On Wednesday, the ATF backed off on its recent push to roll back legal protections for armbraces designed for some firearms classified by federal regulators as handguns.
The ATF rescinded a 15-page document titled ‘Objective Factors for Classifying Weapons with ‘Stabilizing Braces’’ just five days after publications following widespread outcry from the firearm industry and shooting enthusiasts for the inconsistent classification standards.
Currently, rifles and shotguns with barrels under 16 inches and 18 inches respective are considered Short Barrel Rifles/Shotguns (SBR) and must be registered under the NFA.
Under ATF guidelines, a pistol is any firearm which is under 26 inches in total length, has a barrel shorter than 16 inches, and is not designed to be shouldered. Mounting a stabilizing brace, designed to be attached to the shooter’s forearm, was enough to legally meet that non-shouldering requirement.
Firearm manufactures were given a green light by the ATF in 2012 to produce and sell stabilizing braces for certain heavy handguns, like the Honey badger, without requiring consumers to register their firearm as an SBR under the National Firearms Act and pay the $200 tax stamp. The only catch: shooters could not shoulder the brace-attached pistol.
In 2015, the ATF stated in an open letter to Sig Saur and SB Tactical, the original maker of the pistol arm brace, that braced handguns could be regulated under the NFA if and only if they were shoulder fired.
Everything changed in 2017 when the ATF reversed their 2015 decision in a letter to SB Tactical, stating that simply firing a braced pistol from the shoulder does not “make” it into an SBR as it was not the intended use of the accessory.
However, seemingly out of nowhere the ATF decided to go back on their word and targeted one of the country’s most popular AR pistol manufacturer, Q. The ATF “informed firearm manufacturer Q, LLC that, in ATF’s view, Q’s “Honey Badger” pistol with stabilizing brace is actually a short-barreled rifle and therefore subject to the National Firearms Act,” the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action reported back in October.
The ATF arbitrarily targeted Q in an apparent test of strength and, in their mind, to hopefully drum up some favorable precedent to restricting pistol braced firearms. According to a letter sent by the ATF to Q, “the objective design features of the Honey Badger firearm, configured with the subject stabilizing brace, indicate the firearm is designed and intended to be fired from the shoulder. Since this firearm also contains a rifled barrel, it meets the definition of a ‘rifle.’ Further, since it has a barrel of less than 16 inches in length, this firearm also meets the definition of a ‘short-barreled rifle’ under the GCA and NFA.”
The Honey Badger’s arm brace is functionally and aesthetically identical to those offered by Sig and SB Tactical, which were green lit by the ATF less than four years ago, leaving many gun rights advocates wondering what makes Q’s design any more ‘objectively designed’ to be shouldered than competitors.
“The overall design of the SBT Honey Badger brace — commonly referred to as an ‘adjustable bifurcated flap with a strap’ — was blessed by the ATF in 2017 when it was introduced on the SIG Sauer MPX, the Free Range American, a popular firearms blow, reported back in October. It’s worth noting each proprietary model is subject to its own individual review by the ATF’s technology unit.
They added, the ATF “also cites the length of pull for the firearm’s adjustable brace” as one of the reasons why the Honey Badger is suddenly a SBR. The length of pull measures the distance between the butt plate and trigger. However, the Honey Badger’s length of pull is comfortably within ATF guidelines.
Per ATF guidelines, AR pistols equipped with braces may not have a length of pull longer than 13.5 inches — in other words, at full extension, the distance between the trigger and the rear edge of the brace cannot exceed 13.5 inches. The evaluation asserts that the Honey Badger’s length of pull exceeds 13.5 inches, but this has left many scratching their heads. Brittingham contends the ATF must have used a nonstandard method to obtain the measurement as, typically, the pistol at full extension measures 13.35 inches, well under the outer limit of 13.5.Free Range American
Q’s CEO, in an interview with Colin Noir, estimated there to be around 4 million pistol braces in circulation. The ATF’s ruling, if escalated like many fear, would turn every lawful owner into a felon seemingly overnight.
Last Friday’s ‘objective’ list of included many subjective tests used to determine whether an arm brace qualified as a stock and whether the firearm’s intended use is shouldering. Factors included weight, caliber, and model. They also consider the type of accessories that can be added. When determining whether a firearm is designed to be shoulder fired, the factors highlighted by the ATF are all subjective to the size, strength, and experience of the shooter. These are not codified standards, nor is there any way to forge a reasonable and known standard.
But the ATF now claims “the objective design features of the attached stabilizing brace itself are relevant to the classification of the assembled weapon.” Regulators will even look at the plastics and metals used in manufacturing when deciding the brace’s intended use. A ruling like this gives the federal agency virtually uncheck power to classify weapons without any measurable or observable differentiations. Firearm manufactures cannot comply with requirements dependent on the evaluator’s mood.
“Rather than create a clear set of rules that law-abiding gun owners and manufactures can follow,” the NRA-ILA wrote, the “ATF seems to be taking a ‘I’ll know it when I see it’ approach to classifying firearms.”
“This arbitrary approach is clearly inconsistent with the right to keep and bear arms and due process of law,” they added.
Luckily, the ruling was rescinded by the ATF less than a week later, signaling the agency’s decision to back down from trying to arbitrarily regulate arm braces out of the marketplace.