Technical Compliance: The Braced Pistol
By Ryan Sullivan
History is replete with examples of politicians and leaders attempting to come up with rules to restrict human behavior… and upstanding citizens doing their upmost to do what they originally wanted to do without getting fined or going to jail. Over the years, a great deal of time, energy, resources and creativity have been invested into leaning as far over the line as you can go while still technically toeing it. For many years, products have been brought onto the American firearms market designed along these lines, filling niches created by the rules as writ.
One area where the general public has been told “no” by the powers that be is in compact, powerful firearms. If one wants a rifle with a sub-16 inch barrel or less than 26 inches in overall length, you get into the realm of the National Firearms Act (NFA), a bit of vintage legislation intended to bring Prohibition-Era gang violence down to an acceptable level. Judging the functionality of the NFA on that front is beyond the scope of this piece, but nevertheless, there it is, and to be a law-abiding gun owner you need to take it into account. And if you want a Short Barreled Rifle (SBR), a whole process awaits you involving tax stamps, waiting periods, paperwork, and approvals, assuming that your state of residence (like our home in Illinois) doesn’t restrict them from the general public or ban them outright.
People want an SBR, but will settle for a sufficiently advanced pistol.
What is a Braced Pistol?
Rather large handguns, both in rifle and pistol calibers, the latter often in imitation of popular and historical sub-machine guns, have been around for a number of years, but until recent developments have been generally regarded as something of a novelty item. And then the arm brace came along. Now, if anyone asks, the arm brace is exactly that, a brace that goes on your arm. It is absolutely not intended to go on your shoulder. More specifically, it’s not *designed* to go on your shoulder. When you dive into the NFA, and into the definition of a “Rifle,” it calls for something that is “designed or redesigned” to be fired from the shoulder. A pistol is not designed to be fired from the shoulder, an arm brace is not designed to be put against the shoulder, ergo the combination is not a rifle. To the untrained eye it may look like a rifle, it certainly sounds like a rifle when you pull the trigger (consider wearing plugs under your earmuffs if you’re going to shoot 5.56 out of an 8 inch barrel), and some people will make it quack like a rifle by putting that brace up against their shoulder, but the law is clear; a rifle it is not… unless you stick a block of wood inside the arm brace to bulk it up, in which case you’ve “redesigned” the stock and the ATF determines you to be worthy of a felony charge.
Braced Pistol Performance
In terms of overall performance, a braced pistol is a very close match for a SBR, and can fill many of the same operational needs. Being significantly more compact than a full sized rifle or pistol caliber carbine, a braced pistol is easier to store and transport, leading to them being very adaptable to the classic “truck gun” niche. The compact size also gives them an appeal as a home defense item, offering greater stability and accessory mounting options than a pure handgun while being easier to maneuver in rooms and through doorways than a full sized long gun. While there is some loss in muzzle velocity and maximum effective range versus a full length weapon, both of the above roles put an emphasis on use at closer ranges; it would be a very unusual day indeed if you needed to get out of your car and trade shots at 200+ yards. And until the rules get changed, it may be the best (and most accessible) game in town for close quarters weaponry.