ATF “Guidance” on Pistol Stabilizing Braces

Posted 2 years ago — Ooley Law Blog

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, sometimes called the “BATFE” or the “ATF,” recently announced proposed rule making to change their position with respect to the treatment of pistol braces.

At issue are the stabilizing braces designed and intended for use as forearm braces to provide a more stable firearm platform. The design is useful for many reasons, but especially for those with a disability or only one hand. There are many manufacturers of these braces, but the most well-known is probably the braces made by SB Tactical.

For several years, the ATF has said that these stabilizing braces could be used on the shorter-barreled version of the AR15-style rifles, considering them pistols that do not need to be regulated like short-barreled rifles.

Short-barreled rifles (“SBRs”) are regulated under the National Firearms Act of 1934. To purchase and own a device regulated under the NFA, the ATF must approve the sale after a $200 tax is paid, and unlike other firearms, an NFA item must be registered. Unlike SBRs or other NFA devices, pistols equipped with a stabilizing brace have not needed to be registered or subject to a $200 tax.

Recently, however, the tea leaves seem to indicate that the ATF intends to bring firearms with pistol braces under the purview of the NFA, such that many of the firearms previously considered pistols would be considered short-barreled rifles and subject to the fee and registration. There are some 4 million of the pistols in America, and those who would refuse to register could become felons.

The agency’s new guidance is extremely vague but is summarized as follows:

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (“ATF”) is publishing the objective factors it considers when evaluating firearms with an attached stabilizing brace to determine whether they are considered firearms under the National Firearms Act (“NFA”) and/or the Gun Control Act (“GCA”). ATF publishes this notice to inform and invite comment from the industry and public on the proposed guidance, Objective Factors for Classifying Weapons with “Stabilizing Braces,” prior to issuing a final document. Upon issuance of final guidance, ATF will provide additional information to aid persons and companies in complying with Federal laws and regulations. This notice also outlines ATF’s enforcement priorities regarding persons who, prior to publication of this notice, made or acquired, in good faith, firearms equipped with a stabilized brace. Finally, this notice previews ATF’s and the Department of Justice’s plan to subsequently implement a separate process for current possessors of stabilizer-equipped firearms to choose to register such firearms in compliance with the NFA, including an expedited application process and the retroactive exemption of such firearms from the collection of NFA taxes.

This type of rule making demonstrates the dangers of the massive administrative state, and the ATFs proposed rule making calls for “guidance” that doesn’t really provide any guidance at all and would potentially make many law abiding citizens into felons if they do not register their pistols equipped with stabilizing braces.

Thankfully, 90 House members called for the ATF to back off banning one of the most popular firearms used by sports men and women and disabled veterans. In a letter organized by North Carolina Rep. Richard Hudson and signed by 89 others, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives was urged to withdraw new guidance on AR-15-style pistols. “We urge you to immediately take action to correct this injustice,” said the letter.

We would also urge you to take action and let your representatives know that you think the NFA should be repealed and that you do not support the ATF’s proposed rule making. SB Tactical has provided some useful information about voicing your opposition to the ATFs proposed registration scheme.