, it is especially important that such weapons be properly classified. Indeed, firearms with “stabilizing braces” have been used in at least two mass shootings, with the shooters in both instances reportedly shouldering the “brace” as a stock, demonstrating the efficacy as “short-barreled” rifles of firearms equipped with such “braces.”
The new rules are complicated. The gist of the new regulation is that owners of braced pistols prior to December 2022 must report their gun to receive “amnesty.” Amnesty means that the owner will be in the good graces of the law and be able to keep their braced pistol as-is. However, owners will be required to fill out a Form I, which takes around four hours by ATF estimates, and costs $200.
Owners of braced pistols failing to file a Form I and pay the requisite fees will be subject to some stiff penalties – reportedly fines of up to $250,000 and forfeiture of the firearm. Jail time isn’t off the table either. So, what is a braced-pistol owner to do?
Brace Owner Options… BOO!
There are several options available to existing owners of braced pistols. Though none of these are terribly appealing, all will keep you within the law. Keep in mind that we are not lawyers and our explanation of these options should not be considered legal advice. This is a good-faith effort to share information. Always check with the ATF for current guidelines. At the time of writing, the below options were posted on the ATF Website. The owner of a braced pistol can:
• Remove the Pistol Brace: one could simply remove the pistol brace from the firearm and voila, its back to being a regular pistol. This is probably the simplest and easiest method of staying on the right side of the law. If the removal is prior to the December 2022 deadline, you should be good to go.
• Get Rid of the Firearm: This is our least favorite option, but you can always get rid of your braced pistol(s). If you do so, you should comply with local, state, and federal laws, ensuring the sale is handled through proper channels. It is a good idea to retain documentation of the sale. This will keep you protected
• Register the Firearm as a Short-Barrel Rifle with the ATF: this option is in compliance with the ATF mandate and is the most expensive, time-consuming, and rigorous option. Again, this requires the owner to fill out a Form I, as well as pay $200 for a tax stamp.
• Install a 16” (or longer) Barrel: installing a barrel that is 16” in length (or greater) makes the “pistol” into a rifle. This removes the requirement to register your firearm as an SBR . There is one other little pitfall to be aware of. The overall length of a rifle must be 26 inches. If not, you’re in a gray area again. With a brace or stock installed, along with a 16” barrel, you should meet the minimum legal length, but you should understand the relevant law and make sure. We don’t know your gun and are merely offering generalities here. Again, understanding and applying the relevant law is ultimately your responsibility.
U.S. Arms Company and The Pistol Brace Rule
U.S. Arms Company is a builder of premier AR15 rifles. We also currently offer our UTAW Champion line of large-format, AR pistols. We recommend that you stay updated with current and future ATF Rules as they are determined and announced. U.S. Arms Company will remain in compliance with the new ATF regulation. Our product line going forward will reflect this. We encourage others to comply with ATF regulations as well as other laws and statutes.