I recently had a consulting client ask me about the recent inadvertent “pre-announcement” of an ATF amnesty registration of arm-brace-equipped pistols. The following is a more detailed and updated version of the information that I provided that client:
There are somewhere between 3 and 5 million arm-braced pistols in circulation in the United States. Compare that to the just 300,000 to 400,000 bumpfire stocks that were ordered to be turned in or destroyed, during the Trump administration. (Without compensation.) Arm braces were formerly blessed by the ATF as perfectly legal, but they later changed their minds, and they are soon to be declared felonious contraband. (Can you spell “arbitrary and capricious” boys and girls?)
From all that I’ve read, and based on a conversation with a knowledgeable firearms attorney, I can fairly safely surmise:
- The ATF is planning this registration period without a $200 tax stamp payment, as a legal CYA measure, so that they cannot be accused of making an uncompensated “taking.”
- In addition to the usual fingerprinting nonsense, they now want a photo of the gun attached to the registration forms, for their future reference. This is requiring the creation of a new version of the ATF Form 1.
- The amnesty will apparently only cover arm-brace-equipped pistols that you already have in your possession when the amnesty begins — no other SBRs. Nor will it cover pistols to which you attach a traditional buttstock — hence the requirement to attach a photo of the arm-brace-equipped pistol to your ATF Form 1. This, I assume, would tie your hands, meaning you can’t later retrofit this quasi-SBR with a traditional stock, unless you re-register it with a $200 tax stamp. The ATF wants to redefine arm braces as “stocks”, yet they won’t let you retrofit a braced pistol-SBR with the stock of your choice? What silliness. So, it seems that they will be creating a new sub-category of configuration-frozen braced SBRs.
- If registered during the amnesty period, they will waive the $200 transfer tax stamp for the first time each arm-brace-equipped pistol SBR is registered. If you later gift it or sell it, then the new owner would have to pay a $200 transfer tax. One key question is: Would that SBR then no longer be considered configuration-frozen? We’ll have to wait and see what they make up as their fickle ruling du jour.
- Don’t expect the amnesty period to run for more than a month or two.
I should also mention five ways to avoid the planned registration requirement:
A.) Removing the arm brace, and going back to the pre-2003 style “plain round buffer tube”. Note that if you were also in possession (anywhere in your home, or property under your control) of a compatible arm brace, then that could be deemed to be “constructive intent.”
B.) Removing the arm brace, and instead installing either of a couple of ATF-approved alternative buffer tube attachment devices that are NOT classified as “arm braces”, as shown in this video. The Pistol Storage Device (PSD) sells for about $80.
C.) Re-barreling the gun with a 16″ (or longer) barrel (or complete barreled upper with a 16″ barrel).
D.) Permanently attaching a NFA-registered suppressor of sufficient length to give the gun 16 inches of barrel unit length.
E.) Permanently attaching a barrel extension or other muzzle device (i.e. flash hider, muzzle brake) that would increase the barrel unit length to 16″ (or longer). I predict that there will be a lot of XM177E2 (aka “CAR-15”) lookalikes out there, real soon. OBTW, I hope that Witt Machine starts making 5″, 6″, 7″, and 8″ versions of their non-NFA Sound Moderating Equipment (SME) “sound forwarder.” They would surely sell a gazillion of them. (Hint-hint.)
With options C., D., or E., you have the option of installing the stock of your choice, or just leaving the brace in place, since the ATF has effectively declared them “stocks”, and you are legally creating a rifle from a pistol. But note that it is illegal to create a pistol from a rifle, in the United States.
Note: To the ATF gnomes, “permanently attaching” a muzzle device or barrel extension means welding or high-temperature silver soldering. Any other method of attachment (such as epoxy or low-temperature solder) would be deemed a NFA violation.
One nagging question is obviously: Is this a trap? Here is a video with one well-informed attorney’s opinion: Is Pistol Brace Amnesty About to Become the Biggest Trap Ever Set? If that is possible, then instead of registering your arm-braced pistol, I’d recommend replacing your brace with an ATF-approved alternative device (see option B.) or converting it to a rifle configuration. (See options C., D., and E..)
There are many disadvantages to NFA-registered items, including requiring ATF prior approval to cross state lines, in giving up temporary control of the firearm to a friend or relative, inheritance or sale restrictions, and of course the potential increased scrutiny by the ATF.- JWR