To buy or not to buy? And if you do buy, can you actually use it without breaking the law?

Those have been the questions for many tactical shooters and their FFL dealers when it came to that interesting piece of gear known as the AR pistol brace. And, fearing the worst, many dealers have simply stayed out of this market, profitable though it is.

Credit a series of conflicting regulatory opinions from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for what was a difficult situation from a legal standpoint. The good news is that the most recent ATF opinion on the AR Pistol Brace finally clarifies just what it is shooters can and can’t do with the AR Pistol brace and remain within legal bounds.

The short answer? The AR Pistol Brace is legal and can be used when attached to the forearm and when placed against the shoulder.

That’s right. The ATF’s refined position is that placing an AR Pistol Brace against the shoulder does not, in and of itself, necessarily alter the firearm’s classification from pistol to short-barreled rifle or SBR.

Conflicting Opinions

The ATF’s first opinion on the AR pistol “stabilizing braces” was issued in January 2015. Included was the ATF’s examination of the pistol brace being potentially operated from the shoulder, much like a rifle stock. As the ATF noted, “The pistol stabilizing brace was neither ‘designed’ nor approved to be used as a shoulder stock, and therefore use as a shoulder stock constitutes a ‘redesign’ of the device because a possessor has changed the very function of the item.”

The ATF decided that “redesign” and using the brace as a shoulder stock ran afoul of the National Firearms Act, and would, in effect, create a short-barrel rifle — not legal without the correct approved NFA tax stamp. Numerous media rushed out the story line that the pistol brace was pretty much illegal, especially if placed anywhere near your shoulder.

“They made it sound like if you were at your FFL and picked up an AR pistol with a brace on it and put it to your shoulder you had just committed a felony,” said Amy Pevear, SB Tactical’s Vice President of Marketing. “And, God forbid, a police officer was in the store at the time. You’d be on your way to a federal lockup!”

Pevear noted that the next ATF opinion on this, a “clarification letter” issued a year later, explained that pistol braces were legal as long as they were used as intended: strapped to a shooter’s forearm or otherwise used to steady the AR pistol, but not affixed to the shoulder. The ATF also clarified that simply putting an AR pistol with brace to your shoulder was not a crime.

The newest ATF opinion on the brace, issued in March 2017, went many steps further. “With respect to stabilizing braces,” the letter noted, “ATF has concluded that attaching the brace to a handgun as a forearm brace does not ‘make’ a short-barreled firearm because… it is not intended to be and cannot comfortably be fired from the shoulder … Therefore, an NFA firearm has not necessarily been made when the device is not re-configured for use as a shoulder stock — even if the attached firearm happens to be fired from the shoulder.”

Could all this change? Obviously, ATF can and does go back and forth on these types of opinions. But with a pro-Second Amendment president in the White House, and this latest ATF ruling made public, the AR Pistol Brace seems like a safe bet, at least for the near future.

A Stabilizing Brace

Formed in January of 2013, SB Tactical is the brainchild of Alex Bosco and Grant Shaw. SB Tactical’s initial product was the SB 15 Pistol Stabilizing Brace. A utility and design patent was issued for the Pistol Stabilizing Brace and ATF approval was secured, positioning SB Tactical as the dominant market player for this type of accessory.

SB Tactical had distributed product exclusively through partnerships with Sig Sauer for AR pistols and Century International Arms for AK pistols. In 2015, SB Tactical began directly selling the Pistol Stabilizing Brace family of products for multiple firearms platforms to the end user via their website and through retailers.

Today, SB Tactical makes and sells more than a dozen varieties of pistol braces for a wide and growing variety of AR pistols coming to market. Of note, SB Tactical’s entire line of pistol braces are 100 percent U.S.-manufactured.

At Atlantic Firearms, Bishopville, Maryland, CEO Blaine Bunting noted that his operation carries the bulk of the SB Tactical line of pistol braces and does very well with them.

“We’ve been offering the SB Tactical line ever since they hit the market,” said Bunting. “The stabilizing braces from SB Tactical offer us a pretty reasonable profit, and they help drives sales of AR pistols, too. The pistol stabilizing braces are a top accessory for us.”

Functional and Safe

The ATF’s second opinion did much to help bolster the AR pistol market. Initially, AR pistols were seen by many as a fad, Pevear said. They looked cool and appealing, but were hard to actually use with any accuracy, especially at less-than-close ranges. Plus, recoil often made the buffer tube (extending from the back of the pistol, behind the AR receiver) jam back onto the forearm or bicep. It could leave a nasty bruise after a day’s shooting.

The SB Tactical pistol brace solved many of those issues. The various braces attach to that buffer tube, and the shooter uses the brace’s Velcro straps to attach the pistol to the forearm.

“The braces are phenomenally functional,” said Atlantic Firearms’ Bunting. “They make an AR pistol much more accurate, much easier to control, and very safe.”

“For hunters, you now can have a rifle-caliber pistol, and one that’s stable enough to help you take game,” said Pevear. “For hikers, the AR pistol fits easily in a backpack. And a lot of people really like the AR pistol as a truck gun — much niftier than a full-sized rifle, but with rifle fire power.”

Pevear added, “AR pistols are a lot of fun, too. Take someone plinking with an AR pistol, and you know what you will see? Lots of smiles!”

An SB Tactical Brace by any other name …

Across the industry, the SB Tactical pistol brace initially took on the moniker of the “SIG Brace,” largely because the very first brace, the SB15, was made specifically to fit the SIG MPX AR-style pistol.

Actually, the SB15 fits a wide variety of AR pistols, as long as the pistols have a buffer tube that is 1-inch to 1.2-inches in diameter. Once attached to the tube, the brace’s flexible cuff and two adjustable nylon straps are secured to the forearm.

With more than a dozen designs, SB Tactical makes braces for a wide variety of AR pistols, as well as the CZ Scorpion, UZI, KRISS Vector SDP pistol, the AK pistol and a variety of other AR pistol models and builds. Suggested retail prices for the various braces generally run from around $149 to $249.

ATF issued a “clarification letter” explaining that pistol braces were legal as long as they were used as intended.

Sales and Profits

Pevear said that retailers selling SB Tactical braces can expect a solid profit margin, one that’s considerably higher than what an FFL will make on firearms and equal to or better than other shooting accessories.

“There is also a growing trend within our dealer base to take a pistol they receive from a manufacturer or distributor and augment it with an SB Tactical brace,” Pevear added. “Many dealers have found that helps to turn inventory in the AR pistol category and increases the profit margin on their firearm sales.”

That’s the case at Atlantic Firearms. Bunting noted that the braces, “really propel sales of our AR pistols.”

To boost the marketing of its braces and other products, SB Tactical hired shooting sports marketing and PR firm Driftwood Media, of Helotes, Texas. Headed by industry veteran Eddie Stevenson, Driftwood is well versed in the tactical and firearms markets thanks to clients, current and past, that include optics maker Trijicon, UnderArmour Outdoors, pistol maker Republic Forge and long gun manufacturer Weatherby.

For 2017, SB Tactical and Driftwood launched a marketing campaign that includes a heavy dose of social media exposure and YouTube videos, as well as considerable exposure in more traditional print media outlets. There will also be a steady stream of news and new product press releases to various media outlets.

In-store, SB Tactical is working on creating various displays dealers can use to highlight SB Tactical braces. At Atlantic Firearms, Bunting makes sure that several of the store’s AR pistols on display have SB Tactical braces already installed.

“We sell the braces as a package with pistols or à la carte, if you will, for customers who already have an AR pistol,” said Bunting. “But having the braces on some pistols is a real advantage because customers can see how it all works.”

If display racks are already too full, Bunting suggested setting up a section of counter or an end cap with the SB Tactical braces on pegs, and having a brace-equipped AR pistol on the top of the display.

You might also consider linking SB Tactical’s many YouTube videos to your store’s website. The YouTube videos show how to install the braces, various techniques for using the braces and a summary of the legalities in using your brace-equipped AR pistols.