Ever since late 2012, gun enthusiasts have been talking about getting arm braces for their pistols. Those of us who live south of the Canadian border have been deprived of shoulder-stocked pistols since 1934. So there was a tremendous pent-up demand for such a configuration. And, of course, they were a boon to disabled shooters. The clever devices were first developed by SB Tactical for AR pistols, and later popularized by SIG USA. Arm braces were later adapted to mount on AK pistols, HK9x family pistols, Uzi pistols, the SIG MCX/MPX, and many more.
One key advantage of arm braces is that they make entire categories of pistols that had previously been fairly impractical into something quite practical. Here, I’m talking about nearly all of the oversize and muzzle-heavy pistols with magazine wells forward of the triggerguard. These include the Sites Spectre, Feather, and the KG-9/KG-99/Tec-9/DC-9 families of pistols. Similarly, many oversize pistols with magazines in the pistol grip also often greatly benefit from the addition of an arm brace. These include the semi-auto Ingram M10 and M11 series pistols, semi-auto Uzi (including Mini and Micro) as well as the Wilkinson Terry pistol.
Although there was some legal confusion for a few years, the popularity of arm braces is now stronger then ever. I’ll start with a brief traverse about the legalities:
The Confusion Begins
In 2015, a follow-up “open letter” issued by the ATF muddied the waters, implying that if anyone touched an arm brace to their shoulder while shooting that it would constitute an on-the-fly “redesign” of the arm brace. That absurd proposition didn’t last long, and to the best of my knowledge nobody was ever charged with a violation for doing so.
Then, Much Rejoicing
Finally, in March 2017, the ATF formally reversed the 2015 Open Letter, stating in effect that “incidental, sporadic, or situational ‘use’ of” an unaltered arm brace “from a shooting position at or near the shoulder” would not be deemed a violation. So then there was much rejoicing, and the rush of arm brace parts orders resumed, with gusto. The Big Reversal also touched off a flurry of new arm brace products from more than a dozen makers There are even new gun models, specifically designed to be used with arm braces. (The Springfield Armory “Saint” AR Pistol variant is just one example.)
Arm-braced pistols have become so popular that they made most registered Short Barreled Rifles (SBRs) passé. With a “braced” AR, HK, or AK pistol, here is no ATF Form 1 processing to wait on, no $200 transfer tax, and no interstate travel/notification restrictions. So why bother with all the hassle of getting a Federally-registered SBR with a $200 tax stamp? In my opinion, these days, the arm brace is definitely the way to go.
Ditto for a Short Barreled Shotgun (SBS) since 12 and 20 gauge shotshell “Firearms” can now also legally be equipped with an arm brace! A brace will transform a gun design that has been castigated as “mostly useless” into something quite useful. Gun trainer Gabe Suarez now even markets a sturdy folding arm brace for the Remington Tac-14. How cool is that?
(Note: It is illegal to retrofit a shotgun manufactured with a buttstock to that configuration. But it is indeed legal to retrofit one of the newly-manufactured pistol-gripped “Firearms” available Remington, Mossberg, and Black Aces.)
I can see many practical uses for arm-brace equipped pistols and shotshell-firing smoothbore “Firearms.” These include:
- A quasi-SBR for close quarters, building entry, and other self defense shooting.
- Vehicular carry: A gun that is more effective than most handguns, yet more compact than most rifles.
- A smaller, lighter trail gun for protection from dangerous game. These would be great for long hikes, or when carrying a heavy backpack.
- To provide a “mid-size” gun with a short overall length for training young shooters.
- To fit in a jurisdictional loophole for the few places or instances where handguns are allowed, but rifles are not. It is noteworthy that some state concealed carry (CCW) laws prohibit concealed carry of rifles or SBRs. Yet a handgun equipped with an arm brace is still categorized as a pistol, in most States.
- For executive protection, resistance warfare, or other situations where both a rifle caliber and concealability are desired.
- To provide the short overall length needed for a Dedicated Suppressor Host. This was a niche that was formerly filled by registered SBRs. Anyone who owns a registered “can” will probably want to buy an arm-braced AR pistol with one or more uppers.
Here At The Ranch
I have personally jumped on the arm brace bandwagon. In the past three years I have built or bought more than a half dozen arm-braced pistols to add to our battery of guns here at the Rawles Ranch. These include:
- Several .223 AR-15 pistols with 10.5-barrels, Wylde chambers, red dot sights, and Maxim PDW arm braces. I built these myself, from parts. All but one of these are also equipped with Franklin Armory binary triggers. Just one of them is instead equipped with a nice crisp 3 Gun Match trigger, for when we travel into states like Washington that prohibit binary triggers. These arm-braced pistols are our “Road Trip Guns”, for regional car or truck travel. Their short overall length makes them much more maneuverable than a standard 16″ barrel M4gery, for such purposes.
- A Windham Weaponry .450 Bushmaster AR-15 pistol with SIG Brace. I bought this as a complete gun from Central Texas Gun Works. They kindly took payment in Bitcoin. With ballistics comparable to a .45-70, this is now my dedicated trail gun for hikes in Grizzly Bear country. I predict that it might draw a few disapproving looks from Easterner tourists when we visit Glacier National Park–but that is their problem. They are legal in National Parks. So they can frown all they’d like, but they cannot say: “You can’t carry that here!” I can. You see, I don’t carry just Bear Spray. I also carry Lead Spray.
- A Glock 21 .45 ACP pistol with night sights, an ENDO Tactical stock adapter, and a Gear Head Works Tail Hook Mod 2 arm brace. (Even though the Tail Hook outwardly looks a lot like a stock, it is indeed ATF approved!) This Glock is more or less of a “fun gun”, but it could be useful for a concealable briefcase or rucksack PDW, especially when loaded with a 25-round KRISS magazine. I might eventually upgrade this pistol with a Lone Wolf long slide barrel assembly. For shooter safety, this one definitely needs to have a hand stop added! It is unfortunate that Federal law prohibits the use of a vertical foreward hand grip on a pistol with an overall length of less than 26 inches. (With the stock extended but with a detachable muzzle device removed.) That law if putting folks’ hands and fingers at risk. Nearly all Glocks also lack an external safety. This pistol certainly won’t work with a traditional belt holster with the stock attached. So for the sake of safety, I’ve opted to carry it slung on a single point sling with a tiny Zacchaeus holster (made by Dale Fricke, in Montana) attached. These are essentially just detachable triggerguard covers. They come equipped with a nylon string lanyard that is normally used to provide a quick release for Mexican Carry. But in my case the lanyard will just be used prevent loss of the Zacchaeus holster, when it is popped off, before firing.
- A Tiger Rock 9mm AR-15 pistol with a 9.5″ barrel. I bought the 9mm upper from BOLD Arms in Arizona, and was able to pay for it with Bitcoin. I built it with a standard AR-15 lower that I had assembled myself, along with a a Stern Defense magazine well adapter, an angled foregrip, and two M-LOK hand stops. This handy pistol uses standard factory 15-, 17-, 31-, and 33-round Glock magazines. This will be a transitional trainer for my grandchildren. (For use as they step up from .22 LR, but aren’t quite ready for all the sound and fury of .223 Remington.) Note: I DO NOT consider 9mm pistols or carbines a substitute for a rifle caliber gun, for self defense shooting.
- A stainless steel Thompson-Center Encore single shot pistol in .44 Magnum with a Choate AR stock adapter and a Tail Hook arm brace. After the whole works eventually gets OD green Cerakoted, this will probably end up being my “tractor scabbard” gun, here at the ranch. I might eventually get a second .45/.410 shotshell barrel for it, to make it more versatile for pest shooting.
- A Fire Control Unit clamshell for my full size SIG P320 9mm pistol. This outwardly resembles a submachinegun, but it is legally just an arm-braced pistol. I’ve been fiddling with it for just a few days. So I have not yet decided which optic to use with it. I’m also waiting for Taylor Freelance to complete their promised development of “+12” magazine extensions. Those will turn a standard SIG 20-round P250/P320 magazine into 32-rounder. That increase will make this a sweet little plinker. Again, I DO NOT consider 9mm pistols or carbines a substitute for a rifle caliber gun, for self defense shooting. For safety, since this gun lacks an external safety, it should be carried “Israeli style”–with an empty chamber and racked only just before firing.
All in all, the ATF-approved pistol arm braces are a real game changer for American shooters. I recommend that SuvivalBlog readers take full advantage of what guns equipped with arm braces will allow.
As with all other firearms and gun parts, be sure to check your State and local laws before buying. If in doubt, consult a gun-savvy attorney who is licensed in your State. – JWR