Have You Been Following the BATFE's Flip Flops on Pistol Braces? Here's the Real Story - ITS Tactical
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Have You Been Following the BATFE’s Flip Flops on Pistol Braces? Here’s the Real Story

By The ITS Crew

The Internet is buzzing with the recent news that the BATFE has sent out a letter changing their standing position on the use of pistol braces. Due to this news, many in the gun industry have been posting comments similar to “Finally ok to shoulder those braces!”

So is it true? With this recent decision, has the BATFE made it legal for anyone with a pistol brace to shoulder it, just like they would a rifle? The short answer is no and today we’ll be examining why BATFE opinion letters don’t affect the law and why nothing has really changed in the legal realm of pistol ownership.

A Brief History of the BATFE’s Pen Pals

For those that are shaking their heads in confusion, you’ll need a little history behind this whole situation. We’ve recently published an article here on ITS with all the specifics of building an AR Pistol, which is the type of firearm in the middle of all this controversy. This article goes into detail on both AR Pistols and the back and forth that’s occurred in BATFE opinion letters. However, to partially sum it up, creating an AR Pistol with a barrel under 16″ in length, featuring a stabilizing brace rather than a stock, is completely legal.

These stabilizing braces were originally designed to assist shooters in firing the weapon one handed. However, many people wondered if they placed the brace on their shoulder and fired it, much like they would a rifle, if they would be violating the National Firearms Act and creating an illegal Short-barreled Rifle. One Sherrif’s Deputy wanted clarification and so he wrote a letter to the BATFE for an answer.

Their response to the Deputy was that shouldering the brace wouldn’t reclassify the pistol into an SBR. The actual wording in the letter was “…using the brace improperly does not constitute a design change. Using such an accessory improperly would not change the classification of the weapon per Federal law.”

This response sent the gun industry into a frenzy, with people creating AR Pistols rather than Short-barreled Rifles. Soon after this original response letter, the BATFE issued an open letter seemingly changing their stance on the shouldering issue. This new text was straightforward and to the point. “Because the NFA defines both rifle and shotgun to include any “weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder,” any person who redesigns a stabilizing brace for use as a shoulder stock makes a NFA firearm when attached to a pistol with a rifled barrel under 16 inches in length or a handgun with a smooth bore under 18 inches in length.”

Another Mail Call from the BATFE

In a letter dated March 21, 2017 to the outside counsel for SB Tactical, the BATFE sought to “clarify” their analysis contained in the open letter mentioned above. In this letter, which you can read here, the BATFE provides insight into what they actually consider “redesign” of a firearm to mean and that simply using a stabilizing brace to shoot the pistol from one’s shoulder wouldn’t classify the firearm as an NFA firearm.

They do mention though that any permanent changes a user makes to the brace, such as permanently affixing it or removing the stabilization straps, would be considered redesigning the firearm. So after this letter was published online, many people hit the range and rejoiced in the newfound “legality” of shouldering their braces. However, astute firearms owners may realize nothing has really changed.

Legislating by Pen

Some firearms owners seem to be confused about the legislative power wielded by the BATFE. In reality the BATFE’s power to create laws in non-existent. They are purely a law enforcement agency and can merely interpret the existing laws to determine if someone has broken them. So in the case of pistol braces, they have simply offered their opinions on pistol braces and whether or not they believe certain uses of the braces would be legal.

It’s very important to note that BATFE opinions are not laws. They could send someone a letter stating an opinion on a law and then turn around the next day and arrest that person for violating the law; even if they followed the opinion in the letter. Ultimately, it’s up to the legislative branch of government to create laws and then up to the judicial branch to interpret their merits.

So in short, nothing has really changed on a legal basis when it comes to pistol braces. Yes, the BATFE has now published that they don’t deem shouldering a pistol brace to really be in violation of the law, but that stance is only good until the next letter they publish. If you have an AR Pistol or are thinking of buying one, you’d be better served to study the laws rather than opinion letters.

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