Back in 2013, shooters were installing stabilizing braces on AR-15 pistols and other so-called “assault weapon”-based pistols. The best known of these braces was probably SIG Sauer’s “SIG Brace.” The actual originator of the concept, Alex Bosco, after collaborating with SIG Sauer to produce the SIG Brace, formed his own company, SB Tactical, which produces its own Pistol Stabilizing Brace.
The basic concept is a rubber cuff that fits around the shooter’s hand or wrist and is secured there with Velcro straps, making an AR pistol (and other pistols of similar size) more controllable with one hand.
The brace looks a bit like a shoulder stock—though not a particularly good shoulder stock—but certainly a better way to fire the gun from the shoulder than simply bumping the rear of the buffer tube up against one’s shoulder. People started doing so and AR pistols, very much a niche item until then, became far more popular, because a brace-equipped AR pistol could suddenly become a kinda-sorta Short-Barreled Rifle (SBR), without any NFA hoops to jump through.
Well, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives wasn’t about to let that kind of thing go on—not the Obama Administration’s BATFE, anyway. They didn’t quite ban the braces. That would have been awkward, since they had already told manufacturers that the braces were legal. Instead, in an open letter, they reached the tortured conclusion that one may install the brace on a pistol without making an SBR, but if you (or anyone else) actually fire it from the shoulder, you have “redesigned” the pistol into an SBR, even if you have made no physical modifications to the brace or the firearm.
Well, that was yesterday. Now SB Tactical tells us the BATFE has changed its mind (again), and that firing a brace-equipped pistol from the shoulder, lo and behold, does not redesign the pistol into an SBR.
Being the bureaucrats they are, they told SB Tactical this isn’t a reversal but a “clarification,” necessary because their earlier open letter had been “misunderstood.” Well, whatever. Probably not worth arguing about.
The bottom line is that now, pistols equipped with such braces are not only legal, but will remain legal, even if someone fires them from the shoulder. This is indisputably good news.
The bad news is that the real problem has not gone away: BATFE can, perhaps under a new, gun-hating Administration, or perhaps simply because of a grumpy BATFE director’s whim on a bad day, ”re-reverse” the ruling back.
Actually, BATFE could go further and, despite the obvious and ugly illogic of it, ban the braces outright. The directorship of the BATFE is an unelected position, leaving the director free from concerns about angering the electorate.
These whiplash 180-degree changes of position (whether BATFE acknowledges that’s what they are or not) don’t require any new laws passed by Congress or new findings by the Supreme Court.
BATFE certainly doesn’t feel the need to wait for a Constitutional amendment before they toss another infringement on that which shall not be infringed. All they have to do is make a “finding” that the law actually means something other than what it had previously been thought to mean.
Some gun rights advocates argue that the solution is to disband the BATFE. While that certainly has a strong visceral appeal, it would do nothing to address the heart of the problem, and indeed would simply move regulation of firearms to a bigger, more lavishly funded division of the federal government—presumably either the FBI or Homeland Security. That’s obviously no solution.
No, the only solution is to stop hoping to be able to count on any of the branches of government to do the right thing, because none of the three can realistically be counted on. The executive branch will, as we have been discussing, suddenly come up with new rules based on a new “understanding” of the laws. Congress will pass new laws, enforcing new restrictions. And the courts will back them up, saying the infringements aren’t really infringements, after all.
While BATFE wrangles back and forth with questions of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin—what is a pistol, what is a short-barreled rifle, what is “automatic,” and what is “semi-automatic”—the answer should be “Who cares?” That all becomes irrelevant as soon as we acknowledge that no restrictions on short-barreled rifles (or shotguns), or fully automatic firearms, or firearm suppressors, or “armor-piercing” ammunition, etc, are remotely legitimate.
It’s up to us, We the People, to enforce the Constitutional law of the land on the government. Until we do, we’re just a bureaucrat’s bad day away from becoming felons for activity that was perfectly legal the day before.
A former paratrooper, Kurt Hofmann was paralyzed in a car accident in 2002. The helplessness inherent to confinement to a wheelchair prompted him to explore armed self-defense, only to discover that Illinois denied that right. This inspired him to become active in gun rights advocacy.