In early June 2021, the ATF published notice that it was considering a plan to change the rules of the game. After close to a decade of affirming that adding a stabilizing brace to a pistol would not reclassify the firearm as a short barrel rifle (SBR), and therefore subject it to National Firearms Act (NFA) regulations, the matter is now under review. The reasoning as to why stabilizing braces are once again under review is a matter of debate.
On June 7, 2021 a new notice appeared on the ATF’s website. The notice detailed a proposal for a new rule regarding the legality and use of stabilizing braces. The proposal was published in the Federal Register on June 10. Interested parties (you and me) have 90 days, which started on June 10, to comment. We are now in the middle of the comment period and need to keep up the pressure.
The new proposed rule will not outlaw stabilizing braces. Instead, the firearm would be subject to NFA regulations and registration. This means it would be much harder (paperwork) to own or transport the stabilizing brace-equipped firearm, and the owner would be subject to a $200 Tax Stamp.
Which Stabilizing Braces are affected?
On first review, it looks as though the goal of the new rule would be to target all configurations of stabilizing braces and would classify their use on any pistol as an SBR.
Given the public interest surrounding these issues, ATF is proposing to amend the definition of “rifle” in 27 CFR 478.11 and 479.11, respectively, by adding a sentence at the end of each definition. The new sentence would clarify that the term “rifle” includes any weapon with a rifled barrel and equipped with an attached “stabilizing brace” that has objective design features and characteristics that indicate that the firearm is designed to be fired from the shoulder, as indicated on ATF Worksheet 4999.
The part that most firearm owners reject to is the lack of data or cause. The 71-page proposal from the ATF includes a scoring system to judge current and future designs, details different categories of pistols by length and weight, and identifies different categories of stabilizing braces such as counterbalance, cuff-type, and fin-type. Yet it wants to add language that any firearm with a rifled barrel and brace is an SBR. IT seems the putting more than a toe on the scale.
The report also fails to show any crime data to demonstrate that the estimated 3 million stabilizing braces sold since 2013 have caused any increase in the violent crime rate.
This is a solution for a problem that does not exist. In other words, it is a backdoor maneuver to impose new gun control restrictions on law-abiding gun owners through political appointees.
Stabilizing braces have a legitimate use in society. SB Tactical brought the first stabilizing brace to the ATF’s attention as proof. From SB Tactical:
USMC and Army vet Alex Bosco was shooting with a disabled combat veteran when the range master asked Bosco’s friend to stop firing for safety concerns due to lack of control. Determined to help his friend and other wounded combat veterans, Bosco had an idea. He produced the first Pistol Stabilizing Brace prototype in his garage.
After testing his concept with disabled vets, Bosco sought approval from the ATF. In November 2012, the ATF responded with an approval letter stating that “the submitted brace, when attached to a firearm, does not convert that weapon to be fired from the shoulder and would not alter the classification of a pistol or other firearm. While a firearm so equipped would still be regulated by the Gun Control Act … such a firearm would not be subject to NFA controls.”
Bosco co-founded SB Tactical with Grant Shaw and began making production prototypes for AR and AK platforms a short time later.
Fast forward to 2021 and beyond, will 3 million braces suddenly be reclassified? Will disabled shooters and those with failing hand strength be forced into the NFA regulatory system and burdened with the further expense of tax stamps? The current proposal does not include an exception for the cuff-type brace when strapped to the shooter’s arm.
What prompted the proposal?
It is not a secret what prompted the proposal to reclassify stabilizing braces. Most seem to believe that it was a shift in the political wind. The current administration has vowed to take gun control to new heights. This could be only the first salvo of the many we will face in the coming months and years.
Without data to show that stabilizing braces are responsible for an uptick in firearms-related crime, it is hard to imagine that the reasoning behind the new proposed regulation is anything but political. This fact is especially true when considering a few points:
- The original ruling by the ATF that allowed stabilizing braces happened under the Obama administration.
- The ATF has previously reviewed stabilizing braces on multiple occasions with the same result. For example:
The May 6, 2014 Shooter’s Log post, “SIG’s SB15 Legal Pistol Stabilizing Device,” noted, “The ATF went on record saying the SB15 and SB47 pistol-stabilizing device classifies as a ‘forearm brace’ and since it was intentionally designed to aid in shooting the AR-15 pistol one-handed, putting the device on your pistol and shouldering it does not constitute turning your pistol into an SBR… Since the ATF classifies firearms strictly based on its ‘physical design characteristics,’ using the device against your shoulder does not make the pistol illegal. However it was also noted that shouldering the pistol with the use of the SB15 or SB47 was not the manufacturer’s intended purpose, and therefore would constitute ‘improper’ use of the product.”
In 2015, the ATF clarified the use of such stabilizing braces. The Jan. 16 letter says:
The Firearms and Ammunition Technology Division (FATD), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has received inquiries from the public concerning the proper use of devices recently marketed as “stabilizing braces.” 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.
These items are intended to improve accuracy by using the operator’s forearm to provide stable support for the AR-type pistol. ATF has previously determined that attaching the brace to a firearm does not alter the classification of the firearm or subject the firearm to National Firearms Act (NFA) control. However, this classification is based upon the use of the device as designed. When the device is redesigned for use as a shoulder stock on a handgun with a rifled barrel under 16 inches in length, the firearm is properly classified as a firearm under the NFA.
- Nowhere, in the ATF proposal does it make a case demonstrating why it is seeking to reverse its own ruling. A ruling that has passed all challenges for nearly a decade. A ruling that has been clarified to define stabilizing braces, and stated that shouldering the brace does not equate to turning the firearm into an SBR.
Number three in the above list may not seem relevant to some, but in fact, it is rooted in Federal law. To prevent abuses of power of position within the Federal government, Federal law clearly outlines that an agency such as the ATF must “display awareness” of the change and give a “reasoned explanation” for the change.
In the case of changing the rules regarding stabilizing braces, in an effort to reclassify their use under NFA regulations, the ATF’s proposal has failed to meet either of these requirements — as far as I can tell. The proposal outlines the ATF’s mandate to determine whether a firearm or the addition of an accessory makes it more likely to be used for criminal purposes. But after years of use and 3 million units in the public’s hands, that is a shallow argument when compared to a lack of empirical data that should exist if this were truly the case.
The ATF seems to simply outline that it could be used for criminal purposes and therefore it needs to regulate and collect additional taxes.
Writing a Fact-Based Response to ATF Regarding Stabilizing Braces
Foul language and rants are not going to be persuasive. You need to give a fact-based response. Something from the heart works great, but you need to address the issue and show how the ruling would harm you or others, or is in some other way unfair, unwarranted, or outside of the spirit of the law.
Rather than trying to detail how to write a response here, I’ll direct you to an expert from the Brookings Institute. Adam Looney published, How to effectively comment on regulations. The paper is laid out in an easy-to-follow format that is exceedingly informative.
Conclusion: Stabilizing Braces
Are our Second Amendment rights going to be subjected to the whims of politicians and the political winds? Will our rights be chipped away by political appointees with political mandates? Let’s not forget, while ATF Director David Chipman has a history as a career ATF employee, having worked for the agency for 25 years, he was also a gun-control activist who worked as a senior adviser to Everytown for Gun Safety and has a long history of anti-gun leanings.
Law-abiding citizens should not be duped into legally buying products and then having the proverbial rug pulled from under their feet every time we get a new administration. This should be true of firearms as much as it would be of cars, clothes, toothpaste, or any other consumer product. There needs to be a quantifiable public threat that outweighs the benefit to the public before a rule reversal of this magnitude is approved. We buy the product, use it for several years, and then are suddenly told to continue using it, we have to pay a $200 tax and jump through a series of regulatory hoops — that is patently unfair.
Take action. Whether you are a fan of stabilizing braces is not the issue. Each time a chip is shaved from our rights, the Second Amendment becomes weaker and its foundation is made less stable. Submit your comment to the ATF today, and let your voice be heard.