ATF's New Guidance on Pistol Braces Immediately Puts Gun Owners in Legal Trouble


UPDATE, Dec. 23, 2020: Several days after publication of this story, the ATF withdrew its Objective Factors for Classifying Weapons with “Stabilizing Braces” guidance. This article, and its headlines, remain as published.

Confusing new guidance issued by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on Friday signals the agency could soon go after some popular gun accessories, and that might put millions of gun owners in a precarious position.

The ATF might target the legality of pistol braces, which are most commonly associated with AR-15 pistols. In a document posted Friday on the Federal Register, the bureau laid out that it could soon move to put pistol braces under the control of the National Firearms Act of 1934.

For some background, the 1934 gun control law requires certain firearms to be registered by their owners, who might also be forced to pay a $200 tax stamp. The legislation was designed to go after short-barreled shotguns and rifles, which were commonly used in high-profile crimes during that era.

But Bonnie and Clyde have both been dead since 1934, as has famed bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd. The actions of Great Depression-era criminals sent the government into a frenzy to regulate some firearms, and now, decades later, lawful owners of pistol braces might find themselves in a heap of trouble because of the outdated law.

The ATF, an arm of the Justice Department, has used the 84-year-old law to go after firearms for decades. The bureau’s at-times militant gun control enforcement tactics turned deadly in 1993 in Waco, Texas, if you for some reason hadn’t heard.

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The agency hasn’t signaled it’s ready to put owners of the stabilization devices under siege, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t the potential for trouble.

In the ATF’s potential coming assault on pistol braces, millions of owners of the devices might be left with only a few alternatives. Those include paying the tax stamp and registering the weapon. Other options could include destroying their hardware, turning it over to the feds or ignoring potential new guidance and being in violation of federal law.

The situation is confusing, as the document from the agency is unclear on what devices it would target.

“ATF’s longstanding and publicly known position is that a firearm does not evade classification under the NFA merely because the firearm is configured with a device marketed as a ‘stabilizing brace’ or ‘arm brace,'” the ATF post said. “When an accessory and a weapon’s objective design features, taken together, are not consistent with use of the accessory as an arm brace, that is, not to stabilize a handgun when being operated with one hand, such weapon, configured with the accessory may fall within the scope of the NFA, particularly where the accessory functions as a shoulder stock for the weapon.

“Accordingly, ATF must evaluate whether a particular firearm configured with a stabilizing brace bears the objective features of a firearm designed and intended to be fired from the shoulder, and thus subject to the NFA, on a case-by-case basis.”

ATF post by The Western Journal

That “case-by-case basis” line is perhaps most confusing, as millions of owners of the pistol braces might find themselves in the unclear position of not knowing whether they are in violation of firearms laws.

The Washington Free Beacon explained the situation with some degree of clarity.

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“The controversy stems from how federal law distinguishes between short-barrel rifles and shotguns, both of which must be registered and require a $200 tax stamp, and pistols that do not require either. The key component is whether a firearm is designed to be pressed against the shooter’s shoulder,” the outlet’s Stephen Gutowski reported.

If you’re wondering just exactly what a pistol brace is, the popular YouTube firearms channel Gun Talk Media demonstrates how to use one in the video below. The devices are particularly useful in helping persons with disabilities fire weapons while using only one arm.

As the video points out, the ATF contends that AR-15 pistols, when shoulder-fired, are considered to be illegal short-barreled rifles and not pistols — thus the invocation of the NFA.

The Free Beacon spoke with Erich Pratt, senior vice president of Gun Owners of America, who said the “ATF has gone off into the deep end.” Pratt vowed to fight any ATF decisions to clamp down on pistol braces.

“GOA will rally the grassroots to fight these regulations, and if they eventually go into effect, we will commence immediate legal action to protect gun owners,” he said.

The National Rifle Association additionally excoriated the ATF in a statement, asserting the bureau appears ready to carry out an assault on Second Amendment rights on behalf of anti-firearms Democrats.

“By completely changing course on earlier decisions, [the ATF] has signaled that it is ready and eager to collaborate with Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and other gun control extremists to infringe on our Second Amendment rights,” it said.

The NRA added, “Gun owners know elections have consequences. This is why we must all fight to protect the pro-gun Senate majority in the run-off races in Georgia.”

The Free Beacon estimated there might be as many as 4 million pistol braces in private hands. A decision by the ATF could potentially turn those millions of previously law-abiding gun owners into criminals overnight.

The ATF noted in the document published Friday that it is seeking comments from the public before moving forward with the pistol brace regulations. Comments will be accepted by the agency until Jan. 4.

“ATF publishes this notice to inform and invite comment from the industry and public on the proposed guidance, Objective Factors for Classifying Weapons with ‘Stabilizing Braces,’ prior to issuing a final document,” the bureau said. “Upon issuance of final guidance, ATF will provide additional information to aid persons and companies in complying with Federal laws and regulations.”

The NRA and GOA are taking the potential for action against pistol braces seriously. If you wish to weigh in, the time is now.

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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