Primary Arms Odyssey 2023

Stabilizing Braces Aren’t Illegal – You Just Have To Use Them As Designed

The BATFE has struck! Several years ago, SIG SAUER introduced the SB-15, a shooting brace that attached to a pistol order to assist the shooters in wielding rifle caliber pistols one-handed.

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According to the ATF, “These devices are described as “a shooter’s aid that is designed to improve the single-handed shooting performance of buffer tube equipped pistols.” The device claims to enhance accuracy and reduce felt recoil when using an AR-style pistol.” Of course, we all know that people have been using them to shoulder rifle caliber pistols. The problem is, some of those very people kept writing the ATF and asking about the legality of using them this way.

Thanks to all those inquiries from concerned citizens, on 16 January, 2016, just three days before SHOT Show, the Firearms and Ammunition Technology Division (FATD), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has issued a “OPEN LETTER ON THE REDESIGN OF “STABILIZING BRACES”.

(Insert golf clap and the phrase, “This is why we can’t have nice things.)

Here are a few pertinent highlights:

ATF hereby confirms that if used as designed—to assist shooters in stabilizing a handgun while shooting with a single hand—the device is not considered a shoulder stock and therefore may be attached to a handgun without making a NFA firearm. However, ATF has received numerous inquiries regarding alternate uses for this device, including use as a shoulder stock. Because the NFA defines both rifle and shotgun to include any “weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder,” any person who redesigns a stabilizing brace for use as a shoulder stock makes a NFA firearm when attached to a pistol with a rifled barrel under 16 inches in length or a handgun with a smooth bore under 18 inches in length.

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. Any individual letters stating otherwise are contrary to the plain language of the NFA, misapply Federal law, and are hereby revoked. (emphasis added)

Any person who intends to use a handgun stabilizing brace as a shoulder stock on a pistol (having a rifled barrel under 16 inches in length or a smooth bore firearm with a barrel under 18 inches in length) must first file an ATF Form 1 and pay the applicable tax because the resulting firearm will be subject to all provisions of the NFA.

The letter is pretty straight forward. It doesn’t make the Stabilizing Brace illegal as designed. It doesn’t even make it illegal to use as a stock on a pistol (ahem, rifle) with a barrel under 16″ or a shottie under 18″. But if you do, you’ll need to submit a Form 1 and get a tax stamp to create a short barreled rifle or shotgun.

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Click to view .pdf

There’s a takeaway here, but what’s the point of even kicking the horse? It’s dead.

(h/t Recoil – Gear Scout)

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41 Responses to “Stabilizing Braces Aren’t Illegal – You Just Have To Use Them As Designed”

  1. Jeremy says:

    Hopefully SIG can win some sort of lawsuit.

  2. Lasse says:

    Do I have to wear a helmet?

  3. Jackson says:

    The troubling part of this decision is the reversal in ATF policy laid out in the letter that accompanies every purchased SB-15 that specifically states that they “do not classify weapons based on how an individual uses a weapon”. Also see FTB #99146 for clarification that shouldering a buffer tube does not change the classification from a pistol to a SBR. The ATF is now saying that how a weapon is used determines classification. This has broad ranging implications that will make the the water even murkier for various products.

    • tazman66gt says:

      Also considering they think that a pistol should only be fired with one hand are we all in violation for using two hands? Where does it end?

  4. I do not think this letter would pass judicial scrutiny….. who wants to be the test case?

  5. Jbgleason says:

    Look back at my post on this site when the brace was introduced. I don’t get it right that often but I did on this one. I just knew that folks would push the ATF on this until they were absolutely forced to reverse themselves. Now they have. So the next question is this… Does Sig let things lie? Or do they go to the mat and fight ATF with the intent of getting a true judicial ruling on this issue? Time will tell.

    • Bill says:

      SIG will pretty much have to let it lie, and enjoy what revenue they got while the getting was good. They aren’t out anything, they can still sell them, but they also can’t very well go into court arguing that they knew all along that this would be used in a way that it wasn’t designed for, and to essentially circumvent SBR regulations.

  6. Chris says:

    What if someone places the sig brace against their pectoral muscles instead of against their shoulder pocket? Its technically not “shouldering”. What if someone braces it against their thigh, chin, forehead, shin, elbow, etc and fires it? What if person A places the gun against person B’s shoulder and person A or B pulls the trigger with the weapon pointed downrange? What if the arm brace is placed on a long buffer tube and the buffer tube, not the brace, touches the shooters’ shoulder? Will the magazines that published photos of the brace being shouldered be prosecuted retroactively for committing felononies? I really hope Sig sues the ATF for stepping out of line and ruling based off intent and useage rather than build configuration. The ATF employee who published this should be fired, sued and in prison.

  7. Dellis says:

    Honestly I never saw the attraction of this…..it’s a firearn strapped to your arm, does that not hinder movement/agility or perhaps transition to sidearm?

    Then ya gotta take the time to actually strap it on….I don’t get it.

    • SubandSand says:

      Because the original ruling was that if you mistakenly used it as a stock and accidentally shouldered your AR pistol you wouldn’t get pretty pretty bracelets from Officer Friendly your local ATF agent for violating NFA rules.

  8. Eric says:

    What ludicrous and Orwellian double-talk. To use something in a manner different from its design constitutes a “redesign” and thus it is born anew as…a shoulder stock. I can wipe my ass with an ATF decision letter but its still just a letter and not toilet paper. Granted, I would be using it AS toilet paper, but I did not “redesign” the letter. I just used it in a manner far from its intended purpose. But yes, this is a dead issue.

  9. Rick says:

    When you do a search for “stabilizing brace’ on the ATF website the date of this article is listed as Feb 21, 2013.

    Insert more confusion here.

    Rick

    • Billy says:

      The last/latest rule, ruling and/or interpretation by BATF on a subject matter is generally prevailing over any other previously released rule, ruling or interpretation. If contradictory, the last (latest filed by date) takes precedence.

  10. Dr. Greg says:

    In reality, all this means is no more picture of people shouldering these pseudo-SBRs.

  11. Billy says:

    I’m no longer one to throw stones at a highly populated hornets nest…

    BUT, IMO, BATF is stretching the written word with its interpretation of “re-design”.

    Since Black’ Law Dictionary does not provide guidance defining “redesign”, I will turn to Merrian-Webster.

    MW defines “redesign” as “to revise in appearance, function, or content”.

    It doesn’t take the village’s challenged person to figure out that using the brace, out of the box as designed by Sid, as a buttstock has nothing to do with “redesign” as defined by BATF in the “Open Letter”.

    But, BATF needed some way to bring the hammer down on brace as buttstock users in accordance with Executive Branch political doctrine and the “redesign” interpretation was their best option.

    Unfortunately, the easiest way to challenge the BATF ruling on braces in court is to have “standing”. This would entail having been charged with a violation under BATFs regulations and rule interpretation. Not something 99.99% of law-abiding citizens would normally want to pursue.

    In truth, users and lawyers know the BATF interpretation of the use of the brace has absolutely nothing to do with “redesign”. Yes, use as a buttstock is a “re-purpose” or “new use” of the original design in its original form. But, there is nothing in BATF regulations that allow BATF to re-write the law to suit the political doctrine of the current senior management in the Executive Branch pertaining to individual use of an originally designed product.

    And if you think lawyers do not know the meaning of a word OR change the meaning of a word to suit their immediate needs/purposes…simply recall President Clinton asking the special prosecutor’s team to “define THE”!

    • Texas-Roll-Over says:

      Thank you I was off on a tear then I thought, someone else probably has already said this,

      STRRREEEEEEEEETTTCHHHH

  12. Matt says:

    My 2¢…

    I don’t have a horse in this race, but isn’t this ruling to be expected? Doesn’t any common-sense person realize that the “forearm brace” is purchased by a significant number of “rifle-caliber pistol” owners (read, “I really want a shorty but I believe the NFA tax is an infringement on my 2nd Amendment rights”) specifically to evade the SBR issue and either appear like or function like a shorty AR? Let’s be honest, a buffer tube out the back of your pistol is ugly, unwieldly, and screams “this is not what I was designed for.” Who wouldn’t want to make it look like a more legitimate weapon? Market forces are reasonable, sometimes, and a company came forward to provide the people with what they wanted (and I am willing to bet it wasn’t a brace they could Velcro on their forearm they were asking for).

    Bottom line: some firearm owners designed/redesigned/intented/used/who cares these devices to evade the NFA. ATF is actually enforcing the NFA in a manner that makes way more sense than the hodgepodge of individual letters issued over the past few years. Move on.

    Isn’t it time we get a movement that is focused on making the law work rather than merely breaking it whenever it becomes inconvenient to follow? NFA is screwed up, but we get its intent. Let’s put some of this ingenuity to work fixing it.

    That’s the view from where I sit.

    • mike says:

      Attitudes like this are why we can’t have nice things.

      The NRA will never step up to help us in this; too many people protecting their trusts full of tax stamps (which pistols don’t actually threaten the value of).

      A pistol isn’t a cheap or “cheating” SBR, it’s a pistol. As a pistol is can do things an SBR can’t. What’s that, you ask with a smugness? Well, in Virginia where I live, I can transport a pistol loaded, conceal it, and hike a national forest with a concealed pistol and CHP. I can’t do any of those things legally with an SBR. I also can’t travel freely with an SBR and if my firearm is, goodness forbid, lost/damaged/stolen a pistol is much less worrisome to lose than an NFA item like an SBR.

      Stop persecuting fellow gun users because you think their choice of arm is a cheap toy. We’re in this together!

      • Matt says:

        I disagree. The AR platform is a designed to be a rifle. Classification of a short barrel AR with no butt stock as a “pistol” is merely semantics and most owners know that. In fact, it is the very point.

        • bulldog76 says:

          must be a anti gunner trolling on here …….

          • Billy says:

            Like most any product subject to law and/or regulation, law and rule-making will always be dreadfully slow to respond/react to market forces. And when government does respond, there will always be users screaming foul!

          • DAN III says:

            Bulldog….he is at minimum a troll. But he is “law-abiding” dontcha know ? He’s the kind, like the German Jews being sent to Auschwitz and Treblinka, who will thank his armed captors as they shove him to the boxcars taking him and his fellow “law-abiders” to the gas chambers.

        • mike says:

          Are you one of those smug contrarians that only ever fires a pistol one-handed? Classifying a pistol as a handgun when you know that you fire it with two hands is merely semantics, after all. Anyone can play this game and the people who want to disarm us are the most interested in starting that game. Can we just not play?

          • Matt says:

            You’re helping me make my point. The NFA itself is the problem. Contradictory terminology, vague definitions, loopholes. This is the issue. I am a law-abiding citizen, and feel I must comply with laws I don’t agree with. However, I’m lucky enough to live in a democracy. Push to get the law changed to make sense, not just a letter from an executive branch agency stating they don’t intend to enforce a particular part of that law against a piece of property you own. At the end of the day, it was people attempting to create “improvised” SBRs and get BATF approval that created this confrontation. They were messing with the law either intentionally or ignorantly (I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusion) and attempting to validate their positions. BATF stepped in as they had to.

            I am frustrated by the amount of barracks lawyering and semantics being bandied about by gun owners. I think it diminishes the power of the community to affect real change in US gun legislation and contributes to the maintenance of unhelpful stereotypes.

            • wlddogmp says:

              thank you fro the well thought out argument. im trying to read through the comment and see what people have to say and all im reading is people bitching about the BATFE. those of you that keep telling yourself that an AR pistol is the same as a handgun need to stop lying to yourselves. The AR pistol was a work around the NFA to begin with because if you know anything about ballistics you know that the 5.56 is a horrible round in pistol length setups.

              All of that aside, the firearms community needs to learn when to shut up and take yes for an answer. to many people are trying to force confrontations for the sake of confrontation because they think they are in the right. It really doesn’t matter if your right or not you make the entire community look bad.

              Ok end of rant, instead of attacking each other and lying to ourselves about why we have certain accessories lets band together as shooters and gun owners and try to change things for the betterment of the entire gun owning community.

        • Bobby says:

          So you’re saying if you put a one of those glock stocks on a glock, it’s still a pistol? That’s not what the atf says… Do which is it?

    • DAN III says:

      Well Matt, your expressed attitude of “move on” is what inflames me with gun owners. Many of us are fed up with some appointed bureaucrat making “law”. Instead of you denouncing the existence of both the NFA and the “revenoorers” of the BATF you want to create a “movement” to make the law “work”. I believe in evading bad laws and rules made by unelected .gov stooges. I believe in breaking “the law” because the National Firearms Act violated the highest law in the land, the 2d Amendment to the United States Constitution ! But you don’t have a clue about that, nor do you care, do you ?

      The only way to fix the attack against freedom-loving Americans by those who attack our Liberty and control our every move is with a short rope and a tall tree. Not by making the “law work” as you’re wont to do. But rather by eliminating along with those who created it, those who enforce it, and those who support it.

      Oh, and don’t break the speed limit when you drive as you do everytime you get behind the wheel of your vehicle. You wouldn’t want to be a hypocrite, would you ?

  13. Nick says:

    Firstly let me state that I don’t think people should have kept asking the ATF “are you sure this is ok?” because after a certain amount of letters its bound to blow up in our faces, as it has.

    That said I think that if we as a community allow this ruling to stand we are setting ourselves up for future challenges. We are allowing the ATF to decide not only what we can have but also how we use it. This is a dangerous precedent.

  14. Matt says:

    I acknowledge that an individual who is used to hearing their own opinion echoed back at them could accuse me of trolling. I’m not. I’m merely exercising my right to have my opinion – equally as much or as little value as yours – heard.

    I am not anti-gun. I am pro-legal gun ownership and usage. Here’s why: the more people engage in behavior that either explicitly or implicitly skirts the law, the more restrictive the law will become. That’s a fact.

    I merely ask the question, is having a cool-looking, short-barreled, AR with a stock-but-not-really-technically-a-stock attached worth losing further gun ownership rights?

    The statement that is going to be hurled my way next is the slippery slope argument. “Where do we stop? If we roll on this, where does it end?”

    My response, preemptively, is this: challenge the underlying core logic of NFA firearm definitions, or legalese contained in the act. Work to make firearm legislation coherent and reasonable, since it’s painfully obvious that the writers of this legislation don’t even know what they’re trying to say. I think challenging issues at the fringe will only hurt the firearm community in the long run.

    • mike says:

      I don’t think you’re trolling or off base. I agree that behavior that pushes is counter-productive; I support open carry but cringe at the though of open-carry activism.

      The thing that gets me is that pistols are still pistols. Lets put away shouldering for a minute. I pushed rifle-caliber pistols out with bungee slings before the brace existed and I’ll go back to it.

      I have a SIG 220 in a KPOS with the stock removed and stored on another property (thanks Mom). I get that my choice in fun toys bothers some people, but there’s nothing illegal about them and you won’t catch me accessorizing with them at Chipotle or Starbucks. Consider that I just want worthwhile arms, not a fashion or ideology statement.

    • DAN III says:

      Well Matt, perhaps you should be more concerned about the 2d Amendment and how that has been circumvented by your beloved lawmakers, for decades. You keep referencing “the law”. But you ignore the ultimate law….the 2d Amendment. You may not be a troll. But expressing MY opinion here you are certainly that which starts with a “a” and ends in a “e”. And the seven letter word is not awesome.

  15. Billy says:

    I honestly believe Sig’s statement that the company set out to design a product, the brace, to enable the disabled veteran/shooters who enjoy shooting AR style weapons to continue doing so. I do not believe Sig set out to design (or re-purpose) a device that in some way was a “work around” the NFA Act.

    I’m not sure where the concept of using the brace as a buttstock originated, but, it surely caught notice with the RECOIL magazine article some issues ago.

  16. Larry says:

    Haha. I knew this would happen. Idiots now have a $150 paperweight.

    • SSD says:

      They arent illegal and tgey can still be used, just not legally innthr manner some wouod choose.

    • DAN III says:

      Hey Larry….what part of “shall not be infringed” do you not understand ? Now grab your ankles like a good little statist.

  17. Coyote says:

    Guess what, why don’t you write the AFT and ask them if its ok for you to use your AR pistol plain buffer tube as shoulder stock..and see what they say.
    Nothing new, nothing to see, move along