The SIG Brace / Not a Stock / ATF Letter Trip

donovan leitch 1967Remember the old Donovan song? Eh, unless you’re like us, old enough to remember the introduction of that new “dirt” stuff, maybe you don’t. The trippy 60s songwriter sang the very zen line:

First, there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.
First, there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.

To which we’ve always mumbled, “Don’t take the brown acid….” (Sorry, another cultural flashback). Anyway, Donovan’s flickering mountain is a bit like the various ATF letters explaining their attitude to arm braces on AR pistols over the last couple of years, since they first provided a Firearms Technology Branch blessing to the Sig Brace.


First, it was a stock that made the gun an SBR, then it wasn’t a stock, then it was.
Then, it wasn’t a stock that made the gun an SBR, then it was a stock, then it wasn’t.

We’re not sure what to make of the ATF apparently taking up the recreational herbs and spices of the Sunshine Superman his ownself, but we’ve been whipsawed by the letters and haven’t written about them. Regulatory stuff is kind of boring, at least until ATF shows up looking for someone to feed their stats machine and settles on you. (And trust us on this: every Federal law enforcement agency has a stats machine, and it looks just like the one in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.)

Fortunately, the Prince Law Firm’s blog has been on it, and these guys are, like, real lawyers with bar cards, and ostentatious diplomas, and continuing education credits, and everything. Adam Kraut, Esq:

Well, it appears very clear that FTISB and ATF as a whole are paying very close attention to what people are doing and how they are utilizing products, including reviewing internet postings, pictures and videos. All of the stabilization/cheek enhancement products on the market have a legitimate purpose and have assumedly been approved by FTISB at some point. But, it appears that some individuals are not looking to purchase these products for their legitimate purpose and use and instead intentionally intend to misuse them from the moment they are purchased.

As was noticeably absent in the letter discussed in my blog post Cinderella and ATF’s Determination: The Fairy Tale of an AR Pistol to SBR through Magic, this letter does mention intent, in fact several times.

ATF didn’t appreciate people purchasing various stabilization products/cheek weld enhancements for the purpose of avoiding the payment of the NFA tax (which could constitute tax evasion). This is why the intent aspect, as stated in the definition, is important. If an individual purchases one of these products intending to use it in the manner for which it was made and then misuses it, as ATF previously held in the Bradley letter, he/she has done nothing illegal. There is no law dictating the end use of a product. However, if an individual purchases one of these products to install on their pistol and intends to use it as a faux stock, he/she has very clearly created an illegal SBR.

We think the consigliere has done a good a job as anyone can hope to of reading the ATF tea leaves, so we’ll leave it at that (do go Read The Whole Thing™).

Now, we’d like to make some comments about the ATF technology evaluation process in general. Kraut notices that they did something they usually don’t do, explicitly warn that this paper really isn’t worth more than the paper it’s printed on. He quotes commentary on the latest “brace” letter, this one to Thorsden Customs. What the letter itself (hosted at Prince Law) says, is:

In closing, we should remind you that the information found in correspondence from FTISB is intended only for use by the addressed individual or company with regard to a specific scenario described within that correspondence.

This is apparently new boilerplate. But the fact is, that is the nature of all ATF determinations. They are ephemeral, have no precedential value, and are only binding on citizens, not on the ATF. The ATF can, and does, overturn them at any time on nothing more than a whim, and the courts have rules that these will-o-the-wisp whims require near-absolute deference.

ATF-Molan Labe

Finally, a couple of exit thoughts: If the ATF didn’t take an elephant’s gestation to process SBR paperwork, maybe so many people wouldn’t be looking for an end-around. Want to increase compliance with the law? Make it easy and convenient. If somebody’s not making it easy and convenient, maybe they’re not really interested in increasing compliance with the law.

9 thoughts on “The SIG Brace / Not a Stock / ATF Letter Trip

  1. DJ

    Hearty agreement on your comment about making SBR registration easy and convenient.

    Heck, now that every in-shop gun buyer gets a background check as a matter of course, SBR/SBS, AOW, and suppressor stamps should be in a clear plastic scratch-off-lottery-ticket-type dispenser on top of the counter in every gunshop in America. Fill out the paperwork, write-in the FBI clearance code, pay the money, lick & stick, and out the door you’d go.

  2. Jason Economos

    It seems to me the ATF is willing (and often does) twist the ambiguity of these laws in their favor when prosecuting confused citizens, or those who seek to obey the laws as they interpret them, but are unaware of confusing loopholes. This whole Sig Brace thing is a perfect example. Furthermore, how the hell would/are they even enforcing such a law that deems it illegal to shoulder that brace unless they are able to catch someone in the act?

    Honestly, with how short SBR e-filed paperwork is turning around these days, I don’t even think it’s worth it. A buddy of mine filed three SBRs and they were both turned around in under two months – five to six weeks if I remember correctly. BUT, and this is the kicker, the servers have to be up in order to e-file. My suppressor Form 4 was submitted at the beginning of last May and I received my can at the beginning of Oct. but shortly after it was submitted, the server went down for Form 4s.

    If the ATF would staff-up and keep their servers running, they’d have less illegal SBR hunting to do, and more SBR paperwork to approve. The .gov makes money and law-abiding civilians like me have nothing to worry about.

    By the way, WeaponsMan, I am the same J.S. Economos who wrote Gentle Propositions, the SOG recon novel you reviewed back in July. I just wanted to say thank you SO MUCH for such a positive recommendation/review. I stumbled across it a few weeks ago and am still blown away by what you had to say about it. Rest assured, the sequel is well underway.

    1. TRX

      > Furthermore, how the hell would/are they even enforcing
      > such a law that deems it illegal to shoulder that brace
      > unless they are able to catch someone in the act?

      That’s the fundamental difference here. The various gun control acts set law according to *what*; what firearms are regulated, how long the barrels might be, what calibers are allowed, what things are prohibited.

      Then the ATF started regulating (they’re “empowered” to make and enforce their own regulations as part of and in support of GCA ’68) firearms according to what you *might* do with them. They reclassified a list of open-bolt guns as “NFA” because you *might* modify one to run in full auto, while ignoring other, very similar weapons. (There’s no ATF prohibition on open bolt guns in general, just specific open bolt guns by name) Then they got into “constructive posession”, and a few people got jacked up over owning both M-16 replacement parts and AR-15s; both completely legal to own, until the ATF said they couldn’t be owned at the same time and place. Then they eased off that and went after the Contender guys, because they *might* mix and match pistol and rifle parts. Then they eased off them…

      So, the ATF has a long history of defining and attempting to enforce “crimes of intent” that they made up for themselves. When I first read about the “SIG Brace” my first thought was wonder that someone actually managed to get an approval for it, and the second was that it wouldn’t be long before the ATF yanked the rug out from under them…

  3. Matt

    I fully intend to use my product only as designed. (Lifts blind, sees black van drive away). Still disappointed we can’t have suppressors here at all.

  4. Daniel

    So if I purchase a normal buffer tube and a magpul ctr stock with the INTENT to utilize it as a cheek rest and not as a buttstock, have I therefore designed or redesigned a product to be fired one handed ad created a pistol lower? The ATF rules so arbitrarily it would be laughable if they weren’t so intent on violating their oaths daily.

  5. DAN III

    “shall not be infringed.” Not too hard to understand with only 6th grade English under one’s belt. But as the Congress has relinquished their authority to “coin money”, so they have relinquished their authority and responsibity to create law. In turn they’ve allowed the bureaucrats of the alphabet agencies to exercise themselves, what was once the function of the legislature. The tyranny continues as BATFE bureaucrats are unaccountable and continue to foist laws upon the citizenry.

    BATFE and Congress. Both useless. The arm brace shenanigans only reinforcing their worthlessness.

  6. TRX

    When I got my first NFA firearm in 1982 the “paperwork delay” was something like four months. I suspected it was a de facto waiting period disguised as bureaucratic inefficiency.

    Over the intervening decades, despite additional funding and staffing, computerization, etc., the delay of my last Form 1 was nine months before the papers came back in October 2014.

    “It’s not a waiting period!” Suuure, pull the other one…

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