This one isn’t exactly breaking news anymore, but it deserves a mention. Last night, SB Tactical – the folks known for their line of stock-like arm braces for AR, AK, and HK pistols among others – posted excerpts from a letter received by their legal counsel from the ATF. The note was in response to an inquiry from the counsel regarding the shouldering of braces and whether or not such an action constituted a redesign of the accessory, coincidentally reclassifying the entire firearm as a short-barreled rifle or shotgun. In short, the ATF reversed their previous decision that this would be considered a redesign and affirmed the legality of shouldering braces, even if it is not their intended use. The apparent change in stance is loaded with caveats, though.
First, this letter technically only applies to SB Tactical’s products. I say “technically” because it’s reasonable to assume that other similar braces would also receive the same consideration. However, because the initial question posed by the SB legal team related specifically to braces like theirs, other designs may not be viewed the same way. This is particularly relevant to products like KAK’s Shockwave Blade. The Blade is conceptually similar to the SB Tactical braces, but it executes the concept in a different manner. The ATF might hold the same opinion for the Blade, but it isn’t guaranteed. The Blade is far more like a stock than SB’s products. EDIT: Shockwave has stated that the ATF has also included their Blade as acceptable to shoulder.
So what is the ATF’s official opinion? In short, braces are okay to shoulder so long as they aren’t modified to be more stable or more stock-like. The ATF claims that this has been their position all along, but the 2015 letter that effectively condemned pistol braces did not make that clear at all. Apparently, that letter was in response to a shooter who had rolled a towel and placed it inside the brace to make it more stable when shouldered. That’s still a no-go with the ATF, but the agency never mentioned it in the 2015 open letter. It’s difficult to give them the benefit of the doubt here when these facts could easily have been noted in the previous letter.
Most importantly, the ATF has publicly confirmed that improper use of a product cannot represent a redesign. This is significant due to the probability of other areas where this sort of reasoning can be applied. Beyond the brace-specific issue at hand, it sets a good precedent for future ATF decisions on similar matters.
All-in-all, this recent letter to SB Tactical is good news. It clarifies a very contentious issue and does so in a way that is favorable to firearm owners. That said, it is a nuanced announcement that is narrowly focused on a specific line of products with particular design elements.