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Chris Fortenberry Jan 22 2023 11 min read

What Is A Pistol Brace and Why Does It Matter To You?

Introduction – Pistol Braces 101

Pistol braces arrived on the scene in 2012 following their invention by Alex Bosco, a veteran, and approval by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).

Initially invented for AR-15 pistols, Bosco’s company, SB-Tactical, made braces for many styles of pistols. This was revolutionary for the firearms industry.

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Image Courtesy of Guns.com

Pistol Braces Defined

sb tactical pistol brace

A pistol brace, or stabilizing brace, is an accessory that you attach to your pistol, allowing it to be fired with one hand.  Most stabilizing braces are one of two styles.  

The first brace style has two stabilizers that wrap around the arm and straps that can then be tightened to secure the brace to the user’s arm.  

The second style features a single semi-rigid stabilizing fin that rests in the pit of the elbow and provides a solid point for anchoring the pistol.  The second brace may or may not have straps to also help secure the brace against the arm.

Pistol brace
Image Courtesy of Austin Gerald @ Medium

The Short Stock Rule

The 26-inch maximum overall length for a pistol is to allow for some variation in pistols. Conceivably a handgun can have a short stock.

Think of a short buffer tube on an AR. If that “short stock” can reach your shoulder, though, it isn’t really a short stock, according to the ATF.

Traditional stocks can only be present on a rifle with a barrel length of 16 inches or longer or a registered SBR.

The Single Hand Rule

The “Single Hand Rule” is the idea that a pistol is designed to be operated with a single hand or, at the very least, can be easily operated with a single hand. If a firearm is meant to be operated with two hands, it becomes an “Any Other Weapon,” another nebulous definition, and is subject to regulation by the NFA.

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Image Courtesy of SB-Tactical.com

A stabilizing brace enables shooters to operate AR, AK, and other pistols with larger profiles or heavier weights with a single arm. This increases the safety and utility of firearms that are incredibly popular.

The idea that using two hands on a pistol turns it into an AOW is not a solid argument though. Shooting mechanics taught by many if not all instructors in the United States utilize the shooter’s off hand to help stabilize and control a pistol when firing.

The top competition shooters in the world all use two hands when shooting at least part of the time.

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Image Courtesy of NRA Women

Why Use a Pistol Stabilizing Brace

A pistol brace is an irreplaceable tool for those with physical impairments. Those without two functioning arms can use a stabilizing brace to effectively operate their AR-style pistol safely and efficiently.

The stabilizing brace can help disabled Americans participate in hunting, target shooting, sports shooting, or any other activity where their disability might prevent them from exercising their Second Amendment rights.

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Image Courtesy of SB Tactical

The stabilizing brace is not only for those with disabilities. Since the brace is not a full-size stock, it can be used as a second or third contact point for shooters utilizing a full-size pistol, like an AR pistol.

Anything that adds to the shooter’s firearm control and increases their ability to safely put their rounds on the target should be encouraged.

Some Historical Context

1934 & the National Firearms Act (NFA)

The National Firearms Act was an attempt by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Federal Government to enact comprehensive gun control. Initially envisioned as a means of registering and regulating ownership of handguns, the NFA failed in this area.

Still, the regulation of short barrel rifles (rifles with barrels less than 16 inches and overall length of fewer than 26 inches) remained.

They were originally banned to prevent people from getting around the regulation of handguns. Shotguns with barrel lengths of less than 18 inches were also regulated.

Purchase of Short Barrel Rifles (SBR) and Short Barrel Shotguns (SBS) required a background check and the paying of a transfer tax of $200. If the tax was adjusted for inflation, the modern equivalent would be $4,440 in 2022 dollars.  

Thankfully, this tax is not indexed to inflation and remains $200. Although the pistol regulation portion of the NFA failed, the regulation of SBRs remains.

This unconstitutional power grab by the Federal government has helped to create a complicated bureaucracy over what is and isn’t an SBR and how the ATF regulates those firearms.

2012 & 2015

2012, as mentioned before, brought us Alex Bosco, SB-Tactical, and the stabilizing brace. This brace allowed AR pistols, AK pistols, and pistols based on other firearm types to thrive in the firearms market. The brace allows those who are disabled for various reasons to exercise their Second Amendment rights.

2015 brought about a change in how the ATF viewed the stabilizing brace, though. The ATF disavowed their prior approval of the pistol brace. They reason that it could facilitate the shouldering of AR & AK style pistols and turning them into short barrel rifles.

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Image from Minuteman University

What followed was a two-year battle with SB-Tactical. Finally, in 2017, the ATF reversed its decision and permitted the stabilizing brace again.

Why Do Stabilizing Braces Matter

Pistol-stabilizing braces matter because they are part of the larger Second Amendment argument. The Federal Government, through the ATF, is playing games with a natural right that is guaranteed in the US Constitution.

Should the ATF be able to approve and ban pieces of plastic and metal at a whim, especially through the use of nebulous definitions and convoluted logic?

Should the ATF be able to turn people into felons if they don’t comply if ATF dictates? If so, it won’t be long before they try to use those same tactics to threaten the Second Amendment in the United States much more seriously.

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AR Pistols vs. Short Barrel Rifles

AR pistols vs. SBRs should be pretty simple. If you want the benefits of a rifle but in a smaller, more compact package, get an SBR. The NFA makes everything complex, unfortunately.

With this caveat, you are better off getting an AR pistol if you choose between the two at this junction. Depending on your state’s rules requiring firearms purchases, you can take your new AR pistol home, and in no time, you will be sending lead down range.

Legal Requirements to bring your SBR Home

The SBR is a whole other animal. That short-barrel rifle will require you to fill out an ATF Form 1 or Form 4, be fingerprinted, jump through the appropriate hoops of registering your SBR for individual or trust ownership, and finally pay a $200 tax.

Hopefully, up to 30 days and a supposedly enhanced background check later, you will receive your tax stamp from Uncle Sam and your permission to purchase or make an SBR.

With your approved application in hand, you are now permitted to purchase an SBR or convert your AR pistol or a rifle, with a barrel 16 inches or longer, into an SBR.

Extra Laws and Rules Governing SBRs

Even after this whole process is completed, your short-barrel rifle isn’t truly free.

Some states ban ownership of SBRs. If your state permits ownership of short-barrel rifles, you still must have permission from the ATF if you would like to take it with you to visit another state—all of this for something you nominally own.

The hassle can be worth it for some. The benefits of a true stock on your rifle are not insignificant.

Many shooting competitions also require your firearms to be short barrel rifles and not an AR pistol for use in competition.

Functionality Comparison

Functionally, both an SBR and an AR pistol are the same.

They will have the same manual of arms. They will have the same muzzle velocities for a given barrel length. They will take the same magazines and can use the same accessories, except stocks and vertical foregrips, which are SBR only.

The major difference is the Federal government heavily regulates the short barrel rifle, and the AR pistol isn’t regulated.

Can You Shoulder Your Pistol Braced AR

At the present moment, there isn’t necessarily an issue if your pistol stabilizing brace is shouldered.

The end user can’t be blamed for the misuse of the stabilizing brace as long as the brace has not been modified to facilitate the shouldering of the brace.

That being said, the ATF tends to be capricious, and as with anything in the firearms world, the advice of a good attorney and making decisions based on your circumstances should be your guiding rule here.

SBR Tax Stamps: How to Purchase a Short Barrel Rifle

If you have your heart set on getting a short-barrel rifle, it would be beneficial to know how to acquire one. There are two important forms you need to know about here. The first is an ATF Form 1.

The ATF Form 1 is how one would turn their standard or AR pistol into a short-barreled rifle. Form 1 allows someone who is not an FFL to create or modify an existing firearm into a short-barrel rifle.

Submit Form 1, electronically or on paper. Submit your fingerprints and $200 for the tax and wait for your tax stamp.

Hopefully, within 30 days, you will have your stamp and can convert your existing firearm into an SBR.

Do not start the conversion or building process until you have the stamp in hand. The ATF will also consider constructive intent. If you have the parts to complete the process, they may charge you with possession even though you have already filed your application and are just waiting for approval.

ATF Form 4 is for purchasing an already existing NFA item. The process is basically the same as listed above for Form 1 except that wait times are generally much longer. Instead of waiting 30 days, you might be waiting for 300.

ATF Form Types

Currently, the two most important form types for those seeking to own a short-barrel rifle are ATF Form 1 and ATF Form 4.

ATF Form 1 related to the creation of NFA items such as short barrel rifles, short barrel shotguns, and destructive devices.

ATF Forms 2 & 3 are for Federal Firearms License, FFL, holders, and related to NFA items.

ATF Form 4 is for the transfer of NFA items instead of the creation of those items. This form is frequently used when people purchase suppressors and other NFA items listed above.

Where Stabilizing Braces Stand in Mid-December 2022

It is December 21, 2022, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, along with the Department of Justice, has the pistol stabilizing brace squarely in its sights.

The focus point of the ATF is where pistol braces turn a pistol into a short-barreled rifle. For this determination, the ATF may or may not use ATF Form 4999. This worksheet can be used as a guideline to see if a specific pistol is actually an SBR.

December 28 is the date that many in the firearms community believe the ATF will deliver their new rules on pistol braces.

If the ATF publishes new rules on this date regarding pistol braces, there is the chance that pistol braces will be ruled stocks, and owners of them will have to remove the braces or face felony charges for illegal short barrel rifles.

If this occurs, it is believed an “amnesty” period will happen where pistols with braces can be converted into SBRs without the $200 tax but with all of the other requirements associated with creating an SBR using an ATF Form 1.

FAQs

Are braces on pistols illegal?

No! Pistol braces are not illegal. Because of the convoluted nature of Federal rulemaking, this is subject to change, but as of December 21, 2022, pistol braces are completely legal.

Is ATF banning pistol braces?

To be determined. December 28, 2022, might provide clarity on this issue. If the ATF attempts to ban or greatly restrict the use of braces, the courts will decide the issue of pistols braces, short barrel rifles, and potentially some portions of the National Firearms Act.

Can a pistol brace touch your shoulder?

The short answer is yes. The real answer is ‘it’s complicated’. Read the rulings by the ATF and make a decision that is best for yourself.

Is a 10.5 inch barrel considered a pistol?

Yes. A 10.5-inch barrel can be considered a pistol.

Can you put a pistol brace on any AR lower?

Yes. You can put a pistol brace on any AR lower, but you CANNOT put a stock on any AR lower. If you want to put a stock on your AR it must be a rifle; either the barrel is 16 inches or longer or a short barrel rifle.

Have any mass shooters used a pistol brace?

This question is like asking if any drunk drivers have used a specific make of automobile. Yes, one mass shooter used a stabilizing brace. No, that doesn’t make a difference.

The stabilizing brace is no more or less the cause of a mass shooting than the make of an automobile or the brand of alcohol is responsible for someone causing an accident while driving drunk.

Tying It All Together

Pistol stabilizing braces are fantastic accessories that have opened up the world of firearms to more people. Those who in the past might have been unable to enjoy shooting an AR or AK pistol are now able to do so and do so with better accuracy and more safety.

Fullybraced
Image Courtesy of Guns and Ammo

For others, the stabilizing brace is a means to enjoy many of the benefits of a short-barrel rifle without having to incur the extra expense of getting a tax stamp and the extra hassle of jumping through the government arbitrary and ultimately unconstitutional hoops.

Until the NFA is repealed, the pistol stabilizing brace allows everyday Americans to safely enjoy their Second Amendment rights in ways they might otherwise not be able to. If you’re interested, we have compiled a list of the best pistol braces on the market.

Chris is a firearms enthusiast and collector located in Texas. Chris’ passion for firearms started at a young age and was fueled by his passion for history. Chris used that passion to become a historian and feels that spreading the understanding of firearms functionally, socially, and politically is one of the paramount jobs of the 2nd Amendment community. He seeks to share his knowledge with those around him.

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