AR-15 Pistol Brace Update [Free Online Brace Calculator]

by Ryan Cleckner

January 20, 2023

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With all the news about the ATF and AR pistol braces lately, we understand that you may have many question about what is going on and what to do about it.

The questions we’ve been seeing about this are:

  • What is the ATF doing about pistol braces (and when)?
  • How do I know if my AR pistol brace will be legal?
  • What are AR pistol braces and why are they popular?
  • What are my options after the new rule to have a pistol brace or SBR?

This article aims to answer all of those questions and more!

If you’re looking for the latest updates on the ATF and their Pistol Brace rules, we’ve got you covered. We’re keeping this article up to date with the latest ATF updates.

We’re also including a really cool calculator that will help you determine whether your pistol brace passes ATF’s new scorecard test.

If you’re wondering what a pistol brace is and why they’re so popular, you’re in luck – we’re going to cover everything you need to know about pistol braces (sometimes called “pistol stabilizing braces”) further down in this article.

And, if you’re wondering what to do after ATF’s new rule takes effect, we’ve included a section called What to Do After ATF’s Pistol Brace Rule

ATF’s Pistol Brace Update

UPDATED JAN 14, 2023: ATF has now published their final rule on pistol braces although it’s not official and the 120 day clock doesn’t start ticking until it appears in the federal register.

ATF pistol brace final rule
ATF Pistol Brace Final Rule

ATF’s latest attempt to ban pistol braces includes a scorecard system wherein pistol braces/pistol braved firearms are scored to determine whether they are a pistol with a brace or a short barreled rifle with a buttstock. Contrary to what many are claiming, this rule is NOT banning pistol braces – it is, however, considering many of them to be rifle stocks.

As we saw from ATF’s court filing, we expected this to drop this month.

The rule has not yet been published in the Federal Register (the first step to the rule making process) – when it is, the 120 day rule starts wherein current owners of pistol braced firearms that violated the new definition will have to have their firearms registered as NFA items.

We can gather some information on what ATF is going to do from the pistol brace information published by the Congressional Research Service and the National Shooting Sports Foundation is always a great resource for industry matters like this – you can read their official comment on the matter.

The ATF is going to waive the $200 tax normally associated with making an NFA firearm. This is good news if you think this is a good opportunity to make a few free SBRs. 😉

ATF Pistol Brace Scorecard
(Worksheet 4999)

This scorecard system by the ATF in their new pistol brace rule is largely due to the fact that the ATF has struggled to define what is a buttstock or a pistol brace for a decade now.

Effectively, instead of outright banning pistol braces, which they have no authority to do yet that didn’t stop the DOJ from outright banning bump-stocks, they have compiled a list of features that can be evaluated to determine if the item in question is a brace or whether it is a buttstock.

This means they aren’t making the device itself illegal. Instead, they would be changing the classification of the device so that it can no longer be used to avoid the NFA requirements (tax and registration) of having a Short Barreled Rifle (SBR).

The implications of this rule are HUGE.

If the scorecard shows that your item is a buttstock, even though you bought it as a brace (and it was previously approved as a brace by the ATF), you would be a FELON if you possessed it with a barrel shorter than 16 inches and haven’t registered it as a Short Barrel Rifle (SBR).

As a note, being a felon would make you a prohibited person which means you could never lawfully posses firearms nor ammunition again.

ATF Pistol Brace Scorecard

The ATF scorecard for pistol braces from the Biden Administration is absurd. 

The amount of inconsistencies and ambiguities could easily take up their own article.

For example, if a score of 4 or higher is obtained from the scoresheet, the item in question would make the firearm a Short Barrel Rifle instead of a handgun with a pistol brace.

On the very first section, Accessory Design, your item can earn from 0 points (good) to 2 points (bad) based on unclear and arbitrary criteria.

Section from ATF pistol brace scorecard
ATF Pistol Brace Scorecard “Accessory Design” Section

If your item is not based on a known shoulder stock design, it earns 0 points. That might sound straight forward but what does “based on” mean? And “known” to whom?

If your item incorporates shoulder stock design features, it earns 1 point. Well, what is a design feature? If it’s black like a standard AR buttstock, is that a design feature? If it mounts onto a buffer tube, is that a design feature? Also, not “known” is missing.

If your item is based on a known shoulder stock design, it earns 2 points. It looks like “known” is back and we still don’t know to whom this must be “known.” 

It also invites more questions like: does the item incorporate some shoulder stock design features because it was based on a known design? If so, how many points does it get? Or, does it have some stock features but it wasn’t based on a known design, does it get 0 or 1 point?

Trust me, it gets WAY worse.

For example, in one section of the form, you get 2 points if your item is a “fin-type design without an arm strap.” However, later in another section, if your item is a “fin-type lacking an arm strap” it gets 2 points. Is this just an inept ATF with a redundant typo OR do you get four points total for the same fin-type brace without a strap?

ATF Brace Scorecard Example
ATF Pistol Brace Scorecard Example

And, if you add red dot sights with magnifiers that don’t have good eye relief for one handed shooting on top of the firearm, your pistol brace on the back of the firearm earns points. How does that make sense? 

Add iron sights? 1 point. 

Have no sights at all? 1 point. 

Have a bipod? 2 points. 

Hand stop present? 2 points.

Foregrip? 4 points.

As you can see, the proposed ATF Form is not exactly easy to fill out and calculate. That’s why we tried our best to give you an online calculator that breaks down many of these sections into yes/no questions and gives you a final score at the end. 

Pistol Brace Calculator

The GunUniversity online Pistol Brace Calculator leads you through a series of questions which will help you navigate through the proposed ATF scoring criteria.

This calculator will give you your score based on ATF Worksheet 4999.

If you need some help along the way, we’ve included some help below (you can click on the “learn more” links within the calculator as needed.

ATF Pistol Brace Scorecard Calculator

Pistol Brace Calculator Instructions

In the calculator above, you can answer a series of questions to help you make your determination about whether your stabilizing brace is legal according to the ATF’s scoring system.

Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the ATF made their scorecard confusing (and poorly drafted).

We made the calculator to help remove some of the confusion in the scorecard based on some of the absurd order/language/logic the ATF used.

However, there are some ambiguous terms that remain and that could use some explanation to help you answer the questions accurately.

To that end, we’ve included some language here in an effort to help understand some of the questions and terms.

What is a Pistol Brace?

pistol brace

A pistol brace is sold as a device that is added to the rear of a pistol in order to give support against the shooter’s firing arm. Because a pistol brace is not technically a rifle buttstock (the part of a rifle that supports the rifle against the shooter’s shoulder), it is a bit of a legal loophole that allows a firearm to have a shorter barrel than it would be otherwise legal to have.

Let me explain.

The federal definition of a rifle (18 USC 921(a)(7)) is a firearm that is designed and intended to be fired from the should and which has a rifled barrel.  Therefore, if a firearm has a buttstock and the barrel contains the twisting grooves that impart spin on a bullet for stabilization (rifling), then that firearm is legally a rifle.

Another federal law (26 USC 5845(a)(3)) requires that rifles must have barrels at least 16 inches long and an overall length at least 26 inches long. If the barrel of a rifle is shorter than 16 inches, it is considered a “Short Barreled Rifle” (SBR) and it is subject to much stricter regulations and controls under the National Firearms Act (NFA) which include a $200 tax, ATF approval (many many months of waiting) prior to transfer, special engraving/marking requirements, and permission to cross state lines.

On an AR-15 style firearm, or “AR,” for example, the AR pistol brace is not different than any of the other AR parts (it is not a firearm by itself) other than it is the part that when attached to the buffer tube (the tube that sticks out the back of an AR-15 and which holds the buffer), it makes the firearm legally an AR pistol.

Pistol braces are not just for AR-15s – in fact, there are many firearms for which an arm brace can be purchased. For example, a conversion kit can be purchased to add a pistol brace to a CZ Scorpion EVO (instead of a shoulder stock).

If you’re already interested in getting yourself a pistol brace before they may be banned, we’ve compiled the best pistol braces for you.

Pistol braces are commonly known as a bit of a workaround to allow a firearm, such as an AR-15, to have a short barrel without needing to register the firearm as a “Short Barreled Rifle” (an NFA firearm).

Without using a pistol brace, if you wanted to install a barrel shorter than 16 inches on your AR-15 rifle, you needed to go through the NFA registration process. This process requires filling out an ATF Form 1, submitting it along with fingerprints, photos, and a check for $200 to the ATF, engraving your name and city/state on the firearm, waiting almost a year for approval fro the ATF before you could even have the parts in the same house, and then once you paid your tax and had permission to possess and install the shorter barrel, you were then subject to many other rules about where the firearm could be taken/used.

That was a pain in the ass (by design).

If you used a pistol stabilizing brace, however, you could simply take off the rifle’s buttstock, remove some of the lower parts if you took off the buffer tube for your particular AR pistol brace, and then install your pistol brace tube kit onto the lower receiver. After you’ve done this, the firearm is no longer a rifle so your short barrel can be installed without any extra work, money, or legal hassle.

If you had a firearm like an Sig Sauer MCX, you could just remove the buttstock from the rear picatinny rail and install the pistol brace as one complete assembly. However, other similar platforms like the Sig MCX Copperhead already have a pistol brace from the factory.

AR Pistol Brace Background

The ATF has had an issue with pistol braces ever since they came out and has tried various way to restrict or regulate their use.

SB Tactical was the pioneer of the pistol brace. They made the item with the advertised intent to help disable shooters handle AR-15 pistols. The ATF had no choice but to “approve” the items as they weren’t “designed and intended” to be fired from the shoulder.

It is important to note that an “AR pistol brace” is much like any other pistol brace legally. The difference is that an AR pistol brace is a device that is intended to fit onto an AR style firearm whereas other pistol braces are for other firearms.

Pistol braces became very popular and MANY Americans started making firearms into an AR 15 pistol instead of AR 15 Short Barreled Rifle. And, even though the items with technically a pistol stabilizing brace, they were used effectively as buttstocks when firing the guns.

The ATF’s first attempt to stop pistol braces was to claim that anyone who “shouldered” (meaning placed the pistol brace into their should for support when firing) a pistol brace has effectively “redesigned” the item into a buttstock and therefore had an illegal short barrel rifle. You can read the ATF’s latest rule making attempt from 2020 in their proposed rule making.

Using a brace on a pistol in your shoulder did not “redesign” the item. This was absurd. I personally argued with the ATF over this news at a SHOT Show meeting with them and I made the argument: “If I took a bolt action rifle, like a Remington 700 for example, and fired it with the buttstock against my forehead, have I now redesigned it into no longer being a rifle since I didn’t use my shoulder?” 

Thankfully, the ATF finally saw the absurdity of their argument and backed off this stance. But, for a time, gun owners where prevented from “shouldering” a pistol brace.

Now, the ATF is back again trying to stop pistol braces…

Best AR-15 Pistol Braces

We’ve gathered and ranked our best pistol braces to help you decide which might be best for you.

Our list includes the main brands of braces like Maxim Defense, SB Tactical, KAK industry, Gear Head Works, Strike Industries, and Odin works.

Of course, we even included braces with (and without) the newly evil adjustable nylon strap (gasp)!

Here’s the editor’s choice pistol brace from our list followed by a quick pistol brace specs comparison.

Pistol Brace Specs

Pistol BracePositionsWeightLength
SBA35 position adjustable6.75 ounces9.5 inches
Gear Head Works Tailhook Mod 25 position adjustable7 ounces12.95 inches
SB Tactical PDW3 Position Adjustable18.14 ounces6.75 inches
KAK Shockwave Blade 2M12 Adjustable Positions4 ounces7.25 inches
Doublestar Corp Strongarm Pistol Brace1 Non-Adjustable4.8 Ounces1.9 inches
Strike Industries PDW Stabilizer2 Adjustable Positions19 ounces5.5 inches
Pistol Storage DevicesUser Adjustable6 punchesNA

What to Do After ATF’s New Pistol Brace Rule

Although it isn’t in effect yet, let’s pretend for a moment that it is and you’re wondering what you’re supposed to do next to not get into trouble with your AR pistol brace.

We can divide most people into two camps: those that are thinking about getting a pistol brace (or a firearm with a pistol brace on it) and those that have pistol braces already.

Thinking about getting an AR pistol brace

If you don’t have a pistol brace yet and you’re thinking about getting one – you should wait until the new rule is published so that you know exactly what to get and do.

After the rule is final, you’ll be able to see exactly which braces (and firearms with braces) are legal and you can make an informed purchase then.

As a note, “pistol braces” aren’t technically being made illegal. The devices are just parts. However, the ATF is proposing to change whether a pistol brace can be used on a firearm with a short barrel to make the firearm a pistol. If a pistol brace is determined to be a buttstock (and not technically a pistol brace) from the new rule, then the firearm would be a short barreled rifle if the barrel is less than 16 inches long.

So, the big legal question is whether a particular device can be used as a bit of a loophole to allow you to have a short barreled firearm be a pistol instead of an NFA firearm, a short barreled rifle.

What to do if you have a pistol brace already

If you already have a pistol brace (or a firearm with a pistol brace), then you first will need to determine what it’s new classification is based on the ATF’s new rule.

If you use our scorecard calculator above and determine that they device is STILL a pistol brace and not a buttstock, then there is nothing more to do – enjoy your pistol-braced firearm.

However, if the new rule classifies your pistol brace as a buttsotck – you have some decisions to make.

Option 1 – Discard/destroy the pistol brace

Your first option is to discard or destroy your pistol brace that is now determined to be a buttstock.

This is the least desirable but quickest and easiest option.

By getting rid of it and taking it off the firearm in question, you would avoid having a firearm that used to be considered a pistol from being considered a short barreled rifle. In effect, if your device violates the new rule, it would be the same as if you had a buttstock on your firearm and if it has a barrel less than 16″ while not being registered as an SBR, that violates a s serious federal law.

Merely taking the device off and leaving it on a shelf is not good enough. The ATF has previously used the term “constructive possession” to prosecute people who merely had the parts to assemble an unregistered firearm accessible even though the parts weren’t assembled. This is legal mental gymnastics and absurd – we’re just passing along what has happened before.

Option 2 – Register your firearm as an SBR

If your previously pistol brace is now a buttstock according to the ATF (I’ll avoid making an easy “self identifies” joke here) and you’d like to keep it on a firearm with a barrel shorter than 16″, you’re going to need to register that firearm as an SBR.

The ATF is proposing an amnesty of sorts in light of this new rule wherein you can register your firearm for a reduced tax and in an expedited manner – we have to wait for the new rule to see if this is true.

However, the normal process includes filing an ATF Form 1 with the ATF for permission to make an NFA firearm (in this case, an SBR) and paying a $200 tax.

Once the approved form is received back from the ATF, you can then assemble/make the SBR and have it engraved properly. From this point on, your firearm would be a properly registered SBR. Depending on how an when you file, it takes months to get an approved form back.

Option 3 – Get your FFL

Although an FFL is NOT needed for this – we think it is a great solution for this ar pistol brace problem AND a great way to start making money with guns (and having access to guns you wouldn’t otherwise be legally allowed to have).

By getting an FFL, you’ll also be able to register as an SOT – this will allow you to make as many NFA firearms as you want (including full-auto machine guns) without any prior approval from the ATF, without having to wait for approved Forms, and without having to pay a tax per item.

And, if you’ve held off on getting an FFL because you heard that you can’t have one from home – THAT’S A MYTH. In fact, most current FFLs in this country are home-based FFLs. I teach a course through RocketFFL that walks you through this whole process and helps you get an FFL from home.

So, although not necessary, getting an FFL is really handy if you like guns and this might be the perfect excuse to go ahead and get one.

Pistol Brace FAQ


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About Ryan Cleckner

Ryan is a former special operations sniper (1/75 Ranger) and current firearms attorney, firearms industry executive, university lecturer, and bestselling author of the Long Range Shooting Handbook.

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