If you want the power of a rifle in a compact package, you have two options: The short-barreled rifle or the rifle-caliber pistol. By attaching a stabilizing brace to an AR-15- or AK-47-pattern firearm with a short barrel, you can benefit from the increased power of an intermediate rifle cartridge in a compact, less-regulated weapon.
What is a Short-Barreled Rifle (SBR)?
BG Defense SPR-10 Short Barreled Rifle
According to the ATF, a rifle, or a weapon made from a rifle, that has a barrel of less than 16” or an overall length of less than 26” is a short-barreled rifle (SBR). This category is regulated under the National Firearms Act of 1934 and the Gun Control Act of 1968 as a Title II weapon, the same as a machine gun.
If you want to own an SBR, you need to register the firearm with the ATF and pay a $200 transfer tax. A commercially manufactured SBR requires ATF Form 4, whereas you’ll need to submit ATF Form 1 if you intend to assemble or manufacture one yourself.
As part of your application, you’ll need to submit copies of your fingerprints, passport photographs and obtain the signature of your chief of police or sheriff. As a result of these regulations, most carbines in the U.S. meet or exceed these minimum-length requirements.
A handgun or pistol is generally a one-handed firearm with a short barrel. A pistol brace, also known as a stabilizing brace or arm brace, is an accessory that allows the shooter to support the weapon using the forearm when holding it with one hand and their arm extended. The original design uses Velcro straps, although some newer designs don’t.
Springfield Saint Victor AR Pistol with Pistol Brace
It didn’t take long for gun owners to realize the arm brace could be used as an improvised shoulder stock; however, many were reluctant to attempt this in case the weapon was reclassified as an SBR. Before the introduction of the pistol brace, AR pistols generally had exposed receiver extensions (buffer tubes).
Are Pistol Braces Legal?
Pistol braces are legal when used for their intended purpose. However, whether using a pistol brace as a makeshift shoulder stock is legal without ATF registration is the subject of constant rule changes. In 2014, the ATF Firearms Technology Branch replied to a letter asking whether shouldering a pistol with an arm brace would reclassify the weapon as a short-barreled rifle.
The ATF answered that it would not because “we don’t classify weapons based on how an individual uses a weapon.” Furthermore, the improper usage of a firearm accessory that the ATF has not classified as a shoulder stock “does not constitute a design change.”
The ATF Changes Course
However, the ATF issued an open letter reversing this judgment the following year. It began by citing part of the NFA’s definition of a rifle or shotgun, a weapon “designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder.” The ATF argued that because stabilizing braces were not designed or approved for use as a shoulder stock, using it as a shoulder stock constitutes a redesign.
In 2017, the ATF changed its position again. But in 2020, the ATF reclassified one of Honey Badger’s weapons as a short-barreled rifle. After Honey Badger requested clarification, the ATF proposed a complicated point system for determining whether a firearm constitutes an SBR.
The two most common rifle-caliber pistol patterns are the AR-15 and AK-47.
The AK-47 is the world’s most recognizable and widely distributed tactical rifle, and you can find pistol variants of this platform in various calibers. 7.62×39mm is the most common.
PSA AK-P MOE
The Palmetto State Armory AK-P MOE is an AK-47 pistol chambered in the traditional Kalashnikov cartridge — 7.62×39mm Soviet — with a 10.5” barrel.
As MOE suggests, the AK-P uses a Magpul MOE M-LOK handguard and pistol grip. The stabilizing brace is an SBA3 Pistol Brace. The muzzle has a Krinkov- or AKS-74u-style muzzle device, and the AK-P also has an accessory rail on the dust cover for attaching optical sights.
An example of an AK pistol without a pistol brace is the Arsenal SAM7K-44, also chambered in 7.62×39mm.
Instead of a pistol brace, the Sam7K substitutes a vertical Picatinny rail. This allows you to attach various accessories, from receiver rings to shoulder stocks.
The receiver is forged and milled, increasing the strength of the system. The barrel is 8.5” long.
If you’re a left-handed shooter, the SAM7K-44 also has an ambidextrous safety catch if you’re a left-handed shooter. In addition, Arsenal placed the rear sight on the dust cover, extending the sight radius for increased precision when aiming.
As with the AK-P, the SAM7K-44 uses a Krinkov-style muzzle device for reducing recoil.
AR pistols are commercially available in a variety of calibers and designs. Based on the popular AR-15 platform, AR pistols benefit from compatibility with common aftermarket parts and accessories.
BCM Recce 11 MCMR Pistol
Bravo Company Manufacturing (BCM) produces high-quality mil-spec AR-15 carbines and rifles. The Recce Pistol, a BCM pistol, is available with or without a stabilizing brace. The BCM is a reliable, rugged 5.56mm weapon. Featuring an 11.5” barrel and a Carpenter 158 bolt, the Recce 11 is fed from standard USGI/STANAG magazines.
CMMG Banshee 300 Series
Not every AR pistol fires an intermediate cartridge, and the CMMG Banshee 300 Series, when fired from the shoulder, fulfills the role of a pistol-caliber carbine.
Available in 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, and 10mm Auto, Banshee pistols feature CMMG’s RIPBRACE, Magpul MOE pistol grip, a full-length M1913 Picatinny rail, and ambidextrous controls. You can choose either SIG P320 or Glock magazines, depending on the caliber.
The SCR (Sport Configurable Rifle) is an AR-15 derived sporting weapon. In order to use a traditional Monte Carlo stock, the SCR uses a shotgun-type bolt tail to compress a recoil spring housed in the butt. In the pistol configuration, this design eliminates the need for a receiver extension or stabilizing brace, allowing the company to substitute a bird’s-head grip.
SBR vs AR Pistol
The primary advantage of an AR pistol is that it’s less regulated than an SBR. You don’t need to register the weapon with the ATF, pay a $200 transfer tax, or comply with any of the other NFA-specific requirements.
ATF has more regulations you must follow if you own an SBR. For example, you need to notify the ATF if you intend to transport an SBR interstate.
One of the primary advantages of an SBR is the rules are clear and consistent. There’s no ambiguity regarding whether you can own and operate the weapon as a rifle. That extends to accessories. Attaching a vertical foregrip to a pistol, for example, may turn the firearm into an AOW (any other weapon). You and your weapon are entered into the National Firearms Act Registry.
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