Brace Yourself: A Game Changer for American Shooters

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
The ATF’s arm brace approval letter of November 26, 2012 specified that the “shooter would insert his or her forearm into the device while gripping the pistol’s handgrip-then tighten the Velcro straps for additional support and retention. Thus configured, the device provides the shooter with additional support of a firearm while it is still held and operated with one hand.”  Therefore, from the very beginning, there was some confusion as to whether or not it would be a violation of Federal law if an arm brace equipped pistol ever touched a shooter’s shoulder, like a buttstock.

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.)

Potential Uses:

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




21 Comments

    1. Have you ever handled or shot a short barreled AR/M4? They’re pretty slick. Once you get used to one a 16” AR feels like a Kentucky rifle in close quarters. Rounds like the .300 Blackout don’t really give up any ballistics out of a short barrel, either. A 9” or 10” AR is a VERY handy and versatile little gun.

      1. Since I use KY rifles on a regular basis with barrels up to 50 ” long I find any rifle with a barrel shorter than 30″ to be on the stumpy side. My AR15 Armalite national match with it’s 20″ bull barrel seems ridiculously tiny. I do have a couple M4’s with 16″ barrels but rarely have any desire to shoot them, my KY rifles are just as accurate at 100 yards….but somewhat slower on a follow up shot!

  1. I generally carry a M1911 in a hip holster when hiking or riding in the wilderness. Attaching a brace prior to use makes the holster unusable, and attaching it while under attack is unlikely. Also, if the threat is far enough away that I would need the extra stability of a brace, I am probably far enough away that I can avoid the encounter. If there is a known threat in the area, I will either avoid it or carry a rifle in addition to the pistol. Sporting use of a brace seems to be the main reason someone would want one.

  2. I think some of the folks commenting here are missing the point. It isn’t so much that adding a brace to your carry pistol is a great idea. It’s that you can use a brace to build a rifle-based “pistol” that’s functionally identical to a short barreled rifle (SBR), legally, while avoiding the cost, hassle, and restrictions of going the NFA tax stamp route. A short barreled rifle or carbine has great merit as a defensive or utility gun so a similarly configured braced pistol is also very useful. Not to mention that the gun remains legally a pistol so it can be carried and used in a lot of situations where a rifle legally couldn’t be.

  3. Generally speaking, my accuracy improves with barrel length when other factors are similar. Looking forward to using my 8.5″ barrel quiet 300 AAC Blackout. Like the Physics brainiacs tell us, “Velocity is fast, but Mass kicks ***.”

    The 220 grain slug out of the 300AAC at 900FPS will take care of many things.

    And having much practice clearing rooms with my M4gery, I recommend much shorter barrel if you can afford one. My full upper was only 275 bucks with BCG and CH at Palmetto State Armory.

      1. Terminal ballistics *might* be comparable between subsonic .300BLK and .45 ACP (“might” because I’m simply not sure. Never looked it up). But most of the advantage would be in the fact that an AR-type gun has a standard mag capacity of 30 rounds while the 1911 is 7-8 rounds or so. That’s a big difference in onboard firepower. Also, the ability to shoulder the braced AR pistol and the fact that it has a fore end for an additional point of contact, plus the ability to easily mount optics or at least have a much longer sight radius, all add up to potential for much greater accuracy, especially at longer ranges.
        Nothing wrong at all with a 1911 or any other carry pistol. They’re great for carrying around all day either concealed or just for general purpose. But if I found myself in a bad situation I’d take a fighting rifle (or rifle-based, braced “pistol) every time. As it stands, I’ll take both 🙂

        1. Comparing a 300 Blackout subsonic round to a .45 ACP round is like comparing a 1lb rock to a 1lb spear. The BC or ballistic coefficient (the ability to overcome air resistance in flight) is completely different between these rounds. Sure, at the muzzle, these rounds are similar, but when was the last time you walked up to a deer and shot it “Richard Kuklinski” style (look it up)? A 225gr 300 BLK OTM has a BC of .629 while a Buffalo Bore 230 gr HP has a BC of .143 (in this case higher # is better).

          What does this mean? At 50 yards, a 300 Blackout bullet will have lost 15 fps, while a .45 acp will have lost 64 fps, which is a little over 4x the velocity loss. At 100 yards a 300 Blackout bullet will have lost 28 fps while a .45acp will have lost 114 fps.

          While I agree that a subsonic 300 Blackout round might not be ideal for large game, saying that it is comparable to a pistol round is just not true.

      2. Richard Hertz, that is a great question. I like my 1911 and have animated discussions with friends who are instructors and experts with various 9mms. I point out my Army heritage education from soldiers who prefer the .45 caliber in all wars and insurgencies from 1860’s through the 1980’s, over anything smaller. I prioritize the judgement of those old combat survivors as higher level expertise.

        Yes, more rounds is the bottom line. But with the .300 AAC you have more choice in types of rounds as well. And the trunk monkey concept applies. Or backpack monkey. And like I said, longer barrels give me more accuracy which also means better effects at further distance for me.

        I have qualified expert on Army pistol ranges with both the M9 and 1911, and rifle as well, back in the day. If you only have a pistol it becomes your primary. While my 1911 (8 plus 1) might be my primary in an emergency situation, it would be a backup in it’s holster if I have time to grab a .300 or 5.56.

        The 9mm is a good functional gun and round, but remember the advice of those who have been there: an enemy perforated full of holes can still kill you before he dies. Even way back in the fighting with the Moro tribes, our grunts were pretty angry about the weapons they had to use, if they had less grains of lead than a .45. And slow 220 grains is better than hypersonic 55 or 62 grains from an M4gery at distance below 200 yards, speaking for me alone.

    1. I built a 10.5″ barrel .300 blackout pistol with an arm brace early last year, thinking I would use it with a suppressor once they no longer required the tax stamp. That didn’t quite work out as planned, but even without a suppressor, it sure is a sweet-shooting little gun, especially with the 220 grain ammo. Far easier to get rapid hits on targets at 50 and 100 yards than with a Glock.

      When I travel across state lines, I no longer have to take a rifle in a locked case in a separate compartment of my vehicle. The .300 blackout with an arm brace serves the purpose just a well and is legal to have in my back seat, even if it is hidden under a blanket — at least as long as I stay out of places like Maryland and New Jersey (which is just good common sense for a gun owner in any case).

      I agree with Jim — get your arm brace(s) while you can. SB Tactical reportedly has a six-week or longer backlog when dealers place orders.

  4. A government big enough to give you anything you want is also big enough to take away everything you have – Thomas Jefferson. A few more “school shootings” and these will go bye-bye, along with the Mossberg “shockwave” shotgun/handgun and its Remington equivalent. Why buy and use something which puts you on the Leviathan’s radar?
    Hard times are coming, with more SJW-COSMIC WHITE MILLENIALS reaching eighteen and registering to vote. POTUS has bought us a little time, but my focus is on standard defensive-caliber firearms used by the police and the military. And, I never display or use them in front of others. Sub-caliber practice, gray-man tactics, and a taciturn demeanor will serve you greatly. Think about it, my friends. The armies of darkness are getting stronger; even(to my great disappointment) here in North Idaho. Bleib ubrig.

    1. My freedom with firearms legally purchased will not be determined by a criminals misuse of such. Should we turn in our vehicles because a terrorist ran down people on a bike path ?. The last assault weapons ban from 1994 to 2004 was a cosmetic ban on features and a 10 round limit on future magazines built. I say by all the legal arms you want and stack deep the magazines.

  5. As Jeff Cooper and many other tac savvy people have noted a pistol is what you use to fight your way to your rifle. I would much rather face 5 guys aremed with only pistols than 5 guys with rifles/ Carbines. Another use that the pistol brace “ carbine “ is it packs much easier into the BOB pack due to the shorter length. My .300 BLK upper/pistol brace lower tapes out at 27.5 inches. This is very compact so putting in your pack is very discreet when you want to maintain a low Grey man profile.

  6. My freedom with firearms legally purchased will not be determined by a criminals misuse of such. Should we turn in our vehicles because a terrorist ran down people on a bike path ?. The last assault weapons ban from 1994 to 2004 was a cosmetic ban on features and a 10 round limit on future magazines built. I say by all the legal arms you want and stack deep the magazines.

  7. I too jumped on the AR pistol bandwagon.
    After several builds I have a few favorites
    5.56mm with a 10.5″ barrel. 5.56mm ammunition looses power rapidly with decrease in barrel length.
    http://www.ballisticsbytheinch.com/2011graphs+/223ME.html
    Hornady even came out with SBR specific 5.56mm ammunition and recommends it with 10.5″-11.5″ barrels
    https://www.hornady.com/ammunition/rifle/5.56-nato-75-gr-interlock-hd-sbr-black#!/

    Sig Sauer MCX “Rattler” .300 blackout with 5.5″ barrel.
    .300 blackout was developed to achieve full power in an 8.5″ barrel, and we have an .300 AR in the 8.5″ length with the very compact Maxim defense brace which we like VERY much, but when the Sig Rattler was it became the game changer. The Sig MCX Rattler is a ready made “anti – terrorist/ anti-active shooter” package which could/should be discretely deployed at churches and schools and other places of lawful assembly across the country by responsible citizens and law enforcement.
    If I understand correctly, .300 blackout supersonic ammunition from the short 5.5″ Sig barrel slightly exceeds ft lbs of energy of the 44 magnum of the same barrel length, but in a much more controlable package, with 30 rounds of semi auto as a standard load.

    Actually we have switched over to the Lancer 20 round magazines for the AR SB brace pistols for the first loaded magazine to make the firearm more compact and easier to maneuver in tight confines. follow up mags in pouches and bags are 30’s but the “carry mag” is a Lancer 20.
    We have AFGs and WML type 400 lumen lights mounted on these. optics are either the Sig Romeo 5 red dot on the shorter ones, or the Primary Arms 2.5 ACSS fixed power compact CQB optic on the 10.5″.
    The 10.5″s also get backed up with “fixed” 45 degree offset sights, as proven to be faster to transition too than “flip ups”.

    If I add another type in this category; I agree w/ JWR about chambering one in a heavy cartridge .450 bushmaster (or .458 SOCOM) for predator protection; and would set it up short and discreet with a 7.5″ barrel, short under 2″ muzzle devise and use the durable twin steel rail pistol brace by either Maxim Defense or SB PDW brace.

    What I would also REALLY like to see is one chambered in 2.5″ .410 gauge 000 buckshot and slug loads.

  8. 10.5″ 5.56 ARs good for suppressor. No suppressor, then move to 11.5-12.5″ for reliability. For instance, BCM only runs 11.5″ or greater due to reliability reasons. Personally, I think 12.5″ is the minimum that makes sense for 5.56.

    BUT to note short barrel 5.56 guns put much more wear and tear on your suppressor than do longer barrels. In this light, sub 10″ 9mm is probably the best option, sub 12″ then 300 blk, sub 14″ then 7.62×39, 14″+ (or sub 16″) then 5.56, and 16″+ .308. Both from blast and flash and cartridge ballistics out of respective barrel lengths.

    300 BLK is good for short barrel ARs, but there’s also substantial risk for Kaboom… If wanting subsonic for primary use, I REALLY think that 9mm makes the most sense. Better peforming projectiles at subsonic speed, and weight per cartridge of 9mm is less than .300 blk. Supersonic short barrel, .300 blk is the clear winner, but again Kaboom. At 12″+ 7.62×39 actually performs well and much cheaper per round than .300 blk. And much less risk of 5.56 and 7.62×39 mixup kabooms…

    Suarez is a joke. He looks for niches to make $ first and foremost and sells the “latest and greatest” as defined by his profit margins/what he can sell to his fans. Also a lot of reports of unprofessional conduct, both as a cop and w/ his current business.

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