ATF Reverses Opinion On AR-15 Short Barrels With Braces (AGAIN!)


If you don’t know, there are some INSANE laws from 1934 that govern much of what is “legal” in the firearms world.

They’re known as the National Firearms Act (NFA) laws.

And they suck.


It’s the reason you can’t buy silencers & short barreled rifles off the shelf. A short barreled rifle is anything under 16″.

Well, there is one way around the NFA laws on short barreled rifles. If you do it right, you can legally own an AR-15 with a short barrel rifle without paying for a $200 tax stamp and waiting for approval by the ATF. Check it out:

How To Get A “Short Barrel” AR-15 Without Paying An NFA $200 Tax, etc

In short, you need a pistol …

The AR-15 platform can be had in either a “pistol” or “rifle”.

You want to buy the “pistol” type (or build it yourself, if you know how to do it legally).

What’s the ONLY difference between a pistol AR-15 and the rifle version?

Very simply, the pistol AR-15 can NOT have a buttstock of any kind. And it must NEVER have had a buttstock of any kind attached. The actual lower receiver is bought/transferred into your name as a pistol lower, not a rifle lower.

(In other words, if you bought an AR-15 rifle with a buttstock and then took the buttstock off, while it may look EXACTLY like an AR-15 pistol — the ATF still considers it a rifle.)


Image source: AR-15 pistol PDW

Why You Want an AR-15 Pistol

Here’s the reasons you want an AR-15 pistol …

1. It’s legally a pistol. That means with your concealed carry permit, you can legally carry it concealed in public just like you would any other pistol (like a Glock, etc). That’s important because a lot of states say you can’t carry a loaded rifle/shotgun around with you or in your car, etc. They have different rules for pistols.

2. As a pistol, you can have a short barrel (less than 16″) on it without it becoming a “short barrel rifle” which is a NFA weapon. An NFA weapon is illegal to have without paying a Tax Stamp to the ATF and getting their permission to own/build it. Obviously, you’ll want a shorter barrel because it makes it easier to conceal.

By The Way, There Are Now Multiple Pistols – Not Just AR-15’s …

L to R: Sig MPX, HK MP5, KRISS Vector, AR-15, Scorpion EVO, Uzi – all with SB Tactical Braces

You can now buy pistol versions of the following rifles, including (but not limited to):

* AK-47’s
* .308 FAL’s
* CZ Scorpion EVO
* KRISS Vector
* IWI Uzi Pistol
* HK MP5, HK53, MP5K’s, etc
* Sig MPX

The Invention Of The “Stabilizer Brace”

AR-15 pistols used to be considered “range toys”, but sometime in 2013 SB Tactical started selling something called a “stabilizing brace” for AR-15 & AK-47 pistols.

It took the market by storm and was very popular.

It’s important to note that they got approval from the ATF for making these braces way back in 2012. The agency said:

“the submitted brace, when attached to a firearm, does not convert that weapon to be fired from the shoulder and would not alter the classification of a pistol or other firearm. While a firearm so equipped would still be regulated by the Gun Control Act … such a firearm would not be subject to NFA controls.”

Of course, one of the obvious ways to fire a pistol with one of these things attached is by using the brace as a makeshift “stock” on your shoulder …

Something you can already do with the built-in buffer tube of an AR-15 pistol. In fact, in the below pictures from an article by Gabe Suarez on the M4 Pistol concept, you can see the two primary ways of running the M4 Pistol – either the cheek index for CQB or when greater accuracy is needed — obtaining a fourth point of contact by bringing the end of the buffer tube back into the shoulder.

Gabe Suarez demonstrating two ways to fire an AR-15 pistol using either cheek support only or also getting a fourth point of contact on the shoulder. Obviously, shouldering a regular AR-15 pistol does not magically make it a rifle … right?

Obviously, this does not somehow magically turn an AR-15 pistol into a rifle, just because you “shoulder it”.

The ATF agreed, because in March 2014 they said this in a second letter,

“for the following reasons, we have determined that firing a pistol from the shoulder would not cause the pistol to be reclassified as an SBR: FTB classifies weapons based on their physical design characteristics. While usage/functionality of the weapon does influence the intended design, it is not the sole criterion for determining the classification of a weapon. Generally speaking, we do not classify weapons based on how an individual uses a weapon.”

Things were wonderful in AR-15 pistol land – people finally had a cost effective, good looking, potentially useful accessory to put on their AR-15 pistols to (arguably) make them easier to handle and everything seemed great.

The ATF issued a third letter just before SHOT Show in January 2015 that resulted in panic in the firearms industry. The letter stated:

“the pistol stabilizing brace was neither ‘designed’ nor approved to be used as a shoulder stock, and therefore use as a shoulder stock constitutes a ‘redesign’ of the device because a possessor has changed the very function of the item.”

In other words, by simply shouldering an AR-15 pistol with a stabilizing brace attached, you have magically “redesigned” it into a short-barreled-rifle and you’re now a felon.

Which, of course, makes no sense because if you take it out of your shoulder pocket does it magically “redesign” back into a pistol if you fire it with your arms extended like one?

Fire it with two hands like this, and does it magically redesign itself back into a pistol? But then you shoulder it and it magically redesigns itself into a rifle?

Either way, these letters from the ATF are basically law, so everyone was cautioned to not shoulder any pistol with a brace attached.

Which brings us to modern times …

ATF REVERSES Opinion On Pistols With Braces (AGAIN!), Now Says Pistols Are Still Pistols, Even If You Shoulder Them

Recoil Mag posted a letter from the ATF that has reversed the earlier reversal to the earlier reversal letter … or whatever.

The latest letter from the ATF is here.

And here’s what SBTactical had to say about it.

“… The new clarification of opinion letter states, “an NFA firearm has not necessarily been made when the device is not reconfigured for use as a shoulder stock – even if the attached firearm happens to be fired from the shoulder. To the extent that the January 2015 Open Letter implied or has been construed to hold that incidental, sporadic, or situational “use” of an arm-brace (in its original approved configuration) equipped firearm from a firing position at or near the shoulder was sufficient to constitute “redesign,” such interpretations are incorrect and not consistent with ATF’s interpretation of the statute or the manner in which it has historically been enforced.”

SB Tactical, along with the law offices of Mark Barnes & Associates, have worked tirelessly for more than two years to correct what they believed to be an inaccurate interpretation of “redesign,” related to the Pistol Stabilizing Brace. “It has always been our belief that the addition of our Pistol Stabilizing Brace benefits shooters, both disabled and able-bodied, and that neither strapping it to your arm nor shouldering a brace equipped pistol would constitute ‘redesign’ of a pistol to a NFA firearm”, said Alex Bosco, inventor, founder and CEO of SB Tactical. “We are strongly encouraged by the ATF’s reversal of opinion and commend their willingness to continually review policy, including their own opinions, to ensure public safety and the fulfillment of their mission.”

Both SB Tactical and Mark Barnes & Associates are proud to be at the forefront of protecting and preserving the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans. Mark Barnes echoed Bosco’s praise of the ATF’s new guidance and stated that “it’s clear that the Bureau has no intention or desire to prosecute law abiding citizens using SB Tactical Pistol Stabilizing Braces. Their decision to act should be commended.”

So It Looks Like You Can Shoulder A Stabilizing Brace Now, Just Don’t Modify It!

Of course, the entire internet will be in a roar telling you that if you do ANY modifications to a stabilizing brace then you’ve redesigned it and you’ll go to jail.

That may or may not be true.

The REAL issue here is that these are outdated laws from 1934 that should have neve been passed in the first place and the entire NFA needs to be repealed because it’s just silly.

First silencers need to be legal, and then the NFA needs to get repealed. Until then, enjoy shouldering your pistol braces without fear of an ATF hit squad busting down your door and shooting your dog!

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Caleb Lee is the #1 best-selling author of "Concealed Carry 101" and founder of He is a civilian (no law enforcement or military experience) who shares information about self-defense and becoming more self-reliant. He's a 1st degree black belt in Taekwondo, NRA Certified Basic Pistol & Personal Protection Inside The Home Instructor, Concealed Carry Academy Instructor certified & also a graduate of the Rangermaster firearms instructor course. He's also the author of numerous online courses including the course.


  1. Just until we get another democratic president, hopefully President Trump will do away with the entire 1934 rules and regulations

  2. Ok, WHY would I buy these when they are nothing more then extra large supports like you wear for a tennis injury that can be bought at any sporting goods store

    • b3ecause of the BATFE. buying a short barrel rifle requires the same crap that a silencer does. so until they just reduce all of these hoops you have to go through it is an easy way of getting a short barrel rifle, which has advantages in certain circumstances. i do have a 556 pistol and now i will probably get one of those supports and maybe build another pistol. while you loose power from the short barrel it does give you maneuverability. maybe in a car or tight spaces.

    • They should just remove short barrel rifle and suppressors off of nfa rugulation. Squash them both. If government wants the tax revenue though, they should just put a $200 excise tax one suppressors and SBRs. Last time I checked, MS13, crips, bloods and all other major criminals don’t fill out a form 4 or form 1 to get a tax stamp to rob banks and kill rival gang members. Law abiding citizen takes these items to a range, shoots targets and puts them
      In a gun safe after cleaning. Bad guys buys it off the street and uses them in crimes.

  3. it amazes me that our government officials actually use logic once and a while. history has had for quite some time now pistols that had detachable butt stocks. for both semi’s and revolvers. so an attachable stock specifically designed to attach to a pistol and steadied by the shoulder was still a pistol and not a short barrel rifle. now they need to stop harassing people that want a short barrel rifle. i mean what is the problem, those outlaws that do this sort of thing. do and have always done what they want. they do not care about the legalities of the law, i think that is why we call them criminals because they do not care what laws are broken. same with silencers. all of these things still make it harder to conceal and basically a criminal does not want to display his arm to anyone until he is engaged in a criminal act. maybe we just need to get rid of the BATFE. it could be absorbed by some other government office. heck maybe we could reduce those employed and low our cost to run the government. in fact we need to reduce the amount of government all the way around. heck, maybe they could give me back some of the freedoms they have taken away. i guess that would be asking to much. WTF!!!

  4. Its all about money, They dont give a shit about our safety or protection. All they want to do is take your protection away and treat you like a criminal. They need to do something with the illegal invaders that are taking our country down not grab our guns and throw chicken shit laws at us get a life!

  5. Damn it man to the point no need to make everyone go crazy now. Is it a rifle no the ATF is for once making up their damned minds. The whole 1934 act needs to be abolished and replaced with a better clear cut law. Good people are going to jail because that law is written so horrible that no one can make sense of gun laws including most lawyer’s

  6. love the new fold at the receiver ,going to order one as soon as available ,this is a great idea .f&d defence is a smaller company hopefully they can keep up with the orders.

  7. This is great news . . . until we get the next letter from the ATF that abrogates this most current letter! We all know that the ATF’s “determination of policy” depends on who is writing the letter clarifying policy on any given day. The only way to ensure that reversal does not occur just around the bend (or the next time we end up with a rights-grubbing, anti-gun Democrat in the White House) is for the NFA to be repealed and then replaced, not with a new NFA, but with absolutely nothing. If I want an AR-15 with a 10 inch barrel, I should be able to either buy or build one without first asking the Federal Government for permission to do so like a school boy.

  8. the whole thing here,is they didn’t catch the people doing the shoulder bracing thing like they were hoping for,they were hoping to start a new cash cow and it backfired on they just went back[again]to the way it was…remember people,to them,it’s all about them thinking they are right and we are idiots,i mean wrong.the fed’s and the gov’t branches all believe they have it all wrapped up and know everything,but they don’t and when they don’t get their way they just go back…and somewhere down the line someone will bring it up again and it will be on the table again…these people don’t give up…they will do anything to catch us in a law[s] breaking hopes to make some cash and start a new cash cow,a new stream of revenue to them,even if it means ruin lives over a small infraction in the law[s] putting a pistol up to your cheek….geeze,big whoop right[to them yes]and the barrel length,don’t even get me started,we should be able to build what we want at any barrel length,but again,they do this so they can create a cash cow off the already existing law[s],it seems they really like to nit-pick..remember the days of the sawed off shotgun rule[s],it got really stupid really fast.teh people who make these laws must just sit at home and figure out what they can do to twist on the books law[s] to create cash flow out of them…not because they are a safety issue or because they don’t want to have some dude with a shotgun under his coat,it about generating revenue…the only reason,because they seemto forget that criminals don’t follow the rules or the law[s],they just go ahead and do it..with that in mind,you know that’s all it is….MONEY,nothing more

  9. One thing that I’d like to put out, and I’ve been assured by several people including the FFL that I use for transfers that this is true, although as many things go with NFA regs and rules, please don’t take this as “absolute” legalese.

    If you purchase a complete AR Lower and it comes with a pre-installed Shoulder Stock, it should be put down on the transfer form as a “Multi-Cal” AR lower receiver….not a Multi-Cal AR Rifle lower receiver. This way, you can legally remove the Shoulder Stock, install a Pistol Brace of your choosing, then install your Pistol Upper that is less than 16 inches and you are ok as far as the ATF rules go. At that point though, you cannot go back and re-install the Shoulder Stock, then put a Rifle Upper on it and call it an AR-15 Rifle. It basically must stay what you initially configured it as when you put the first Upper assembly on it. How would the ATF ever know? Most likely they never could, but that’s how their rules translate, as ignorant as they are.

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