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The ATF Pistol Brace Rule Has Been Revealed

An SB Tactical arm brace attached to an AR-15.

After many false starts and delays, this past Friday, January 13th, the much-debated, maligned, and promised firearm pistol brace ruling from the regime of Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr was revealed to the nation. With the usual excuse of “public safety”, ATF director and noted bullfrog Steve Dettelbach announced this travesty. While drafts of the ruling circulated for months prior, few had any insight as to what the final contents of ATF Rule 2021R-08F would be.

To put it mildly, this isn’t a slow-pitch softball like the so-called “ghost gun” ruling was, it’s a full-on assault and exploitation of the firearms community in the US…

Of course, before we know where we need to go, it helps to know the background of pistol braced firearms in the United States.

A Short History Of The Pistol Brace

As has been documented on this blog in the past, pistol-braced firearms are not without controversy. While the concept of a “mega pistol” is not new, with it’s roots in the original Bushmaster survival gun of the 1970s, the idea of putting a stablizing brace on it is less than 15 years old. Borne of a need to stabilize an AR pistol for a disabled user, Alex Bosco, founder of SB Tactical, came up with the first pistol brace, the SB-15, in 2012. Basically a chunk of rubber which slid over the buffer tube of an AR-15, the brace strapped to the arm of the user, and enabled more of a true “pistol” experience for the user.

It also resembled a rather poor rifle stock. For those just tuning in, if a firearm with a barrel shorter than 16 inches is equipped with a stock, it is subject to registration and taxation requirements per the National Firearms Act Of 1934. Owners must file a Form 1 with the ATF to “make and register” their short-barreled rifle.

Of course some users noted this, and shouldered their short AR pistols using the brace. The device was no subsitute for a proper stock, but people did it anyways. Seeking guidance from the ATF, as he worried about whether the SB-15 was a stock when used in a manner similar to one, Bosco received a notice that the SB-15 was not a stock, regardless of how the end user chose to employ it. And thus, an industry was born.

Further adding to the confusion, over the following decade, the ATF often released open letters regarding the legality of pistol-braced firearms, especially when the user chose to shoulder the firearms instead of strapping them to their arm. At one point, the ATF suggested that if a pistol-braced firearm was shouldered, it magically became a short-barreled rifle.

Fast forward to 2022, and with the Biden regime finding itself stymied in it’s gun confiscation efforts by Congress and the courts, they decided to play the “executive orders” card and ordered the reinterpretation of what the term “short-barreled rifle” meant in the context of the National Firearms Act of 1934.

The ruling was finally published on Friday, January 13th, 2023. To say it’s a mess is an understatement…

ATF Rule 2021R-08F Is Not Good At All

The concept of pistol braces has always been a thorn in the regime’s side, especially since the general and logical decision was made that using the device in a matter not consistent with it’s design did not reclassify the device. Using an apple as a doorstop doesn’t mean it’s no longer an apple, for example. That being said, the government, and especially the ATF, saw braces as a legal middle finger to their crown jewel of the National Firearms Act. There’s no practical “almost there” equivalent for suppressors, and bump stocks are a poor (and soon to be legal again!) substitute for real full-auto fun, but using braces as shouldering devices kinda-sorta worked and the government really couldn’t do a damn thing about it without raising all sorts of opposition and even merely curious questions.

But, ATF Rule 2021R-08F was dropped anyways, in a damn-the-torpedoes fashion, ignoring the bulk of public comments that were in opposition to the rule.

The broad stroke is simple, and terrible. If allowed to be fully implemented, almost any firearm utilizing a pistol brace will be classified as a short-barreled rifle or short-barreled shotgun by the ATF, subjecting it to the requirements of the NFA. In the nearly 300-page ruling, several factory-assembled pistol-braced firearms were depicted by name, even.

The ruling includes a 120-day compliance window from the date of publication in the Federal Register, where the ATF will require all owners of pistol-braced firearms to register them as SBRs/SBSs either by mail or by the barely-functional eForms system. As a “gimme”, the tax stamp issued will be free of charge.

Note: Some of the following statements have yet to be fully validated, so tread lightly in your response to the ruling

The devil is in the details though, provided the ruling is allowed to stand.

  • The item being submitted on a Form 1 must be a pistol-braced firearm. From what we know, the ATF will require a photograph of the item to verify. This isn’t an opportunity for pistol-braced firearms owners to legally convert their guns to true SBRs and put a stock on them. Normal SBRs will still require a $200 tax payment.

  • Whether the item is registered or not, it will be classified as a short-barreled rifle or shotgun. Restricted states often ban NFA items entirely, regardless of compliance with federal laws. For example some pistol-braced firearms are legal in New Jersey. New Jersey does not permit ordinary citizens to own SBRs, even with an NFA tax stamp. So now a New Jersey resident who owns say, an AR-15 with an SB Tactical brace on it, will have to dispose of the weapon properly since it’s now contraband in his state.

  • Not every armed citizen is a Second Amendment Radical who hoovers up news about the 2A scene. A lot of people in recent times purchased (for example) AR-15 pistols, just thinking they were smaller AR-15s. The gun shop didn’t clue them into the specifics and just completed the transfer. There will be quite a few people who will unknowingly then own contraband weapons, and will be subject to the wrath of the government if caught. For example, someone who owns a PSA AR-15 pistol goes to the range (after the date of 2021R-08F enactment) and either a snitch or a visiting ATF employee notes the person has a pistol-braced firearm. It goes downhill from there. Millions of felons, created overnight by a power-mad regime.

  • If and when the ruling is struck down, the ATF will still have nuggets of data from people whose knee-jerk response was to comply “right away” just to save themselves. They may be ordered to delete the records, but it’s really hard to truly delete data…

  • Also, as noted by serveral prominent industry social media accounts like @fromtheguncounter, if the weapon in question was imported as a pistol, and a brace was added by the importer or by the purchaser, the firearm then “magically” becomes a rifle in violation of 922(r) which is the arcane set of laws governing the importation of weapons into the US. For example, if one purchased a Zastava AK-style pistol (imported from Serbia) and a brace was added at any time, now it’s a prohibited rifle regardless of registration status or tax paid. In a nutshell, the 922(r) laws prohibit US individual citizens from owning foreign-built rifles unless they go through an extensive modification process before they are sold to US citizens. For example, a Zastava rifle imported from Serbia needs a certain amount of US components to be compliant. Whereas a pistol doesn’t. Your ZPAP rifle has US guts to a point of compliance, and a ZPAP pistol is pure Serbian. Confusing? Yes, because they want it that way.

Overall the ruling is bad. It puts a massive compliance burden on citizens, and the government destroys yet another segment of the economy conducting lawful and moral business. No one, disabled or otherwise, is going to purchase a brace or braced firearm if there’s an extra layer of compliance involved. Companies like SB Tactical will collapse.

2021R-08F Compliance Options

For purposes of completeness, the ruling can be complied with thusly:

  • Register the “offending” firearm within the 120-day amnesty window.

  • Remove and destroy the pistol brace. Leaving a bare buffer tube (if present) is supposedly OK, for now.

  • Turn the firearm in to the nearest local ATF Field Office.

  • Destroy the firearm in accordance with current ATF destruction guidelines. You’ll need a blowtorch, for real.

  • If the pistol is an import and a brace was attached, the only legal option seems to be to turn-in/destroy the firearm.

The Pistol Brace Ban Can And Will Be Fought

OK, it’s a pretty nasty situation for us Second Amendment Radicals and armed citizens. Something the ATF repeatedly declared to be not subject to extra legal controls, is now subject to legal controls. Many people purchased pistol braces and firearms with the brace, thinking in good faith their legal status was secure. After all, if a criminal was to use a short-barreled anything for a criminal act, they will use what is available, regardless of it’s registration status.

However, unlike with other strange ATF rulings, we all had a pretty good idea this was coming down the pipe, and what the basic contents were going to be. Organizations like the Firearms Policy Coalition, the National Rifle Association, the Second Amendment Foundation, and others have been preparing legal strategies to fight the ruling. Some possibilities are:

  • 2021R-08F is struck down by Congress under the Congressional Review Act, which grants Congress the power to review and nullify executive orders that are deemed “major”. This is a long shot since the Democrats hold the Senate.

  • The courts take cases related to this ruling and nullify it. This will be a process with injunction after injunction, with the usual variables of circuit courts, district courts, and the Supreme Court. There is precedent, since the Fifth Circuit has declared Trump’s executive order which banned bump stocks to be invalid. The determination was that in order to ban and/or reclassify something, it must go through Congress. As an aside another Circuit Court ruled differently, creating a split. Bump stocks now go to SCOTUS. Ironically Trump’s bump stock ban inspired the Biden regime to try the same tactic here. The irony will be if the undoing of 2021R-08F is based on the undoing of Trump’s bump stock ban.

    • In some states, Second Amendment Sanctuary laws will be put to the test. We could very well see state law enforcement agencies actively interdicting federal agencies who feel they need to enforce this ruling.

    • A long shot is that the courts see that the whole idea of the SBR classification is actually the result of poor legislative practice and the clause is struck from the NFA. Remember, the NFA initially was to regulate every firearm save for some long guns. The government didn’t want people cutting down their rifles to make improvised pistols to avoid NFA compliance. So they created the SBR classification. Before the final vote, pistols were taken off the NFA, but the SBR and SBS classifications remained, at that point technically useless.

What Pistol Brace Owners Should Do

OK, so the legal eagles and the rare principled Congresscritters are moving into position for a fight. That’s good news. Again, we knew this was coming down the pipe, so things were already in motion.

On the ground, there’s quite a few things we can do, of course.

  • Buy pistol braces and firearms with pistol braces. While these firearms are already numerous (with tens of millions of them out there according to some estimates), adding more into the mix only helps. PSA has AR-15 pistols for under $500.

  • Donate to the cause. FPC, NRA, 2AF, it all helps.

  • Do not register your pistol braced firearm unless it becomes 100% absolutely a legal requirement. The ruling will likely be overturned and then you’ll find you bent the knee for nothing. They have your info, and you didn’t have to give it to them. Sit tight, enjoy your firearm as normal, and wait.

  • Contact your representatives, even if they are hostile. The communications go on record and can be used en masse to boost opposition to this ruling.

Fighting For Freedom And Fun Is Always A Pain, But Worth It

The National Firearms Act of 1934 was the initial major example of the government exploiting emotional wrecks for political gain. A few notorious gangland incidents, and every harridan was leveraged in the name of “safety”. Fast forward to the early 1970s, and noted anti-gunner Richard Milhous Nixon leveraged hysteria further to create the ATF.

It seems as of late it’s been blow after blow for us Second Amendment Radicals and armed citizens. In the wake of Bruen, the regime hasn’t reacted well to being told that the Second Amendment is no longer to be regarded as a second-class Amendment. Justice Thomas and co recognized that it has equal footing with the other Amendments in acknowledging a natural right.

We have to fight and keep fighting. But rest well and assured that you aren’t alone out there. Millions of other firearms owners, even the ones who treated their ownership as just “something they had” are waking up to the reality. And much like the march for some other civil rights during the 1960s, our march grows stronger as more join it. The more people involved, the more powerful our message is. And it’s kind of like a party - the more people who show up, the more fun it becomes.

Stay sharp, stay positive. We got this!

Now, for some music:

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