Gear, Parts and Accessories

ATF Brace Ban Alternatives: Picatinny Rail Options

MWI Beam in three different configurations

Sigh… Over a decade after the ATF’s 2012 express written approval of pistol braces, and after reportedly over 40 million were sold, the Jan 31 ATF decree announced pistol braces were now banned. The decision sent highly-concerned shockwaves around the country to law-abiding owners that what you legally purchased yesterday was not necessarily legal to have installed as of May 31, 2023.

Yet again, an example of us letting the government run rampant. If the brace ban decree is not shut down in the courts, you will need some options that are not an arm brace or shoulderable attached device. That is still a murky area with lots of undefined language like “shoulderable,” “surface area,” “functional extension” … etc., which all have no quantitative measurements defined. Kind of like saying your car is illegal if it “could fly” which is not reasonable as it can have “some path of flight” after being driven off a cliff.

The Thordsen Customs line of Pistol Cheek Rest kits were introduced in 2014 and have withstood the test of time and scrutiny. They are designed and intended to provide a third point of contact on the users cheek and provide a viable solution for AR style pistol lovers to enjoy the accuracy, comfort, utility, reduced weight, and the sexy lines of their AR pistol.

According to the ATF, pistol armbraces, which people may inadvertently shoulder, are “in scope” of the decree. However, buffer tubes and extensions which “do not have sufficient surface area” to shoulder are not in scope of the ruling (at this point). If you have an AR build that requires a pistol buffer, compliance of the decree is as simple as removing the brace or installing an upper with a 16-inch+ barrel.

There is still some hope. According to several manufacturers — all noting straight tubes/extensions and cheek rests are still completely out of scope (according to the ATF’s Maxim and Thordsen cheek rest letters)‚ are conspicuously not listed as part of the ATF decree. 

So, here are some “should be legal” options according to what we know. At the very least, these options should become an example of your attempt to comply with the ATF decree. If you own one of the many firearms with the very common rear picatinny accessory rails, such as the MPX, AK, Scorpion, MP5, PCCs, shotguns, semi-autos, and even some bolt-action guns, or any ARs with rear conversion plates, you’ll need an option after you remove your brace. Midwest Industries (MWI) may have a few options for your pistol, and a path for a stock, if you intend to proceed with registering the gun as an SBR.

MWI Options

If I oversaw marketing for MWI, its slogan would be “No wimpy products.” Historically, MWI products have never been the lightest, but they are without question one of the strongest. MWI has a long standing legacy of quality, and it works directly with several companies as an outsourced manufacturing partner.

From my perspective, its folding stock mechanism is among the strongest around. Buy once, cry once, the quality of MWI is exceptional and its new line of Beam products also can be adapted and moved from pistol to rifle as needed.

Thordsen cover with a Law Tactical Folding adapter on an AR-15
Thordsen covers are compatible with Law Tactical Folding adapters.

For a rear picatinny rail gun owner, the best option (we think) is removing the brace and leaving a rear extension in place or attaching a plain looking buffer tube. However, if you own an integrated SB Tactical brace, you will need to replace that entirely with something else. MWI has folding models of bufferless, standard pistol tubes with rear picatinny rail attachment. 

MWI also has something called a Beam series and the new highly adaptable Alpha Series that also include an adjustable-height cheek rest. Most of these models are available in fixed or side-folding options and a few adjustable-length models.

MWI offers a simple thumb screw accessory which replaces the hex screw with a thumb/wrench/slot screw which is field serviceable for attaching/detaching any of the Beam, tube, stock, or brace-compatible solutions without hex wrench. 

MWI Brace Compatible Beam

The standard Brace Compatible Beam is in essence a very heavy-duty bufferless skeletonized tube that is available in different profiles. The round Brace Compatible Beam can be used as a buffer tube-style extension and left bare or covered with some type of foam or paracord cover. It is also compatible with Tailhook braces or the MWI Stock Plate which converts it to a rifle stock.

Fixed and folding Beam attachments for the AR-15
For picatinny rail pistols, the Beam offers fixed and folding options.

Models are available in both fixed and folding models. I have been using the standard Brace Compatible Beam with just a foam cover for about a year now without a brace on a BRN-180 pistol receiver build. I can slip a 16-inch barreled BRN-180 rifle upper on and swap to the MWI side-folding extruded stock or the Alpha Series configured stock. As you might recall, the ATF allows pistols to transform back and forth between rifles and pistols — once a pistol, always a pistol.

MWI Alpha Series Beam

The new Alpha Series was in essence the Gen 2 of the MWI Beam concept based around very broad adaptability. The Alpha Series Beam can be used bare as a receiver extension, folding bufferless “tube,” cheek rest, brace host, and stock. So, if you are on the path to registering your gun as an SBR, or just want one highly-adaptable solution to move around from pistols to rifles and configure as needed, the Alpha Series is an amazingly flexible option. 

AR-15 with a MWI Beam mounted
For those who want to convert their pistol to a rifle and pack it again legally, the Beam can deliver both functions with just removal of the buttstock from the Beam.

MWI also offers an Alpha Series M4 Beam which is compatible with all standard carbine buffer tube-compatible stocks. For the pistol owner, this could be used as a receiver extension, and on a rifle or after an SBR tax stamp a stock was added. The other very cool feature of the Alpha Series of folding and fixed stocks is that they can be disassembled and reconfigured for different purposes and are specifically designed to do so.

The cheek rest and folding mechanisms are ambidextrous configurable, and the rear, padded, stock plate is adjustable up/down in several positions. The length-adjustable model also offers a wide range of length adjustment.

All Alpha Series models are designed to be compatible with the optional pistol brace adapter plate, which can be simply covered with a protective tube cover or used with compatible bolt-on braces such as the Tailhook. If you are looking for some options for your picatinny rail pistol, look at what MWI has to offer.

Thordsen Customs

Throughout the years, Thordsen Customs has helped firearms owners become compliant with the ever changing landscape of arbitrary gun laws at the Federal and State levels. One of the products Thordsen Customs is known for is its featureless (and futuristic looking) stock for the AR-15, which effectively transforms the evil pistol-grip rifle into a featureless hunting rifle-style stock.

The company also has several additional products such as capacity-limited magazines. Thordsen Customs also has a long history of offering a variety of pistol cheek rests that can fit both pistol and carbine buffers. Similarly, Maxim Defense also offers an aluminum, adjustable cheek rest in its specialized short buffer assembly.

SIG MPX SBR fitted with a Beam stock
This SBR’ed MPX can use any of the Beam stock options.

The cheek rest offers the shooter an option to rest their cheek on the buffer tube more comfortably, thus improving accuracy and enjoyment of the firearm. Thordsen and Maxim both have approval letters from the ATF and neither product seems to be notably in-scope of the arm brace ban of Jan 31.

I had the opportunity to install and test out a few of Thordsen Customs cheek rests and buffer tube covers as options to replace removed pistol braces. Although Thordsen does offer full kits, which also include a pistol buffer tube, most kits are available as simple slip-on kits that do not require any modification or removal of the buffer tube. Generally, most of these kits can be installed in under 10 minutes. The company offers several options:

  • Buffer Tube Cover – Standard with No QD mounts
  • Buffer Tube Cover – Enhanced with side QD swivel mounts
  • Cheek Rest w/ Wider MFT Cheek Rest – Standard with No QD mounts
  • Cheek Rest w/ Wider MFT Cheek Rest – Enhanced with side QD swivel mounts
  • Cheek Rest w/ Slim CAA Cheek Rest – Standard with No QD mounts
  • Cheek Rest w/ Slim CAA Cheek Rest – Enhanced with side QD swivel mounts
  • Cheek Rest w/ Medium Thordsen Cheek Rest – Standard with No QD mounts
  • Cheek Rest w/ Medium Thordsen Cheek Rest – Enhanced with side QD swivel mounts
  • All versions are offered in a variety of colors

Buffer Tube Covers

The Thordsen Buffer Tube covers are a nice looking upgrade to an otherwise bare pistol or carbine buffer tube at only 3.5 ounces. The cover looks great and adds a little length to the overall buffer tube. However, it protects it from damage and offers a cover that is a bit warmer feeling on the cheek than an ice cold or red hot piece of aluminum.

Thordsen cover on an AR-15 pistol
A simple and comfortable solution is a Thordsen cover which can accept a cheek rest and QD swivel mounts.

I especially like the Enhanced level kits, which feature the Enhanced Buffer Tube Cover as the base of the build and include left and right QD swivel mounts. I featured the Buffer Tube Cover on the ultralight custom blue camo Aero Precision build. This was a good fit for this ultralight build and still affords great use of the pistol.

Cheek Rest Options

Both Command Arms and Mission First Tactical have been supply partners with Thordsen since its first cheek rests were introduced. Essentially, the Thordsen Buffer Tube cover is designed to receive the snap-on accessory cheek rests from CAA, MFT, and Thordsen’s cheek rest. All provide good, uniquely different options. 

The MFT version is the widest overall and provides onboard A123 battery storage and an overall wider profile cheek rest. The caveat with the MFT is that it does not provide full folding when used in conjunction with the Law Tactical Folding Stock Adapter. However, the CAA and Thordsen cheek rests do lay flat with this accessory. The MFT version is shown on the unmounted fixed buffer adapter for picatinny rails.

The CAA is what I call the slim width in the group. Overall, it is the most compact option while still providing a very comfortable cheek rest shown on the silver custom PWS build. Thordsen’s cheek rest option is the medium-width option. It is currently being produced with industrial 3D printing (read that as very high production quality) until it has finalized the injection molding process.

Thordsen cheek rests for AR-15 pistols
Thordsen offers a wide array of options that are not considered braces.

The Thordsen version was installed on the custom Aero Precision with Geo Fractured camo. Thordsen also offers a fixed picatinny rail mount adapter for buffer tube compatibility on large format pistols like the MPX/MCX and similar rear picatinny rail pistols.

Final Thoughts

Though there are some legal decisions being made around the legality of the ATF pistol brace ban pre-May, these Thordsen Cheek Rests are options, if you want to assure you are attempting to be compliant. More importantly, for those who choose to carry an AR pistol (or similar format firearm) in a vehicle — which has a high likelihood of being inspected by LEO — the most prudent course of action is to have that firearm equipped without a brace and with something that reduces questioning (such as a cheek rest or simple buffer tube cover).

It is my confirmed opinion that 99% of LEO have no freaking clue about actual firearms laws and what is and is not legal as far as large-format pistols go. During a traffic stop and “lawful with cause” search is not the time to have a six-hour discussion while handcuffed on the legality of how you have configured your AR pistol. The Thordsen Cheek Rests and Buffer Tube covers are a great option to potentially reduce those inspection headaches and debates around the current legality of pistol braces.

Do you have a compliance plan for AR pistols and the like after May 31? Share it in the comment section.

  • MWI Beam in three different configurations
  • Thordsen cover with a Law Tactical Folding adapter on an AR-15
  • SIG MPX SBR fitted with a Beam stock
  • Thordsen cheek rests for AR-15 pistols
  • Fixed and folding Beam attachments for the AR-15
  • Thordsen cover on an AR-15 pistol
  • AR-15 with a MWI Beam mounted
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (39)

  1. It’s actually a worse “rule” than you think.

    The rule states that you can’t add anything to the rear of the weapon that adds any amount of width, so for weapons that are buffer less you can’t actually add a buffer tube, or any extension at all. They answered that and even had examples, so a lot of this is wrong. For ARs, you obviously need the buffer tube to work, but for things like mp5, scorpion, Stribogs, and AKs they consider it breaking the rule to add a picatinny rail extension to it. If you don’t believe me, they also answered this in questions and comments unfortunately.

    So, your choice for AR weapons is either noncompliance, registration, or actually holding them like a pistol and using something like sling tension, which kinda sucks and is nowhere as effective as shouldering it obviously.

  2. Yeah right like we’re gonna hear you out on this, try this on some other one of your control freak games!

  3. Yeah right like we’re gonna hear you out on this, try this on some other one of your control freak games!

  4. WHINE E READER, Re-read it again, please. I didn’t say it was painful to fire one, I said it is painful holding it out shoulder high, at arms length for very long. The adult solution could be to use a Glock 17L (long slide), with a 33 round magazine, be able to holster it, and avoid the whole SBR/pistol brace legality issue.

  5. I put a two point sling on my 300 BLK pistol, front and rear. It does a surprisingly good job of stabilization. Plus I am now pushing forward to keep the sling taunt and thus the “effective” recoil seems a lot smaller. My son’s wife loves the configuration because it no longer hurts her shoulder.

  6. Defund the ATF and the IRS. The Feds can ask the states for money like the constitution said originally. If you can charge retirees 20% you can certainly put an alternative tax on Billionaires.

  7. What can disabled Vets do with a micro roni? Ii have had to take off the folding hand brace to be compliant. I have attached a 1 point sling and had a belt holster made for hand gun carry as I have the S&W M&P 2.0 in the MR. Biden has shut down E-Spamp appovals and I have a request in for an SBR and 2 silencers.
    Thoughts on a micro roni be carried this way? Am I still in violation since the brace can be reattached?

  8. What about people that can’t hold a pistol without a brace?
    Doesn’t this ruling violate the American disabilities act?

  9. Gun control is unconstitutional and entire USA has constitutional carry. If we don’t stand up for our liberties who will. History repeats itself when we don’t learn from history. This country and our founding documents were created and written in basic grade school English that any adshole can understand and there’s no room for interpretation. You don’t like it?… Get the hell out and go live anywhere else.

  10. Maybe some day we will get tired if them not comprehending the “shall not be infringed” part. ….Naaaa wont happen!

  11. No one has yet uttered the phrase “ex post facto law” in my hearing. Am i the only one who thinks this is a precise example of such a specifically, explicitly anti-Constitutional “law”?

    (Never mind it’s “a rule, not a law”. Any time there’s a criminal penalty for doing something that has been written down, THAT’S A LAW.)

  12. Now I understand the anger towards the ATF overreach. Why not just FK with them. Taking the plastic brace off the buffer tube and saying you threw the brace out or destroyed it should satisfy the “rule”. Or melt a bunch of plastic army men and hand it to the ATF and say you destroyed it. Or just put a long barreled upper on your serialized lower and no more short barreled rifle, since they already know the pistol’s serial number and now it has a long barrel. Just be polite yet evasive on what you say and sign NOTHING.And only if it get this far. My brace is stashed where only I know where it is.

  13. Anytime you bowl to “the man”, you add another link in the chains that bind you….we forge them link by link and yard by yard, bound to slavery by our own submission. You either are free or you are not. Freedoms are defended not relinquished.

  14. Them: “You have a brace on that pistol.”
    Me: “No, sir… that’s a cup holder.”
    Places cup inside elongated cup holder located at the rear of the weapon.
    Me: “See? I’m case I get thirsty on the range.”

  15. Rockit, Quiet please. Adults are talking. Firing an AR pistol isn’t painful. If it is, you are doing something very wrong. Your comment was neither relevant or insightful, nor did it add anything substantiative to the discussion of the legal shenanigans going on from the Biden Administration and the Alphabet Boys.

  16. I will never comply. Please come stack on my door… PLEASE. I WOULD LOVE NOTHING MORE THEN TO WAIT ON THE 2ND WAVE. Custom made fully lathed copper 12 gauge sabbots with tungsten exposed tip cores are very unforgiving along with the many fully ready to go black guns placed around the house. SO COME TAKE MY BRACES CAUSE THEY ARENT COMING OFF😊😊😊🫡🫡🫡😎😎😎

  17. So I have to take my pistol brace off and shoot my pistol with just the buffer tube, basically just spraying bullets. This seems highly inaccurate and nonsensical. It seems to me to be a push to have people either give up their guns or register them as SBRs. Firearm registration.

  18. I won’t do anything the 2nd amendment says I don’t have to. Come and get it if you got the BALLS.

  19. I’ll take off the brace and be legal with a smooth buffer tube…. and sew the brace to my jacket.

  20. So as I understand it these braces were meant to affix themselves to the forearm, or brace themselves against the upper arm at the crook of the elbow to give stability to somebody who has trouble holding a pistol normally.

    I am such a person who needs a little extra stability when i’m firing a pistol especially when i’m needing to use it one hand.
    Every one of these ideas looks rather uncomfortable and even dangerous.

  21. The ATF has overstepped. The rewriting and reinterpretation of regulations is silly. Deference they claim is ridiculous. If the supreme court does nothing they will force many people to flip the government the finger and say enough is enough. Even if found guilty there should be no penalties, fines, or convictions. Bump stocks are being shot down as we speak. The government works for the people, all of them. This has nothing to do with safety and everything about control.A gun if not picked up does not kill, your addressing the wrong issue. Don’t speak of other countries. This is America and nowhere else. If you don’t like it here move. That includes Biden and son inc. politicizing the alphabet agencies is wrong. Going after supreme court justices that do not agree is wrong. If you do not agree with the constitution and bill of rights by all means leave and go elsewhere.

  22. ALL gun control laws are unconstitutional.
    The ATF should be a convenience store, not a government agency…

  23. Majority of modern rifles are SBRs. Besides criminals never check on any regulations. I just do not understand how something illegal can become a legal to some of us after paying $200 to the ATF. I think this is all about money. Just multiply $200 by tenth of the millions and you get Billions $$$.

  24. Mass noncompliance and defunding the ATF is the solution. 40 million braces vs how many people? I don’t care what they do either way. I’m done listening to what unelected bureaucrats in the government say what my rights are. The rule of law in the country starts with the constitution and not with made up rules that carry criminal penalties. I already asked my state’s representatives and they said that will not enforce any of these and my local LE said the same. Now I’m wondering why do I have braced pistols for I might as well put on a real stock if it’s the same old BS. The NFA needs to be ruled unconstitutional, it’s either that or we just ignore all the rulings. Here’s an idea how about we add a $200 charge for voting?? I mean what are they going to say? You can’t charge people for their God given right? And I agree but that’s exactly what a tax stamp is. None of the NFA items are illegal you just have to pay for the right to own them. Alright rant over, hopefully this goes to SCOTUS and Thomas can smack all the ATFs rulings down as unconstitutional…

  25. We all knew this was about shouldering a pistol length weapon.I’m not taking up for the ATF by no means. Braces were a way to get around the SBR law, which is stupid law. I would buy a carbine with a telescopic stock.The length is perfect ,and it is within the law.It is bullshit, and hopefully when Republicans rule again people can put their braces back on.Till then stick a tennis ball on the tube and fire away

  26. Numerous times this article calls it a ban. When batfe has made it clear braces are not banned. They are still legal to own and use on 16″ barrels
    Then multiple time throughout the article it list options that will make the tube longer. Law folder slip over tube attachment.
    If it makes the tube longer. Even though pistols do not have a length of pull. If they are not necessary for function and adds length. It will be argued that those changes were made to increase lop to subvert the NFA for a workaround sbr.
    Just read the rule. Prior to posting this nonsense. This article will keep people from compliance.

  27. Charles Nesbitt (good Scottish name btw) it is not that they hate guns, it is that the Dems hate and fear the 2nd amendment and the possibility that they can be forcibly removed from power by an armed population!

  28. Years ago I had a friend commit suicide rather than take a 10 year bid in prison over some ambiguous red tape of this type.

    Just saying. The authorities had best look at the real life ramifications of playing with the rule book.

  29. I did expert witness work in federal court for over a decade against the ATF in the middle district of Florida, and also out of state, and testified at the SWD civil trial as well

    My opinion of ATF agents is that if you can’t pass Toll Both School, then you can always get a job at the ATF. We had a case where an ATF agent cut a defendants rear tail lights, just so a sheriff could pull them over for a search…

    I’d rather see then displaced and stripped of their LE capabilities.

    Still kickers from the 30’s who’ve outlived their usefulness.

  30. Run an extended Spike tactical tube with QD point at rear of tube. It’ll be over 26″ and now a ” firearm” not a pistol or rifle.

  31. My plan is to do nothing. Good luck with taking it. There’s only miliion and millions out there.

  32. Sad to see this narrative. I said recently anytime you see an article, that should be factual, pushing this many opinions they are pushing an agenda. Your buffer shroud or whatever you are calling it has been done before. It is also going to be seen just like the pistol brace under the new rule. My only conclusion is that someone that wrote this wanted to make some quick cash before June 1.

  33. The thought of making 40million law abiding Americans into felons is a death blow to this country. You can’t have faith in the American people and then turnaround and send the innocent to prison,Administration! Work with people not against!

  34. This makes about as much sense as one of the new safety gas cans.
    If you want to hurry up and get yourself in trouble real quick just try one on a hot motor.

    This was obviously done was an attempt throughout all firearms

  35. Having dealt too many times to count with the BATF as a Detective in the Firearms Unit, I can guarantee, without fear of contradiction, that if you ask four different Agents the same question, you will receive four totally different answers. This is ridiculuos.

  36. Funny, the gun grabbers want to band gun for “the children’s protection” but had no problems murdering millions of babies since Rowe VS Wade in ’73. They don’t care about children they just hate guns and want to force their beliefs on us.

  37. Firing an AR style pistol with a pistol brace kind of reminds me of when I would receive disciplinary action in junior high, and the punishment was to hold a Websters dictionary out shoulder high, at full arms length, for 15 minutes. I never got over that feeling of pain, so the whole concept of an AR style pistol is lost on me, besides already being half deaf, but if people want to do that, more power to you.

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