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Another Week, Another Executive Gun Control Action: BATFE Reverses Prior Position on Pistol "Stabilizing Braces"

Friday, January 16, 2015

Another Week, Another Executive Gun Control Action: BATFE Reverses Prior Position on Pistol "Stabilizing Braces"

Earlier today, BATFE released an Open Letter on the Redesign of “Stabilizing Braces.” This letter articulates BATFE’s official position on the use of pistol stabilizing braces like the Sig Sauer SB15. It concludes that “[a]ny person who intends to use a handgun stabilizing brace as a shoulder stock on a pistol (having a rifled barrel under 16 inches in length or a smooth bore firearm with a barrel under 18 inches in length) must first file an ATF Form 1 and pay the applicable tax because the resulting firearm will be subject to all provisions of the NFA.”

According to the letter, BATFE finds that “[b]ecause the NFA defines both rifle and shotgun to include any “weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder,” any person who redesigns a stabilizing brace for use as a shoulder stock makes a NFA firearm when attached to a pistol with a rifled barrel under 16 inches in length or a handgun with a smooth bore under 18 inches in length.”  It’s unclear how simply using a device in a certain way without altering it “redesigns” it, but the letter insists that BATFE “applie[d] the common meaning” of “redesign” in order to reach this conclusion. 

To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, the letter keeps using the word “redesign.” We do not think it means what BATFE thinks it means.

Moreover, this conclusion is the exact opposite of advice that BATFE provided to individuals in private letters, the reasoning of which BATFE is now clearly abandoning.  The new open letter stipulates that “[a]ny individual letters stating otherwise are contrary to the plain language of the NFA, misapply Federal law, and are hereby revoked.”

As with other recent rulings from BATFE, the letter does not seem to acknowledge (and perhaps its authors don’t understand) the full effect of its conclusion that use of a firearm in a particular way without alteration constitutes a “redesign” of that firearm.  The only thing that is clear from the letter is that BATFE considers shouldering any pistol with a stabilizing brace as making a firearm subject to registration and other requirements under the National Firearms Act.

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