In October of 2020, the ATF sent a cease and desist letter to Q LLC, manufacturer of the Honey Badger AR-style pistol. The previously approved design, the agency argued, was actually a short-barreled rifle (SBR), which requires registration with the ATF and payment of a special tax under the National Firearms Act (NFA). The public outcry was fierce. The president was petitioned. The Trump administration reversed the decision, and gun owners and Trump fans celebrated their win. In December 2020, the ATF revoked yet another prior approval – this time without warning – and raided a manufacturer of 80% pistol frames. Yet again, the people petitioned the president to intervene.
Flash forward to the Biden administration, and the saga continues. In late May, the ATF released new rules effectively redefining the firearm in a way that renders 80% frames and receivers pointless. Now – before the public comment period is up for the last proposed rule change – the agency has dropped yet another bomb on armed Americans: new rules targeting pistol braces.
So who do the people petition now? Joe Biden?
Muddying the Waters … Creating Criminals?
The newest rule, published on the agency’s website for a 90-day comment period, would make many pistols equipped with stabilizing braces subject to the NFA taxation and ATF registration. Once enacted, this new regulation will use a kind of point system to determine if weapons featuring braces are pistols or NFA-regulated SBRs. First, the whole item must weigh at least four pounds and be between 12 and 26 inches long. Any weapon that meets those two requirements move on to round two: the examination of the brace. The core issue, of course, is whether a pistol equipped with a brace could easily be shouldered so that the gun can be fired as a rifle. That said, the agency also includes arbitrary qualifications like whether or not it looks like a known stock design or how it attaches to the weapon.
Even in the case of whether the furniture makes it easier to shoulder the weapon, the ATF prefers vague descriptions that can be molded and reformed to apply to pretty much any brace. The rear surface area, for example, isn’t measured against a set dimension, but categorized in one of four ways:
- Device incorporates features to prevent use as a shouldering device.
- Minimized Rear Surface lacking features to discourage shouldering.
- Rear Surface useful for shouldering the firearm.
- Material added to increase Rear Surface for shouldering.
Now, is that helpful in deciding whether your pistol brace keeps you in the clear or renders you a felon for not registering your gun?
Defining Our Terms
Let’s clarify things a little for the uninitiated – both the rabidly anti-gun and those who respect liberty but just aren’t firearm folk. Under the law, a pistol has a barrel shorter than 16 inches and a total length of less than 26 inches. Over the 16-inch mark on the barrel, and it’s a rifle. If you add hardware – often called furniture – to allow you to shoot your pistol as if it were a rifle, like a buttstock or vertical foregrip, you’ve converted your pistol into a rifle. And, since the barrel is shorter than the 16 inches required to be a regular rifle, it’s called a short-barreled rifle, and now you have to pay a fee and register with the ATF for the privilege – not right; you don’t need permission to exercise rights – of owning it.
Since it is legal to buy or build a gun that is very rifle-like in both appearance and function but has a barrel shorter than 16 inches and call it a pistol, braces were invented to make shooting them easier. Initially, these were designed to help disabled veterans fire their weapons – and the ATF claims this rule change won’t affect any products objectively designed and intended for use by individuals with disabilities. A brace is attached to the back of the firearm, much as a stock would be, and is used to brace the weapon against the forearm for stability while shooting. Alternatively, in some cases, a shooter can shoulder it as if it were a stock, but that is considered an improper use of the accessory and is precisely what the ATF uses to justify its increased regulation.
Facts and Fearmongering: The Knowledge Impaired Are Easier to Scare
Note that there is absolutely no mechanical difference between the legal terms “pistol” and “SBR,” and guns classified as the latter are not inherently more dangerous. Typically speaking, the longer a firearm’s barrel, the more accurate it will be out to longer ranges. Thus, variances in barrel length translate to differences in accuracy and things like velocity and the force transferred to the target.
Adding braces, however – or vertical grips and adjustable stocks with risers (the cheek thing that goes up), for that matter – doesn’t change the accuracy or ballistics of the weapon itself. These items affect the connection between the gun and the gunman. More points of contact on the weapon usually translates to less movement at the time of firing, which tends to make hitting the desired target more likely – but the gun itself is not magically transformed. Those who have honed their marksmanship will still shoot better than those who have not.
Gun control advocates often claim that certain aesthetic features make a weapon more deadly. The truth is you can strip a rifle or pistol down to the frame and deck it out with all new ergonomic and “tactical-looking” furniture, and it will still fire rounds at the exact same rate and that hot piece of metal will leave the barrel with the exact same terminal velocity and deliver the same impact force at the same range. The idea that any attachment – outside of items like bayonets or grenade launchers – makes a firearm more deadly is a misleading half-truth meant to scare those who don’t know any better, but stand out in the street, yelling and holding signs – or worse, vote – despite their ignorance.
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