Concerning the ATF's Ban on Pistol Braces

On January 31, the stabilizing brace drama reached its seeming conclusion. The ATF final rule 2021R-08F, “Factoring Criteria for Firearms with Attached ‘Stabilizing Braces’”, signed by the Attorney General on January 13th, was published in the Federal Register. The rule amended the bureau’s definition of a rifle and turned millions of AR-style pistols equipped with stabilizing braces into short barreled rifles. Such a decision was bound to face resistance. Gun rights advocates filed multiple lawsuits and legislation as a last-resort effort to prevent the regulation from coming into force in 120 days. Though the efforts to fight the ruling are ongoing, high are the chances that the curtain is already falling. On this page, we explain what happened to pistol braces, what the future holds for them and what options gun owners have. If you have no time to lose, click here to proceed to FAQs.

Table of Contents

What Has Changed
The Story Behind Stabilizing Braces
New Criteria For Defining Short Barrelled Rifles
What Options Do Affected Parties Have?
How Much Time Do You Have to Comply with The Ruling?
Things To Keep in Mind

What Has Changed

Until January 31, 2023, braced pistols were considered regular Title I Firearms. Those are ordinary rifles, handguns and shotguns that can be owned and built by any U.S. citizen who can legally own firearms. The ATF final rule 2021R-08F turned millions of braced pistols into Title II Firearms, also known as NFA Firearms. As a rule, in order to own an NFA Firearm, you need to file and receive an approved ATF Form and pay a $200 tax. If you have ever acquired a suppressor, you must be well-acquainted with the procedure. Just so you know, possession of an unregistered NFA firearm is a felony punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and up to 10 years in prison with deprivation of all gun ownership rights in either case.

The Story Behind Stabilizing Braces

The first attempts of the bureau to impose restrictions on pistol brace use were made more than two years ago. The story, however, began a little earlier than that.

The ATF’s definition of a pistol implies, among other things, that this firearm is intended for use in one hand. The revised definition of a rifle states that this firearm is “designed, redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder.” That means that you don’t need a stock to fire a pistol. If you do attach a stock to it, you intend to fire it from the shoulder. Thus it falls from the pistol into the rifle category, but there’s the rub. A pistol barrel is not long enough to qualify the gun as a rifle, so such handguns fall into the short barreled rifle category, covered by the NFA.

What does it have to do with pistol braces? Original stabilizing braces were introduced to aid disabled shooters use certain firearms more effectively. The brace was to be attached to a shooter’s forearm with straps to improve the control of single-hand shooting. Sounds like a user-oriented feature, right? And it was one. But one constructional peculiarity was unavoidable: pistol braces were designed to be attached like buttstocks. It’s not surprising that people began using them as ones, given they weren’t violating any ATF protocols.

What’s somewhat confusing about this story is that this whole time the ATF has been there. Firearm and accessory manufacturers got approval from the ATF before starting to produce stabilizing braces to ensure they wouldn’t violate any regulations. And they received that approval. When this whole story began, the ATF ruled that braces didn’t turn pistols in short barreled rifles. With time, their opinion changed.

On December 18, 2020, the ATF issued a formal notice stating their intention to reclassify braced AR-style pistols as NFA items. At the time, their intention remained unfulfilled. Half a year had passed before they returned with their ruling, more determined and unified in their opinions. That’s when the fight for pistol braces truly began. And now it seems to have ended.

New Criteria For Defining Short Barrelled Rifles

To make things clear: the new rule doesn’t outlaw pistol braces or firearms equipped with them. It amends the definition of the rifle so that it covers a wider range of firearms, some of which will inevitably end up being NFA items.  

The rule’s amended definition of a rifle now includes a specification, that it’s a "weapon that is equipped with an accessory, component, or other rearward attachment (e.g., a “stabilizing brace”) that provides surface area that allows the weapon to be fired from the shoulder, provided other factors, as listed in the definition, indicate the weapon is designed and intended to be fired from the shoulder." Those other factors include:

Length and Weight. “Whether the weapon has a weight or length consistent with the weight or length of similarly designed short barreled rifles.” Basically, if your braced pistol has a barrel shorter than 16 inches and an overall length less than 26 inches, it has all chances to be classified as SBR.

Length of Pull. “Whether the weapon has a length of pull…that is consistent with similarly designed short barreled rifles.” The length of pull is measured from the center of the trigger to the center of the stock or any other rearward attachment. You can say that it has more to do with the position of the trigger since LoP does not apply to pistols. In rifles, the trigger is located closer to the center of the firearm (all attachments included). Pistols have triggers located at the rear.   

Optic Design. “Whether the weapon is equipped with sights or a scope with eye relief that require the weapon to be fired from the shoulder.” Pretty self-explanatory, the eye relief of handgun optics and rifle optics is significantly different.

Manufacturer’s Marketing. “The manufacturer’s direct and indirect marketing and promotional materials indicating the intended use of the weapon.” The ATF used multiple pictures of ads where AR-style pistols with pistol braces were fired from the shoulder to support their claim. The same goes for product descriptions and specifications.   

Common Use. “Information demonstrating the likely use of the weapon in the general community.” That’s how people tend to use firearms, shooting from the shoulder or in one hand. It remains unclear whether they’ll ask every single firearms user about their style of shooting.

There is one more factor that, surprisingly, works in favor of firearm owners. It covers the extensions that are essential to firearm action cycling. “Whether the surface area that allows the weapon to be fired from the shoulder is created by a buffer tube, receiver extension, or any other accessory, component, or other rearward attachment that is necessary for the cycle of operations.” That means that if your AR-style pistol is equipped with a buffer tube, it won’t qualify as an SBR, even though you can fire it from the shoulder.

As you can imagine, the overwhelming majority of AR-style pistols equipped with pistol braces are now classified as Short Barreled Rifles, and thus considered NFA items. This rule binds not only regular gun owners (who, from May 31, will be regarded as unlicensed possessors) but also firearm dealers and even government entities.

What Options Do Affected Parties Have?

The ATF helpfully provided a list of options for everyone affected by the new rule. Some points are pretty straightforward, while others may need some clarification. We should note that all the recommendations we’re about to give are for compliance with federal law only. Your state might have additional rules you need to adhere to. Here’s how you can comply with the new pistol brace rule. 

Registry. Not the easiest option, but certainly the one that the ATF is willing people to choose. You can register your braced pistol as a short-barreled rifle and make it into their NFA gun owners database. The procedure for this particular case is a bit different than usual. You can file an e-Form 1 within the compliance period without paying a $200 tax. This only applies to registering braced pistols. Other firearms that fall into the SBR category are not covered by this amnesty.

If you decide to register your rifle, you must have had possession of the item before the ruling’s publication date, which is January 31, 2023. In case your braced pistol was on its way to you when the ruling was published or was waiting for you in the gun store, you are out of luck. Everyone who assumes possession of a braced pistol after the mentioned date needs to follow the standard procedure of registering an NFA firearm and pay the applicable $200 tax.

Replacement. Insufficientbarrel length is one of the main reasons for the ATF to classify your pistol as a short barreled rifle. If there is no way for your gun to retain the title of pistol, you can turn it into a rifle by replacing the barrel with a 16-inch (or longer) one. You won’t have a pistol anymore, but at least you won’t have an NFA gun on your hands.

Removal. Braced pistols are accused of being shot from the shoulder, which is a privilege of rifles, not pistols. You can deflect suspicion away from your firearm by simply removing the stabilizing brace. You don’t need to destroy or permanently alter the brace so that it becomes unattachable. 

You do need to store your pistol and brace separately, lest it should qualify as constructive possession. Basically, if you store them together, you are presumed to have the means to assemble an SBR. If you store them separately, well, maybe that brace is meant for a rifle you’re expecting to arrive. Pistol braces are not outlawed, and their possession is not a crime.

Destruction. Yes, destruction is stated as one of the options. You can simply destroy your weapon, sparing yourself the trouble of registering or modifying it. The means of destruction are not specified, but casting the weapon into the volcano should do the trick. Jokes aside, the decision rests with you but we think such an approach is a bit extreme.

Forfeiture. Not quite as radical as destruction, forfeiture is the last option. You can simply forfeit your firearm to the local ATF office. You won't need to destroy it with an aching heart, but you will lose your gun anyway.

How Much Time Do You Have to Comply with The Ruling?

The ATF introduced the 120-day SBR amnesty period for firearm owners to register their guns or comply with the ruling in any other way. The publication took effect on January 31, 2023, so the compliance period expires on May 31, 2023. If you are determined to do something, you have until then to do so. Amnesty exempts braced pistol owners from the registry tax, so you can get a tax stamp for free. Once again, that only applies to braced pistol owners - other firearms are not covered by the amnesty. Once the compliance period is over, you’ll need to go through the standard registration procedure. We’ve already mentioned the possible penalties for owning an unregistered SBR. Those are nothing you’d want to experience.

Things To Keep in Mind

We’ve covered the defining criteria for short barreled rifles, the ways for one to remain compliant with the law and the deadline for doing so. That’s a reliable base for understanding the situation, yet the number of peculiarities is just overwhelming. There are a few more things you need to be aware of to see the whole picture. Or at least the biggest part of it.

Pistol Braces Are Still Legal

We use the word ban to give the general idea of what's happening, but things are not that bad. Nobody outlawed stabilizing braces. You can still buy pistol braces and FFL dealers can still sell them. What has changed is that nobody can buy or sell them in assembly with pistols. You also won’t be allowed to purchase a pistol and a stabilizing brace in one transaction since that would be considered “constructive possession.”

Destruction Is Not Obligatory

The text of some compliance options entails the destruction or permanent alteration of a pistol brace. That was bound to cause confusion, but ATF officials clarified that the situation is not that dire. If you don’t want to register your firearm, that doesn’t mean you have to destroy it. You can simply detach the pistol brace and store it somewhere apart from your pistol or mount it onto a rifle.

Disabled People are Nonexempt from This Ruling 

The Factoring Criteria for Firearms with Attached “Stabilizing Braces” page on the ATF website states that “stabilizing braces” that are objectively designed and intended as a “stabilizing brace” for use by individuals with disabilities” are not affected by the rule. The initial intention behind the stabilizing brace creation was the same: to help disabled people shoot firearms more accurately. The ruling, however, holds no exemptions for people with disabilities. 

That doesn’t mean you inevitably need to do one of the things we mentioned earlier. If you use the stabilizing brace not for shouldering but for stability, you can take your firearm to the local ATF office for appraisal. The final ruling contains several illustrated examples of how pistols equipped with “true” stabilizing braces and short barreled rifles are different. You might be among the few lucky ones who get to keep their firearm as it is, without having to do anything. 

There is Only One Type of SBR

If you did acquire a pistol brace to fire a gun from the shoulder, you may even benefit from this situation. The thing is there is one stamp for all SBRs, regardless of their origins. But you can’t register just any SBR under the current amnesty. What you can do is register your braced pistol as a short barreled rifle and later replace the brace with a full-fledged stock, given it doesn’t change the overall length of the gun. This sort of adjustment you can do without consulting the ATF. If the new stock changes the firearm’s overall length, you will need to get approval from the ATF.

We hope we’ve managed to clarify the situation for you. If you want to know what we intend to do with braced pistols and stabilizing braces, the answer is as follows. We no longer sell ANY pistols with “accessories attached that provide surface area that allows the weapon to be fired from the shoulder, aka stabilizing braces”, as defined by the ATF. We are still selling “stabilizing braces” separately but will discontinue sales of these accessories on May 30, 2023. Until then, time is on your side. Use it as you see fit.


Are pistol braces now illegal?

No, they are not. Pistol braces are still legal, but from now on, they can’t be attached to pistols without making them NFA items.

Who is affected by the new rule?

Everyone who possesses or deals in pistols with accessories attached that provide surface area that allows the weapon to be fired from the shoulder, aka stabilizing braces.

What are my options as a braced pistol owner?

  • Register the firearm as an SBR
  • Replace the pistol barrel with a 16-inch (or longer) barrel
  • Remove the brace from the pistol and store them separately
  • Destroy the braced firearm altogether
  • Forfeit the firearm to the local ATF office

What will happen if I do nothing to comply with the new ruling?

You’ll become an unlicensed possessor of an NFA item. The violation of the NFA is a felony punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and up to 10 years in prison with forfeiture of any involved firearms and deprivation of all gun ownership rights. So you’d better not get caught.