Stabilizing Braces

Stabilizing braces are devices that allow a shooter to convert an assault pistol (for example, AK and AR assault pistols) to a short-barreled assault rifle without complying with the strict standards of the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA). Under the NFA, rifles with barrels less than 16 inches must be registered as well as meet additional criteria. For years the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) sanctioned the use of assault pistol braces–despite the legal and public safety implications. Since 2012, ATF issued a series of rulings and opinions on braces.

In 2017, ATF wrote a letter clarifying that attaching a brace to a pistol did not convert the gun into a short-barreled rifle. The letter reviewed the history of the agency’s opinions on braces. Read the March 21, 2017 letter here.

The 2017 letter referenced a 2015 ATF Open Letter. Read the “Open Letter on the Redesign of ‘Stabilizing Braces’” here.

In response to ATF’s actions sanctioning the use of braces, the gun industry began aggressively marketing assault pistols equipped with braces as well as selling braces as separate components. The industry openly bragged about how the braces were a way of evading the NFA’s registration requirements.

Sig Sauer later touted ATF’s ruling allowing the use of braces. Read the Sig Sauer statement here.

In January 2023 however, the Department of Justice issued a final rule to make clear that when manufacturers, dealers, and individuals use stabilizing braces to convert pistols into rifles with a barrel length of less than 16 inches, commonly referred to as a short-barreled rifles, they must comply with all laws regulating those rifles, including the National Firearms Act (NFA).

In June 2023, the U.S. Senate rejected a resolution to block the new stabilizing brace rule. The House had passed the resolution.

Congressional Research Service (CRS) explainer on stabilizing braces

Assault pistols equipped with braces used in mass shootings

Ruger AR-556 assault pistol used to kill 10 in a Boulder, Colorado supermarket in 2021
Anderson AM-15 assault pistol used to kill nine and wound 27 in Dayton, Ohio in 2019