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  • Writer's pictureHootey Cline

ATF Ruling on Pistol Braces (2019)

So there has been a lot of confusion over the “new ruling” that has come out from the BATFE (ATF) last week. We have been getting some phone calls and emails so I thought that it would be good to sit down and try to explain it, as I understand it, from a gunsmithing perspective. PLEASE NOTE THAT I AM NOT A LAWYER OR A LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENT\OFFICER (LEO). NOTHING IN THIS ARTICLE SHOULD BE CONSIDERED LEGAL ADVICE AS IT IS STRICTLY MY OPINION AND NOTHING MORE.

So a clarification letter has been circling around the 2nd Amendment online community and causing some mixed feelings. The letter is dated for June 25, 2019. The letter, or ruling, deals with the classification of Pistols and All Other Weapons (AOWs). Currently, the ATF classifies a firearm as a pistol if it is less than twenty-six inches in overall length and is designed to fired with one hand. An AOW is also less than twenty-six inches in overall length but is designed to be fired with two hands. A quick example for you to imagine would be putting a vertical fore-grip on to an AR pistol, which allows it to change from a one-handed weapon to a two-handed weapon; a pistol to an AOW. Now I am not sure why the ATF chose “less than twenty-six inches” as the designation. A few LEOs that I have talked to have said that “under twenty-six inches” is considered concealable, so maybe that is it.

So now for the meat and potatoes; how does the ATF go about measuring firearms. Stocks, folding-stocks, etc. are included in the overall length of shotguns and rifles because the firearm’s design is made so that it has to be fired from the shoulder for proper function. This makes the stock an essential element to the overall design and statutory definition. Now according to the ATF, it is inappropriate to include a “stabilizing brace” accessory in the overall length of a firearm because it is not an essential element to the overall design. It does nothing to allow the firearm to function normally. The ATF has also stated that “accessories, such as extensions, that have superfluous material will also not be measured because these items are only intended to circumvent the law and serves no purpose in the function of the firearm.

So now for real-world application let’s say that you have an AR-15 pistol with a ten-inch barrel, a suppressor, and a stabilizer brace. (We are also going to pretend that I do not live in Illinois because this example is easy because everyone knows what an AR pistol looks like). You would remove the brace from the buffer tube extension, because it is not essential to the firearm’s overall design, and then measure from the buffer tube extension to the muzzle of the barrel. Notice, I said barrel and not a suppressor. A muzzle device is only considered part of the muzzle if that device has been pinned, welded, etc. So from the buffer tube extension to the muzzle of the barrel would be less than twenty-six inches. If you were to put a vertical fore-grip you would be in possession of an illegal AOW.

Essentially what ATF is clarifying with this ruling is that they only measure what is essential to the overall design of the firearm. Let’s look at an AK-style pistol for comparison. Everything that is needed to make an AK platform function is contained in the receiver, so that back of the receiver would be the furthest point that you could measure. An SB Tactical Adapter would not be part of the overall measurement because it does not affect the functionality of the firearm.

It should also be noted that this letter is pretty old news for a lot of us. It just serves to clarify some things from a previous situation. In 2018 there was a business called The Freedom Shoppe, based in Connecticut, that was selling firearms with vertical fore-grips at the point of sale and folding braces. The ATF got involved and confiscated some of their inventory and reached out to customers saying that they could not own those weapons in that configuration. After that incident, the ATF was flooded with Federal Firearm License Dealers (FFLs) and other people wanting clarification about their modified firearms. So now, this is the ruling that we have to stand by.

The important take away from this is that if something is not essential to the functional operation of the firearm then it will not be counted toward the overall length of the firearm. From our examples above, an AR platform traditionally uses a direct impingement gas system; making the buffer tube extension essential to the design. So if you didn’t have that than the firearm would not work. To whereas, an AK platform uses a gas piston system which is self-contained in the receiver; which means that you cannot measure past that point on a pistol. So with this new information, it basically boils down to this: if you have a firearm that is less than twenty-six inches in overall length and put a vertical fore-grip on it, which shows your intent to fire the weapon with two hands then you have created an AOW. AOWs are illegal without the proper permits/licensing.

Again I am not a lawyer or a law enforcement agent of any kind. This is just my interpretation and opinion and should only be taken as such and not as legal advice of any kind. If you have any further questions on this matter we will do our best to help you, or recommend that you contact a lawyer or the local ATF office.

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