The ATF Releases New Guidelines for Firearms with Attached Stabilizing Braces
In 2012, the pistol stabilizing brace–a component piece that connects a firearm to a shooter’s arm for added support and increased accuracy–was created for disabled sportsmen that could only manipulate a firearm with the use of one hand.1 After the stabilizing brace was submitted to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) for approval, the ATF determined that the stabilizing brace provided the operator with greater support, and the brace was not designed or intended to fire a gun from the shoulder. Thus, the ATF concluded that use of a stabilizing brace would not change the classification of a pistol or firearm. Therefore, a braced firearm would not be subject to the 1934 National Firearms Act (NFA) controls.2
However, the design and use of stabilizing braces has evolved since 2012, and the ATF began to see braces that (1) were designed to fire a gun from the shoulder, and (2) had components similar to shoulder stocks. As a result, stabilizing braces have come under increased scrutiny from regulators in recent years. In addition, opponents of stabilizing braces claim the accessory enhances accuracy and concealability of the firearm, leading to concerns.3
On January 13, 2023, the Department of Justice released the ATF final rule 2021R-08F “Factoring Criteria for Firearms with Attached ‘Stabilizing Braces’,” which subsequently amends previous ATF regulations and clarifies which factors the ATF considers when determining if a firearm equipped with a stabilizing brace is classified as firearm or short-barreled rifle. The ruling aims to prevent dealers, users, and firearm manufacturers from using stabilizing braces to transform pistols into short-barreled rifles, thus circumventing previous firearm regulations put in place under the 1934 National Firearms Act (NFA) and 1968 Gun Control Act (GCA).
What’s more, the rule amends the definition of a rifle, clarifying that a firearm equipped with a component or accessory, including a stabilizing brace, that allows the gun to be fired from the shoulder, is designed and intended to be fired from the shoulder. Specifically:
This rule clarifies the definition of “rifle” by providing that the term “designed or redesigned, made or remade and intended to be fired from the shoulder” shall include a weapon that is equipped with an accessory, component, or other rearward attachment (e.g., a “stabilizing brace”) that provides surface area that allows shouldering of the weapon, provided that other factors, as listed in the rule, indicate the weapon is designed, made, and intended to be fired from the shoulder.2,3
NFA and GCA Regulations
The NFA and GCA classify a rifle as a firearm with a barrel length of equal to or greater than 16 inches that is designed to be fired from the shoulder. Moreover, firearms with a barrel under 16 inches in length that are designed to be fired from the shoulder are classified as short-barreled rifles. Under the NFA, handguns have no barrel length stipulations, and are classified as firearms with a short stock that are designed to be manipulated and fired with a single hand.2,4
Furthermore, the NFA and GCA have historically imposed greater restrictions on short-barreled rifles, given they are thought to be more easily concealable than long-barreled rifles and have greater firepower than handguns.3 Because a majority of firearms equipped with a stabilizing brace are configured as a rifle and have a barrel length of less than 16 inches, these firearms are now considered short-barreled rifles under the domain of the NFA; as such, manufacture, purchase, and use of these firearms must comply with the heighted requirements for short-barreled rifles under the NFA. Individuals who use a stabilizing brace may unintentionally make a NFA-classified firearm while failing to abide by NFA tax and registration regulations. Lastly, individuals owning such firearms will need to comply with background checks and other registration and taxation requirements to comply with NFA regulations.2
Are stabilizing braces banned?
At the time this article was published, no. The ruling does not ban the use of stabilizing braces. However, firearms with attached stabilizing braces now fall under greater scrutiny. Moreover, the braced firearm may now be classified as a short-barreled rifle and as such is subject to NFA regulations.2
Is my firearm now considered a short-barreled rifle?
If your braced AR pistol has a barrel of less than 16 inches and an overall length of less than 26 inches, your firearm is now classified as a short-barreled rifle by the NFA. As such you are subject to NFA registration and taxation requirements.5
Please review this checklist carefully when determining your rifle’s status.
Can I own an unregistered braced firearm if I am disabled?
No. All braced firearms must comply with this ruling, regardless of the operating individual’s disability status.6
When do the new guidelines go into effect?
The ruling went into effect on January 31, 2023–the date of publication in the Federal Register. Equally important, a grace period of 120 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register is provided for manufacturers, dealers, and owners to register any firearms equipped with stabilizing braces or similar attachments that now classify as short-barreled rifles under the NFA. Individuals have until May 31, 2023 to bring these firearms into compliance.2,3
Common Questions, continued
What are my options?
1: Apply to register the firearm with the ATF using E-Form 1.
2: Permanently remove, dispose of, alter, or destroy the stabilizing brace from the firearm so that it cannot be reattached.
3: Convert the short-barreled rifle into a long-barreled rifle.
4: Destroy the entire firearm.
5: Lastly, you can turn in the entire firearm, complete with the stabilizing brace, to the ATF.
For more information, please refer directly to the ATF’s “Factoring Criteria for Firearms with Attached Stabilizing Braces” ruling.2
How do I register my braced firearm?
Individuals can register their braced firearms with the ATF by using E-Form 1, also called the
“Application to Make and Register a Firearm” form.2,7
How much will it cost me to register my firearm?
For individuals that apply to register their braced firearms between January 31, 2023 and May 31, 2023, the $200 tax will be waived. If you register your firearm with the ATF after May 31, 2023, you will be subject to the $200 tax.2,6
Where can I read the ruling for myself?
The “Factoring Criteria for Firearms with Attached Stabilizing Braces” ruling is posted under the rules and regulations section of the ATF’s website. The ruling can be found at the following link: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2023-01-31/pdf/2023-01001.pdf.2
1 Pistol Stabilizing Braces Explained : (n.d.). Guns.com. Retrieved February 19, 2023, from https://www.guns.com/news/pistol-stabilizing-braces-explained
2 FACTORING CRITERIA FOR FIREARMS WITH ATTACHED “STABILIZING BRACES.” (n.d.). https://www.atf.gov/rules-and-regulations/docs/undefined/factoringcriteriaforfirearmswithattachedstabilizingbracespdf/download
3 Justice Department Announces New Rule to Address Stabilizing Braces, Accessories Used to Convert Pistols into Short-Barreled Rifles. (2023, January 13). Www.justice.gov. https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-announces-new-rule-address-stabilizing-braces-accessories-used-convert
4 Firearms Guide – Identification of Firearms – Section 5 | Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. (n.d.). Www.atf.gov. Retrieved February 19, 2023, from https://www.atf.gov/firearms/firearms-guide-identification-firearms-section-5#short-barreled-rifle
5 Short Barrel Rifle (SBR). (n.d.). National Firearms Act (NFA). Retrieved February 19, 2023, from https://nationalfirearmsact.com/nfa-regulated-items/short-barrel-rifle-sbr/
6 Billings, J. (2023, February 1). Pistol Braces & The ATF: What You Need to Know [UPDATED]. Pew Pew Tactical. https://www.pewpewtactical.com/pistol-braces-and-the-atf/
7 eForms. (n.d.). Eforms-Form1.Atf.gov. Retrieved February 19, 2023, from https://eforms-form1.atf.gov/login