Breaking: ATF kills the Sig SB15 brace

This open letter was just posted by the ATF regarding the Sig SB-15 brace. You can read the PDF here, but because I’m a bro I have copied the entire thing for our readers. Full text follows:


The Firearms and Ammunition Technology Division (FATD), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has received inquiries from the public concerning the proper use of devices recently marketed as “stabilizing braces.” These devices are described as “a shooter’s aid that is designed to improve the single-handed shooting performance of buffer tube equipped pistols.” The device claims to enhance accuracy and reduce felt recoil when using an AR-style pistol.

These items are intended to improve accuracy by using the operator’s forearm to provide stable support for the AR-type pistol. ATF has previously determined that attaching the brace to a firearm does not alter the classification of the firearm or subject the firearm to National Firearms Act (NFA) control. However, this classification is based upon the use of the device as designed. When the device is redesigned for use as a shoulder stock on a handgun with a rifled barrel under 16 inches in length, the firearm is properly classified as a firearm under the NFA.

The NFA, 26 USCS § 5845, defines “firearm,” in relevant part, as “a shotgun having a barrel or barrels of less than 18 inches in length” and “a rifle having a barrel or barrels of less than 16 inches in length.” That section defines both “rifle” and “shotgun” as “a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder….” (Emphasis added). Pursuant to the plain language of the statute, ATF and its predecessor agency have long held that a pistol with a barrel less than 16 inches in length and an attached shoulder stock is a NFA “firearm.” For example, in Revenue Ruling 61-45, Luger and Mauser pistols “having a barrel of less than 16 inches in length with an attachable shoulder stock affixed” were each classified as a “short barrel rifle…within the purview of the National Firearms Act.”

In classifying the originally submitted design, ATF considered the objective design of the item as well as the stated purpose of the item. In submitting this device for classification, the designer noted that: “The intent of the buffer tube forearm brace is to facilitate one handed firing of the AR15 pistol for those with limited strength or mobility due to a handicap. It also performs the function of sufficiently padding the buffer tube in order to reduce bruising to the forearm while firing with one hand. Sliding and securing the brace onto ones forearm and latching the Velcro straps, distributes the weight of the weapon evenly and assures a snug fit. Therefore, it is no longer necessary to dangerously “muscle” this large pistol during the one handed aiming process, and recoil is dispersed significantly, resulting in more accurate shooting without compromising safety or comfort.”

In the classification letter of November 26, 2012, ATF noted that a “shooter would insert his or her forearm into the device while gripping the pistol’s handgrip-then tighten the Velcro straps for additional support and retention. Thus configured, the device provides the shooter with additional support of a firearm while it is still held and operated with one hand.” When strapped to the wrist and used as designed, it is clear the device does not allow the firearm to be fired from the shoulder. Therefore, ATF concluded that, pursuant to the information provided, “the device is not designed or intended to fire a weapon from the shoulder.” In making the classification ATF determined that the objective design characteristics of the stabilizing brace supported the stated intent.

ATF hereby confirms that if used as designed—to assist shooters in stabilizing a handgun while shooting with a single hand—the device is not considered a shoulder stock and therefore may be attached to a handgun without making a NFA firearm. However, ATF has received numerous inquiries regarding alternate uses for this device, including use as a shoulder stock. 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.

The GCA does not define the term “redesign” and therefore ATF applies the common meaning. “Redesign” is defined as “to alter the appearance or function of.” See e.g. Webster’s II New College Dictionary, Third Ed. (2005). This is not a novel interpretation. For example ATF has previously advised that an individual possesses a destructive device when possessing antipersonnel ammunition with an otherwise unregulated 37/38mm flare launcher. See ATF Ruling 95-3. Further, ATF has advised that even use of an unregulated flare and flare launcher as a weapon results in the making of a NFA weapon. Similarly, ATF has advised that, although otherwise unregulated, the use of certain nail guns as weapons may result in classification as an “any other weapon.”

The pistol stabilizing brace was neither “designed” nor approved to be used as a shoulder stock, and therefore use as a shoulder stock constitutes a “redesign” of the device because a possessor has changed the very function of the item. Any individual letters stating otherwise are contrary to the plain language of the NFA, misapply Federal law, and are hereby revoked. Any person who intends to use a handgun stabilizing brace as a shoulder stock on a pistol (having a rifled barrel under 16 inches in length or a smooth bore firearm with a barrel under 18 inches in length) must first file an ATF Form 1 and pay the applicable tax because the resulting firearm will be subject to all provisions of the NFA.

If you have any questions about the issues addressed in this letter, you may contact the Firearms and Ammunition Technology Division at [email protected] or by phone at (304) 616-4300.

Max M. Kingery
Acting Chief
Firearms Technology Criminal Branch
Firearms and Ammunition Technology Division

So, that’s the letter. Now I’m going to editorialize here for a minute, because I have some thoughts. I want to be mad at the ATF for this, but I can’t. This was the inevitable result of all of those sh*tsippers who wrote idiotic “Mother May I Letters” to the ATF about your “pistol” builds that were very clearly an attempt to end-run the NFA. You idiots couldn’t leave well enough alone and had to keep poking the bear in his f*cking cave, and now you get to reap what you’ve sown. Thanks, morons. This is why we can’t have nice things. You couldn’t have just said “oh hey that’s cool” bought your AR pistols and happily shouldered the braces without saying anything, no you had to push the envelope. What did you think was going to happen?

The worst thing is that a small community of toolbags has ruined a good thing for the rest of us. The vast majority of people who bought AR pistols with a Sig brace, myself included, were perfectly happy to take the original letter at face value and just go about our business shooting stuff with our guns. But no. That wasn’t good enough. You idiots had to put them on shotguns. You had to keep writing letters. Needle needle needle, push push push. Well thanks, because of your hard work and diligence spitting in the eye of the ATF, you’ve ruined things for a large community of gun owners.

This is why we can’t have nice things.


    1. Amen! Now cue the butthurt from the “no compromises” crowd who will happily claim a win because “someone” (not them of course, they aren’t gonna risk prison) can now “sue to eliminate the NFA” or some other inanity due to ATF taking a perfectly foreseeable action in response to their idiocy.

  1. Am I misreading it? Because I thought this just reaffirms the original ATF opinion. This doesn’t change anything.

    1. The original ATF opinion on the letter that came with the braces was “using it wrong doesn’t make it an SBR.”

      Now they’re saying “Using it wrong totally makes it an SBR.”

      1. What I don’t get is how using a piece of plastic in a way it wasn’t intended is ‘redesigning’. Am I ‘redesigning’ my pistol by using it with two hands instead of one? Am I ‘redesigning’ a qtip by sticking it my ear? (A use they warn to not do on the package) It’s utter bullshit. Even the example they give with the flare launcher is BS. You’re not redesigning the flare launcher by loading an explosive round into it. You’re just misusing it criminally. There’s no criminal misuse when you take a pistol and put it against some other part of your body.

        1. the trick here is that the dictionary definition includes the word function not just appearance. while it’s bullshit it is thick enough to require a full blown court battle to dispel

          1. I can use my flashlight as a hammer, but that doesn’t turn my flashlight into a hammer.

      1. What did you think would happen if you used it as a shoulder brace and there was an ATF agent there? I don’t disagree that people need to learn to keep their pie holes shut, but you’d still have been charged if you done such a thing. The price of the SB15 made it obvious enough that the biggest bear poker was SIG. And yes, most people break the law every day and don’t get caught. I’m looking at you ‘fast car’ Caleb. 🙂

  2. Ok, so the Sig Brace is still alive and well, and it’s still protected by its intended use, by its design. They just had to clarify to the idiot hoards that if you use it like an SBR, then it’s an SBR. Sucks they had to make that so very clear, but it’s not a surprise by any means– and it’s a far cry from killing the brace.

    Standard rules of fun still apply: don’t get caught having fun.

  3. “was the inevitable result of all of those sh*tsippers who wrote idiotic “Mother May I Letters” to the ATF about your “pistol” builds that were very clearly an attempt to end-run the NFA. You idiots couldn’t leave well enough alone and had to keep poking the bear in his f*cking cave, and now you get to reap what you’ve sown. Thanks, morons. ”

    This. Entirely.

    So many jackasses that couldn’t just leave well enough alone. No, you just HAD to fuck with shit. Although I can not say I’m surprised. I never bought a single brace because to me they just aren’t a replacement for an SBR, but now that’s officially the case.

    So… What would you idiots like to fuck up next? Maybe we can revisit bump-fire stocks and active-reset triggers? Maybe silencers by way of oil filters? Oh, how about some 922r nonsense (I know some jackasses on arfcom are doing that right now)!

    How is it the one thing that motivates morons to get involved are the things that are counter-productive to do so with?

  4. As the two letters state, in “evidentiary” fashion, the ATF swings from one state of mind to another. It seems obvious to this third-party observer that the ATF – or at least those who make its’ decisions – is mentally disturbed, unstable, and not to be trusted with any decision affecting either him, her, or them selves, nor anyone else.

    As has been said by the Big Court before, “When two people of average intelligence can read a law and disagree as to its meaning the law is said to be “Void for Vagueness”.”

    This is a maxim of law as old as the law itself. It is just plain common sense that if a law cannot be clearly understood by the people to whom it is to apply, such a law is both unfair and dangerous!

    void for vagueness
    adj. referring to a statute defining a crime which is so vague that a reasonable person of at least average intelligence could not determine what elements constitute the crime. Such a vague statute is unconstitutional on the basis that a defendant could not defend against a charge of a crime which he/she could not understand, and thus would be denied “due process” mandated by the 5th Amendment, applied to the states by the 14th Amendment.

  5. Caleb, I’m not 100% sure I’m 100% with you on this. I too despise the “mother may I” clowns that suck up to the ATF to get a letter on their lame projects, but the bottom line is that the NFA rules fundamentally make no sense. If the industry would get off its butt and get behind change…nothing will happen…but maybe, maybe after 2016 if the Republicans actually cough up a real President, there might be hope.

    Michael B

    1. Here’s the thing – I absolutely agree 100% that the NFA rules are a total goat rope. They’re an absolute clusterf*ck, and I actually believe and advocate for abolishing the NFA entirely. My big problem with this is that I don’t see this getting us closer, and in fact all this has done is make the NFA even more confusing and murky than it already was.

      1. More people running up against the evil NFA is a good thing. It means more people are becoming aware of it and its idiotic nature. The average American knows NOTHING about the NFA. Chalk this episode up as education and recruiting, which are the prerequisites to eventual repeal.

        Don’t blame fellow gun owners who were nervous, didn’t want to be found in violation of a stupid law, and wanted clarity and specificity. One of the standard tricks of evil is to get the good people fighting amongst themselves. Don’t fall for it! The only proper blame here is to be directed at the NFA and it’s FDR era throwback proponents.

        You want people to be “smart” so we can all live comfortably with the NFA? I don’t. I want people to run right up against it, see just how nasty, evil and anti American it is, and demand its complete and permanent elimination. I also want all peace loving gun owners on the same side.

  6. Really? So, we’ve moved on from actual physical construction and constructive “intent” to you’re “holding it illegally”. How exactly do they intend to enforce this? If I have an AR pistol with a Phase 5 pistol length receiver extension and I put it against my shoulder, I’m using it illegally or do I have to have the SB15 on it to go to jail?

    Since NFA ’34 is still a thing thanks to our cephalopod political parties, is it too much to ask that we have rules on stuff that lasts longer than the expiration date on cereal? Every time you turn around there’s another ruling from some jackass “expert” at ATF on a piece of metal and/or plastic that directly contradicts what another jackass there expounded upon a few months ago. It’s a damn piece of molded rubber and a nylon strap. We’re not interpreting the Necronomicon here.

    1. “there’s another ruling from some jackass “expert” at ATF on a piece of metal and/or plastic that directly contradicts what another jackass there expounded upon a few months ago. ”

      It’s worse than that. It’s the same jackass contradicting himself. Max Kingerly is the one who months ago, said that shouldering is AOK because it isn’t intended use.

  7. See, I do not see this as poking the bear for the sake of poking the bear. I see this as poking the bear to show that what the bear is saying is stupid, and to give grounds to sue in court. This letter basically boils down to “we consider how you hold the firearm to be a part of ‘manufacturing’ and therefor subject to our scrutiny.” On these grounds they could theoretically outlaw the weaver stance. It is mindbogglingly stupid and needs to be brought to the attention of the courts, and the public at large. If we play our cards right this could be the end to the NFA for SBRs, SBSs and suppressors. These devices are popular, a ruling like this will affect a lot of people who already have them. Yes, it may not be the way you would have gone about dismantling the NFA, but it does have potential to work.

    1. I don’t think you understand the concept of a “bear” symbolism. It’s a bear. It’s not your peer. You can’t really fight the bear, that’s why it’s the bear. You pretty much have to do what the bear says.

      1. The ATF is not the Bear but even if they were, there are creatures such as wolverines that have successfully taken on Bears and I agree with: lucusloc – this could expose an interesting light not looked at before. Stranger things have happened, keep the fingers crossed.

      2. Yes, this is a David vs. Goliath scenario, but in this case Goliath is being primed for a huge fall. The ATF is no on record as saying that how you hold the firearm is part of the manufacturing of that weapon. If we force them to adhere to this interpretation they will eventually be forced to say that every pistol user who uses the weaver stance is guilty of making an AOW, since they are using two hand on a one handed weapon. As long as we keep the pressure on, as long as we recruit more people to those shooting sports, and as long as we continue to push for a defense of theses decision in court and in front of legislators, what we are simply helping them dig their own grave, one letter at a time. They are stuck enforcing inane, sometimes mutually exclusive rules, and the more we force them to define the line the more obviously stupid it will become. The only way we lose is if we let off the pressure, and accept he fuzzy lines without challenge.

        The ATF is already all in. It is their jobs and legal domain that are challenged, and they will use every slimy trick in the book to keep this out of court and out of the public consciousness (unless, of course, we make a stupid move and give them an easy court battle, then they will take it to court in a heartbeat). It is our job to keep the pressure on, and to force them to fully define the stupidity of the law. And yes, this means we may have to deal with some rally stupid rulings until things get sorted out or repealed. As is often the case with situations like this, things have to get worse before they get better. We just need to follow through so they do not stay worse. . .

  8. This whole fiasco is why agencies like the ATF take the most restrictive interpretation to any new firearm device-because sooner or later some goober is going to force them to anyways.

  9. So the next question is, say I take off the Sig Brace and just have the buffer tube (buffers, yeah Senator we had a lot of buffers), if I shoulder the buffer tube is that now redesigning a buffer tube?

  10. Agree. My guess is that most of these letters were from people who really don’t shoot much. They are the ones that just want something to brag about. A real loss to firearm owners at large.

  11. Caleb, I totally agree with your comments.

    I would add that the bureau reflects badly upon itself. Reversing rulings is not a sign of professionalism or acting responsibly. Whoever is running this show has beclowned himself. Own your decisions.

  12. No dog in the race. I don’t own an AR pistol or an arm brace.

    What’s odd is this part here: “The pistol stabilizing brace was neither “designed” nor approved to be used as a shoulder stock, and therefore use as a shoulder stock constitutes a “redesign” of the device because a possessor has changed the very function of the item”

    Combined with the ATF definition of a pistol as “The term “Pistol” means a weapon originally designed, made, and intended to fire a projectile (bullet) from one or more barrels when held in one hand…” I am led to believe that firing my pistol with weak hand support (using TWO hands, like a normal person) redesigns the pistol, according to the ATF’s new definition of redesign, into an AOW, just as if I had put a vertical grip on it. Any incorrect use is now a redesign, apparently.

    I’m pretty sure that’s not what they meant to do, but if we’re going by letter of the law, rather than spirit…

  13. It is my understanding that SIG’s letter has limited applicability, and users are encouraged to get their own “Mother May I?” letters.

    I’m not questioning the shotgun letter, or the ‘pushing it further’ letters, but until recently, it’s been advised to get your own ATF approval. Are you stating that that was bad advice?

  14. This has less to do with a small community of toolbags asking for letters about an ambiguous use under a law that could make them into instant felons, and a whole lot to do with one big toolbag (the ATF) having a case of rectocranial inversion over the enforcement of an inane law.

  15. The BATF continues to misuse and redefine terms to attain the results it wants. First, it claims that “redesign” means “to alter the appearance or function of.” Then it decides that “using” the SB15 in a different manner is a “redesign.” However, when someone shoulders the SB15, they are not altering the appearance or function of the SB15. It remains as it was before they shouldered it. “Redesign” is a verb used to define the action taken to the “thing” being redesigned. For example, if you filled-in the gap of the SB15 where you insert your forearm, you would have changed, or redesigned, the “thing.” If you jump out of an airplane with the SB15 planning on using it as a parachute, you have not redesigned it. But because someone could do so, should the FAA get involved as well?

    This is as ridiculous as when the ATF defined the different-colored polymer in the fire-control area of the 80% EAS lower receiver as creating a “cavity.” Only the government could define a sold block of material as a “cavity.”

  16. I was surprised the ATF allowed the arm brace in the first place and agree with Caleb that sometimes we should ‘let sleeping dogs lie” or be cool about it or whatever. When I first saw the arm brace the first thing that popped into my mind was “hmm that could be a shoulder stock”. I think what the ATF is saying in regard to “redesign” is that …. if shooters use the arm brace as a shoulder stock then the ATF can rule that the arm brace is designed to be a shoulder stock, which they can probably justify if shooters are indeed using it as a shoulder stock. I realize it’s clearer if everything can be either black or white ….. but it seems the ATF has given us something grey. If we push them to be clearer we might indeed lose the arm brace.

    1. Losing the armbrace is better than putting up with ambiguous bullshit that makes people afraid to use a legal pistol how they want to use it under fear of the boogyman. We should force the ATF to own its stupid decisions and the consequences thereof.

  17. This sucks, but is in no way surprising. It was only a matter of time before this got the axe from the ATF. It was clearly just a loophole, and when a loophole gets widely publicized it gets closed.

  18. Whatever happened to doing your thing and just keeping your mouth shut about it?

  19. Here’s a little food for thought on this can of worms that just got opened. If you how you hold it matters, then what happens when you hold a pistol with both hands??? This is going to become a giant clusterf*ck before its all said and done.

  20. When FBI, USSS and FLETC begins training all Federal law enforcement agencies to shoot their duty pistols exclusively one-handed and mandating same in the field, then I might become concerned with that particular angle – however, for now virtually everyone in the LE/shooting/instruction/competition world recognizes that shooting pistols with a two-handed grip is a nearly-universal “Best Practice” that is easily articulable and defensible in court…

  21. With all the hue and cry about the recent ATF reversal regarding the SIG SB15 brace, everyone seems to think that this will all be quietly decided in court, with an abundance of briefcases and a dearth of casualties. My take is somewhat different, and revolves around the upcoming tragedy that this so-called reinterpretation will almost certainly engender.

    Imagine if you will someone we’ll call Joe Citizen. He probably a college grad, with a home, family and profession. He votes, goes to church, volunteers for jury duty and flies the flag 365 days a year. He also only owns one gun, an AR pistol. Sometime in the past year, Joe has purchased an SB15 and installed it on said pistol, and as far as he is concerned all is well. He has no idea that as of last Friday, his brace is now illegal to shoulder; he hasn’t been surfing the net on a daily basis for any policy revisions or the like, and why should he? After all, the letter that came with the SB15 gives it the ATF stamp of approval, and if they say it’s so, it’s so. Now imagine that tomorrow he takes his AR to a public range and someone contacts the ATF after seeing him innocently touch the brace to his upper body. Mr. Citizen is now an instant and utterly unsuspecting felon and will most certainly have the full might of the US government brought down on his befuddled head. If there is one thing that those in power love almost as much as those in the media, it’s setting an example, and at the far end of everything that happens next, regardless of whether or not he is cleared and whether or not the law is reinterpreted yet again, he will either be ruined in every way or dead. As an added bonus, if he is a military vet, he will most likely be the recipient of combat wounds, valorous decorations or both, and the spectacle of seeing him buried with full military honors after dying in such a pointless manner will be played over and over and over again on every channel and internet forum until long after the cows have come home. When-not if-all this happens, the fallout will make Ruby Ridge look like a picnic. Remember, you heard it here first.

Comments are closed.