This post is written for people who are not part of the firearms community to help them understand what we’re talking about when we discuss pistol braces, SBRs etc. We’re going to stay on-topic and not go down all of the many rabbit-holes surrounding this issue. Whether or not regulation, how much and what type is or is not Constitutional is a discussion for another time and place.
I tried to keep this as factual as possible without addressing the politics involved any more than absolutely necessary. Please respect my intentions and do the same.
So, Pistol Braces. We need to start at the beginning with “What is a ‘Pistol Brace?’” A pistol brace is a device to allow persons with only one functional hand to operate a large-format pistol like those based on the AR-15 platform for legitimate sporting and defensive purposes. All good so far.
History and Current Events
During the Great Depression criminals were employing Thompson sub-machine guns against each other, often firing indiscriminately and killing persons other than the intended targets and doing a lot of property damage. The public was alarmed by this, and politicians decided to try and do something about that. The regulation of this category of firearms was proposed. They would need to be registered with the ATF for the price of $200, a considerable sum in the midst of the Great Depression! People who already owned such weapons would be ‘grandfathered,’ in other words they would not need to pay the fee and would be allowed to register their weapons for free.
As frequently happens with lawmakers some of them jumped in and said ‘Why stop there? Let’s do this with hand-guns and sawed-off shotguns too!’ All of these weapons (machine-guns, pistols and sawed-off shotguns) were favored by criminals, after all. Then it was pointed out that if they did this then people could shorten rifles to make them concealable and circumvent the prohibition of handguns. OK, add those to the list too.
It is worth noting that shortened rifles were not yet a problem, but were included only in support of the ban on handguns. There was never much chance that the prohibition of handguns was going to fly and that was removed from the proposal, but SBRs were not removed even though they did not constitute a problem as yet.
So if a citizen desired to own an ‘NFA weapon’ like a short-barrel shotgun, machine-gun or SBR they would need to apply to the BATF, have a background check and pay $200. The $200 fee was intended to be prohibitive; it was a hell of a lot of money at the time. The wealthy would not be affected by this, of course, and many criminals were quite wealthy so it was always of questionable value.
Now we come back to Pistol Braces. Many of these designs can be used to shoulder the weapon like a rifle and use it like a rifle. People quickly realized that this exploited a loop-hole in the law, allowing them to obtain the effect of a short-barrel rifle without registering the weapon with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. While $200 is no longer prohibitively expensive this process often takes several months to a year, and hey, $200 is $200. People flocked to buy Pistol Braces, and it would not be unreasonable to assume they did so as a work-around to the NFA and had no intention of using these to fire their ‘pistols’ one-handed.
The BATF was conflicted about these and hemmed and hawed, issuing several opinions which sometimes contradicted each other. Finally last year they proposed a set of rules and allowed public comment. You can imagine how that went. They have now revealed that they will announce their changes of policy, and when and how they will be implemented, in August 2022.
The ATF released the new proposed rules last year, and it seems likely that they will adhere to that proposal. In effect it said that a brace that seemed to be made for use as a stock rather than to allow one-handed operation of the weapon, that contained features that appeared specifically included to increase the braces utility as a stock or which could not be actually used to allow one-handed operation of the weapon will be considered to be a stock rather than a pistol brace. This means that all weapons currently equipped with pistol braces that will be considered stocks under the new rules are in fact SBRs, and will need to be registered with the ATF under the terms of the NFA.
Allowing these weapons to be registered free of charge has been discussed; after all people bought them under the presumption that these were legal, and you can’t retroactively make those people into criminals. There will need to be a grace period to allow people to register these existing weapons. An expedited process to do so was also proposed and would likely be implemented.
It seems apparent that the ATF intends to close the loophole that allowed people to effectively own unregistered SBRs legally. While I personally believe that SBRs should not be controlled weapons under the NFA, because the reason they were included was removed before the bill was made law, the BATF does not have the authority or ability to remove them from the NFA. That requires that Congress act to amend the NFA and that is simply not going to happen. When there were opportunities to do so in the past it didn’t happen and there’s no good reason to believe it will in the future.
So it seems that in August I and others will need to either remove and destroy our pistol braces or register our weapons as SBRs, likely for free using an expedited process. I can’t say I am looking forward to this.
Why Would Someone Want an SBR?
This part represents my opinions on this question, and while I believe they reflect the feelings of many others you should take this with a grain of salt.
The Logical Case
A short-barrel rifle is easier to shoot accurately than a pistol. Being braced at the cheek and shoulder in addition to both hands it is inherently more stable than a pistol and recoil is managed better, allowing faster follow-up shots to be delivered accurately. This increases their effectiveness in the role of self-defense in the home, and makes using them in that role safer as fewer shots are likely to miss and potentially present a hazard to innocent persons in the vicinity.
Such weapons are generally based on platforms with a high standard magazine capacity, making it unlikely that a person will need to reload in the course of legitimate self-defense. As these instances often happen at night with a person having just woken this presents a significant advantage, as they might otherwise have difficulty reloading in a suitably prompt and effective matter.
SBRs are, by their nature, shorter and handier than full-size rifles, carbines or shotguns. This makes them easier to manage in the confined spaces of a typical home, and pistol-calibers versions are less likely to cause permanent hearing damage than rifle-caliber examples.
Lastly these weapons require less training to be employed effectively for the reasons stated above. They are also based on military systems that are designed to be simple, robust and easy to use.
These weapons are used in some forms of competition but the biggest reason to have one, which may or may not eclipse the logical reasons to possess one listed above, is that they are fun and neat-o. They are also a hobby item.
OK, having such a potentially dangerous item ‘for fun’ might be considered frivolous. But people own fast cars for fun, and these cause a not insignificant amount of damage when misused. People drink alcohol for fun, and the damage that this does to themselves, others and society as a whole can be impressive and the cumulative negative effects are incalculable. More children are accidentally killed each year, on average, by swimming pools than all categories of firearms combined. Don’t even get me started on tobacco. If potential danger and negative effects on society is to be our yardstick we have a lot of work to do.
As a hobby item these have a lot going for them. They are fun to shoot. They are neat-o. They’re like Lego or Barbie for adults; there are endless accessories and many forms. Barrel length, sights, weapon-mount lights and targeting lasers, different grips, foregrips, different slings… the list goes on and on.
Then there’s their value as a conversation piece. You can discuss them with other hobbyists, online or in person. Which one to buy and why? Buy one or assemble it yourself from components? Which specific items did you equip it with, and why those ones? Why choose this sight over that one?
Oh, and you can take classes on how to use them, which bleeds over onto the hobby reasons and competition. It also opens a new can of worms as fodder for discussion. Who were you trained by? Why did you pick them? Which classes did you take? What did you learn?
Sorry, it’s Not Simple
People’s reasons for the things they do, the things they own and their beliefs are often complex. Someone that owns a braced pistol or SBR is unlikely to be a drooling psychopath, wanna-be Rambo, impending mass-killer or all that stuff un-educated people might think from watching mainstream sources. They’re just people. People concerned about security. People with hobbies. Most importantly they are people who own firearms ‘for all legitimate purposes, including self-defense in the home…’ which the Supreme Court has ruled is their right as acknowledged by the Constitution of the United States.
I hope this has clarified the issues surrounding braced pistols and SBRs for those who are not plugged in to the various firearms communities.
Stay safe and take care.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 29 January 2022