In a move described as “alarming” by a Pennsylvania Second Amendment advocacy law firm, Prince Law, the U.S Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Ohio recently indicted and charged veteran Kelland Wright of possessing an unregistered SBR because his AR pistol had an angled foregrip and pistol brace installed.
Price Law, one of the very few law firms which focus on protecting Second Amendment rights, posted a story on its blog about a man indicted and charged with having a pistol brace and angled foregrip on his AR-15 pistol.
A pistol stabilizing brace is a common accessory for AR- and AK-platform pistols that helps shooters, especially disabled shooters, to increase control and accuracy of their firearm.
The stabilizing braces, which do resemble a rifle stock, are designed to be used by placing the brace on your forearm and securing it with the attached Velcro strap.
Designed by Navy veteran Alex Bosco in 2012, Alex originally made the stabilizing brace to enable disabled shooters to accurately and safely shoot AR-type pistols one-handed. After developing a prototype of what is now called the SB-15 Pistol Stabilizing Brace, Bosco wrote the ATF. Responding fairly quickly, the ATF stated that as long as the brace was used as intended, it would not classify as a short-barreled rifle—a highly-regulated National Firearms Act (NFA) item.
A short-barreled rifle or SBR is a shoulder-fired rifle outfitted with a buttstock and a barrel length of less than 16 inches. They are legal to own; however, must be registered and accompanied by a $200 tax stamp.
At first, stabilizing braces were about as popular as bump stocks until March 2014, when a Colorado Police Sargent, Joe Bradley, wrote the ATF asking if shouldering a pistol accessorized with an SB-15 turned the pistol into an SBR. The ATF returned with, “Using such an accessory improperly would not change the classification of the weapon per Federal law.”
Well, the firearms community responded whole-heartedly. Being able to shoulder these braces legally made AR and AK pistols much more appealing and the platform surged in popularity.
In the fall of 2014, a company called Black Aces Tactical created a shotgun outfitted with an SB-15 SIG brace. The ATF clearly stated the shogun did not classify as an SBR if no one shouldered it. Many in the industry took this to mean the letter from the ATF only pertained to this particular shotgun and not any other gun. However, in early 2015, the ATF released a letter reversing its March 2014 decision.
The letter stated that if any firearm with a stabilizing brace installed was shouldered it would then be classified as a short-barreled rifle and would require a tax stamp and registered as an NFA item.
If the issue wasn’t convoluted enough, The Truth About Guns reports that last year, SB Tactical, Alex’s original company, sought clarification on the ATF’s ruling. The ATF then responded that SB Tactical or Sig braces could be shouldered, but not any other manufacturers’ brace.
TTAG writes: “This letter applies solely to pistol arm braces which have been submitted to the ATF FTB branch and have received approval. SB Tactical is the only maker to have received this approval. If you have a non-SB Tactical pistol brace, this ruling does not apply to your brace. Shoulder those at your own risk.
Sources also tell TTAG that the ATF will be designing a litmus test to identify the difference between a stock and an arm brace (rather than the Supreme Court “I know it when I see it” approach). The test’s protocols are as yet unknown, but the mention of “comfort” above may mean that the ATF will be looking to ensure that the length of the arm brace is short enough to make it inconvenient to shoulder among other requirements.
Is this a reversal of the ATF’s policy? The ATF says no — in their letter they specifically call this a “clarification” of their policy and not a revision. But I can’t help feel that this is as close to a non-reversal reversal as we can expect from the bureaucratic nightmare that is the U.S. government.”
People have been installing and using pistol braces for years without issue but on July 11, 2018, an indictment was filed against Kelland Wright for “possession of an unregistered short-barreled rifle.” Wright’s AR pistol was built on a Sharps Bros receiver and had a Stark Express angled foregrip and Maxim Defense PDW pistol brace installed. An angled foregrip is not classified as a vertical foregrip and therefore does not make Wright’s pistol an SBR per current ATF policy.
Wright’s firearms were confiscated after police were called for a domestic disturbance between Wright and his wife. He was charged on March 30, 2018. Despite having no prior ruling or mention of the length of pull being a determining factor in whether or not a firearm is classified as an SBR, the ATF stated the length of pull on Wright’s AR pistol was greater than the 13.5 inches allowed. As the Prince Law firm reports, most of the documents are sealed; however, the papers that remain public, state that an ATF Officer was going to testify that the brace was designed to be fired from the shoulder. Further, all letters from the ATF regarding the legalities of the stabilizing brace and angled foregrip were withheld from the jury. (This is some shady sh*t, you guys.)
Fortunately, after a short deliberation, the jury found Wright not guilty.
Let’s get back to why this is “alarming.” This lawsuit clearly demonstrates that the ATF can pick and choose what it finds legal or not in its own classifications—reversing previous rulings at will.
Prince Law firm writes:
“Since the Law Vegas shooting and what some contend has been a takeover by Department of Justice (which in some contexts appears to be accurate), ATF has begun internally reversing prior determinations and making up new interpretations of law, in the absence of informing the Firearms Industry or the public of these reversals and/or new interpretations. More disconcerting, this mentality has now seemingly infected certain U.S. Attorney Offices, which is alarming to say the least. Although I cannot disclose all of the occasions where ATF has recently reversed its prior determinations or devised a new interpretation of the law or regulation, I can disclose a recent prosecution, of a veteran, where ATF devised a new interpretation out of whole cloth and was successful in convincing the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio to prosecute. The case is U.S. v. Wright, 3:18-CR-162 and it should have the entire Firearms Community alarmed.”