Federal regulators are moving to make history-- and not in a good way-- by establishing national rules on braces and how owners of some affected stabilizer-equipped firearms will register them with the government. 

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has prepared a draft 16-page proposal which was released Wednesday by pro-Second Amendment groups and attorneys specializing in gun law.

The paper seeks feedback on formulating guidelines towards "evaluating firearms with an attached stabilizing brace to determine whether they are considered firearms under the National Firearms Act (‘NFA’) and/or the Gun Control Act (‘GCA)” and plans for a process for "current possessors of stabilizer-equipped firearms to choose to register such firearms in compliance with the NFA."

The ATF has gone back and forth on the use and certification of stabilizing braces for a decade, hailing to the original circa 2012 SB Tactical "Sig Arm Brace." A choice target for anti-gun groups, some have loudly stumped for the ATF to undertake a rulemaking action that would outlaw or further regulate bracesMeanwhile, Democrats on Capitol Hill have arbitrarily included braces in their "forbidden" list in planned federal "assault weapon" bans.

This year has already seen the ATF go after Q over that company's Honey Badger pistol, equipped with an SB Tactical brace. 

The Firearms Policy Coalition cautions the new proposal recognizes that most brace users have acted in good faith and it "does not appear to reflect a new 'ban' on pistol braces or firearms with such devices. The ATF, evidently, is not indicating that the mere presence of a brace on a pistol automatically converts the firearm into one under the purview of the National Firearms Act." 

Instead, the FPC points out that the document seems intended to inform the public on a future framework of how brace-equipped firearms will be examined in the future in line with NFA compliance before crossing into short-barreled rifle, or SBR, territory. This "holistic" approach could consider: 

(T)he firearm’s type, caliber, weight, and length, the design of the brace itself, whether the firearm can be properly aimed when using the attachment as a brace, and whether an optic that cannot properly be used one-handed is present (i.e., something that suggests intent). The agency also indicates that it will observe the marketing of firearms and accessories, as well as other more subjective factors. 

However, even this initial draft document is legally suspect, contends Joshua Prince, an attorney well-known for taking pro-2A cases. Prince, pointing out the proposal, which is not yet published in the Federal Register, calls for a 14-day comment period, which is off base. 

"It would not surprise me if the proposed rulemaking is published on December 24th, so that most interested individuals and businesses will be distracted by the holidays and unable to respond in the two-week response period," warned Prince. "To prevent against these types of shenanigans, the Gun Control Act mandates a 90-day comment period."

It is estimated that well over 4 million stabilizing braces are in circulation. Far from being a niche-use item, publicly-traded firearms giants Ruger and Smith & Wesson have introduced large-format AR pistols with factory-installed stabilizing braces within the past two years, proving that the devices have penetrated well into the mainstream.

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