On January 13, 2023, Attorney General Merrick Garland signed the ATF rule 2021R-08F “Factoring Criteria for Firearms with Attached ‘Stabilizing Brace.'” The rule clarified the definition of a rifle as understood in the context of the National Firearms Act to mean a firearm “designed, redesignated, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder.”
The ATF’s press release maintains that the rule does not affect braces that are objectively designed and intended as a stabilization brace intended to conform to the arm rather than act against the shoulder. The latter type of brace would be considered a buttstock, classing a braced pistol as a short-barreled rifle, subjecting these firearms to disposal or registration within 120 days.
Jeff Creamer, the founder and CEO of SB Tactical, responded to the rule, “Under the disguise of safety, the ATF is targeting law-abiding firearm owner, particularly those with different physical needs, with an unnecessary and unlawful infringement of rights. We will not simply sit back and watch this happen.”
SB Tactical created the first pistol stabilizing brace in 2012 to allow shooters with disabilities and limited upper body strength to hold AR-style pistols steadily and safely. Since then, braces have been popularized by a number of firms to make pistol-grip-only firearms more shootable. The Congressional Research Service estimates that there are between 10 and 40 million pistol braces in the ether, the lion’s share of which would become an NFA item.
Pistol braces have been a source of controversy since their debut. Opponents claim that braces are a workaround that allows for a compact, concealable weapon with rifle power that is more dangerous to the general public than conventional handguns. Despite a few high-profile shootings such as a 2021 mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado, braced pistols are rarely used in crime as they possess neither the concealability of a true pistol nor the power of a conventional rifle. But the thin line in which braces walked between legal and illegal goes back to their invention.
In 2012, the ATF determined that braces for an AR-type pistol did not change their classification into a short-barreled rifle. In 2015, the ATF published an open letter on the legality of braces as shoulder stocks. Through a series of private letters, those requested by taxpayers on their particular situation, the ATF returned to its former position. In 2021, a proposed rule on brace regulation was created and submitted for public comment. The final rule draws a distinction between stabilizing braces and those shaped like buttstocks, classifying them as NFA territory.
The ATF’s last stand comes with implications. The usual $200 tax stamp to register a short-barreled rifle will be relieved for braced pistols submitted for registration within the registration period. This will constitute a loss of revenue for the government, as well as political ramifications.
Travis White, president of the Firearm Regulatory Accountability Coalition, describes the executive’s new rule as poisonous if “this administration is willing to target such a large body of law-abiding Americans for no real public safety benefit, it must be prepared to deal with the legal and electoral consequences.”
The new rule must also stand up to judicial challenges as well as legislative acts to overrule the executive decision, such as the Pistol Brace Protection Act, which has been stuck for revisions with the Senate Committee on Finance since the spring of 2022.