A mere 72 hours before SHOT Show 2015, the BATFE released an open letter determining that shouldering and firing a pistol with brace constituted a “redesign” and may fall under the purview of the National Firearms Act (NFA). The letter reads, in part:
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. 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…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.
[Entire letter here]
This letter was a reversal to a previous determination and caused a considerable amount of uproar in the firearms community. Previous letters indicated how an item is utilized, regardless of the original intent, did not constitute a redesign. Here’s an excerpt from May 2014, in a letter addressed to Sergeant Joe Bradley of the Greenwood Police Department in Colorado:
Firing of a weapon from a particular position, such as placing the receiver extension of an AR-15 type pistol on the user’s shoulder, does not change the classification of a weapon…. Further, certain firearm accessories such as the SIG stability brace have not been classified by the FTB as shoulder stocks and, therefore, using the brace improperly does not constitute a design change.
When it comes to determination letters, the latest is invariably legally considered the current interpretation. So, in May of 2014 it was legal to do this:
Except now there’s a new letter–with yet another reversal.
This time instead of 72 hours before SHOT Show we learn about it 72 hours before the 2017 NRA Annual Meeting. In January of this year, Mark Barnes, the outside counsel to SB Tactical, sent a letter to Thomas Brandon, the acting Director of the BATFE asking for a reconsideration of the 2015 reversal. Barnes received a response–and one we should all be pleased with.
Reading the letter, we learn that merely shooting a brace from the shoulder is no longer considered a “redesign”. The ATF does state that if steps are taken in order to configure a brace as a stock, that would, however, constitute a redesign. Relevant quote below:
With respect to stabilizing braces, ATF has concluded that attaching the brace to a handgun as a forearm brace does not “make” a short-barreled rifle because in the configuration as submitted to and approved by FATD [Firearms and Ammunition Technology Division], it is not intended to be and cannot comfortably be fired from the shoulder. If, however, the shooter/possessor takes affirmative steps to configure the device for use as a shoulder stock–for example, configuring the brace as to permanently affix it to the end of a buffer tube, (thereby creating a length that has no other purpose than to facilitate its use as a stock), removing the arm-strap, or otherwise undermining its ability to be used as a brace – and then in fact shoots the firearms from the shoulder using the accessory as a shoulder stock that person has objectively “redesigned” the firearm for purposes of the NFA. This conclusion is not based upon the mere fact that the firearm was fired from the shoulder at some point. Therefore, an NFA firearm has not necessarily been made when the device is not re-configured for use as a shoulder stock – even if the attached firearm happens to be fired from the shoulder
Check out the entire letter here
SB Tactical had this to say about it:
Saint Petersburg, Fla. (April, 25, 2017) – SB Tactical™, inventors and manufacturers of the Pistol Stabilizing Brace®, is excited to announce that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) has issued SB Tactical a reversal letter containing a sensible clarification of the Bureau’s position on the lawful use of SB Tactical braces.
The new clarification of opinion letter states, “an NFA firearm has not necessarily been made when the device is not re-configured for use as a shoulder stock – even if the attached firearm happens to be fired from the shoulder. To the extent that the January 2015 Open Letter implied or has been construed to hold that incidental, sporadic, or situational “use” of an arm-brace (in its original approved configuration) equipped firearm from a firing position at or near the shoulder was sufficient to constitute “redesign,” such interpretations are incorrect and not consistent with ATF’s interpretation of the statute or the manner in which it has historically been enforced.”
SB Tactical, along with the law offices of Mark Barnes & Associates, have worked tirelessly for more than two years to correct what they believed to be an inaccurate interpretation of “redesign,” related to the Pistol Stabilizing Brace. “It has always been our belief that the addition of our Pistol Stabilizing Brace benefits shooters, both disabled and able-bodied, and that neither strapping it to your arm nor shouldering a brace equipped pistol would constitute ‘redesign’ of a pistol to a NFA firearm”, said Alex Bosco, inventor, founder and CEO of SB Tactical. “We are strongly encouraged by the ATF’s reversal of opinion and commend their willingness to continually review policy, including their own opinions, to ensure public safety and the fulfillment of their mission.”
Both SB Tactical and Mark Barnes & Associates are proud to be at the forefront of protecting and preserving the Second Amendment rights of law abiding Americans. Mark Barnes echoed Bosco’s praise of the ATF’s new guidance and stated that “it’s clear that the Bureau has no intention or desire to prosecute law abiding citizens using SB Tactical Pistol Stabilizing Braces. Their decision to act should be commended.”
These letters and reversal letters are a salient demonstration of the absurdity surrounding NFA laws, but for now it seems you can shoulder and shoot an unmodified brace freely—at least until a reversal of the reversal of the reversal comes out.
Now pardon us while we go head to the range to shoulder some braces.