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Brace Yourself: How ATF Overreach Could Make You a Criminal




It’s not normal to think that this is a machine gun. But on ATF, it is. ATF. Not even once.

If you own a pistol brace, you can go to bed as a lawful citizen, and wake up as a felon.

Pistol braces were originally developed by SB Tactical with direct guidance from the ATF. The original design allowed disabled shooters be able to stabilize a firearm one handed by bracing it to their forearm. In an AR15 the brace attaches to the buffer tube similar to a stock, but it was not specifically designed to be used against the shooters shoulder.

Back in 2012 the ATF gave their first opinion approval letter for the first pistol braces to SB Tactical. Initially partnering with Sig Sauer and Century Arms the braces quickly caught on. In the decade plus that has followed it is estimated that over 40 million braces and braced pistols were manufactured and sold.

On June 1st, 2023, a new ruling by the ATF is set to go into effect. One that basically says any pistol that has a stabilizer brace attached will now be considered and treated as a Short Barrel Rifle/Short Barreled Shotgun. As such these weapons will now fall under the NFA (National Firearms Act) with penalties of up to 10 years in Prison and or 10,000 fines for position. Overnight millions of owners of legally purchased firearms and accessories will be felons. The only exception is a short amnesty period from Jan 31st – May 31st 2023 were owners of braced firearms can apply to register their firearms as SBR/SBS. Even though the 200.00 application fee has been waived in an attempt to entice owners to register, approvals are not guaranteed.

Deputy Director of the BATFEIEIO Marvin Richardson reported that, as of , only around 120,000 applications were submitted. When one thinks of the 40 million braces in circulation its tough to fathom how the situation will turn out. There are multiple court cases that are pending, including one which granted an injunction to the plaintiffs just days before the amnesty is set to expire. So why would current owners of braced firearms not want to register? The reasons could range from not complying with a clearly illegal arbitrary rule reclassification, to simply removing the brace from the firearm. The ATF has already further clarified that they do not regulate accessories.

1 You have to have the tax stamp with the firearms at all times

2 Prohibited in some states

3 SBR must remain in YOUR possession or member of the trust

4 Must ask permission to travel out of state

5 Amnesty for trust is only if trust owned the weapon before amnesty period.

6 After death issues

With only a few days left to register your braced pistols as SBRs, one has to wonder how we ended up here. This ban can be directly linked back to, and is a consequence of, the bump stock ban. Then-President Trump ordered the ATF to reclassify bump stocks as machine guns following the 2017 Route 91 massacre in Las Vegas. Instead of going through Congress and ratifying the bill into law, Trump simply had the ATF change their prior published rulings and opinions that bump stocks were not machine guns. As much as the ATF hated it, bump stocks did not fall within the lawful definition of a machine gun. But as we go into the stabilizing brace history you will see that the ATF does not have a problem changing rulings on a whim.

In 2014, after braces were on the market and gaining popularity beyond disabled shooters, the ATF reissued an opinion ruling that adding stabilizing braces to pistols would not constitute manufacturing an SBR/SBS firearm. Pistols with braces were still pistols. The ATF even further clarified that even shouldering a braced pistol was okay. After the 2014 ruling stabilized braces took off like gangbusters.

As is tradition, once the brace became common, the ATF changed its mind again in 2015. Long, stupid story short: Stabilizing braces were still legal, you just could not shoulder them like you could a rifle. Using the stabilizer on your chest, cheek, or arm was A-OK. Because that makes sense, right?

In 2017 the ATF once again reversed its reversal and we were back to being allowed to shoulder a brace. The hashtag #neverstopped was popular for a time, and that led to even more widespread use. After the 2017 opinion braced pistols were so common that it was weird when a firearms company did not offer a braced pistol.

This actually brings us full circle back to bump stocks. In January 2023, just as the brace ban amnesty was about to start, the DOJ and ATF suffered a major defeat. A federal appellate court (think Supreme Court minor league) reversed the ATF’s reclassification of bump stocks as machine guns. While the court agreed bump stocks were not cool, the important part of the ruling was that a government agency cannot act in fiat. This is the same ruling that the Supreme Court (big leagues) gave to the EPA. So two different rulings basically said that a Government agency cannot create its own rules. (So does the Constitution, as it so happens.)

In this country Congress brings a bill to the floor where it has to pass both the House of Representatives and the Senate. From there the Bill is signed by the President as law. The agencies then enforce the legally passed rules and regulations. In theory bump stocks are technically legal until the DOJ appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. Warning don’t unbury your bump stock yet, there is a separate ruling against bump stocks. With two opposing rulings, the Supreme Court will have the final say.

With all of that precedent, you would think that the ATF would drop the brace ban, but that’s only if you’re not familiar with the sheer bloody-minded determination of a bureaucrat who’s been given a little power. The ATF brace ban rules seem to be fluid and changing. Just a couple weeks ago, to comply one simply had to remove the brace accessory from the pistol to be in full compliance.

Well now the question of “constructive intent” has come up. Remember when the ATF said they do not regulate accessories? Well that is a lie, because in the past simply possessing items like full auto trigger parts, suppressor wipes, or even short barrels was prosecuted by the ATF under constructive intent. What that means is that if you had the parts to make a short-barreled rifle or machine gun, that means you intended to illegally use them. The latest ATF wording makes it seem like just removing the brace from the pistol isn’t enough; you have to render it useless.

The lesson that we should be learning (but never do) is that if you give a government bureaucrat an inch, they will take a mile. It was wrong for Trump to do it with bump stocks, and it is wrong for Biden to do it with braces. If you would like to know what life looks like when we are ruled by bureaucrats instead of elected officials, simply read Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. It’s a nightmare world where nobody knows exactly what the rules are, but they’re ready to enforce them to the hilt regardless.


—James the “XDMAN” Nicholas Mr. UnPewFessional Himself.


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