The ATF’s proposed ruling requiring all short-barreled rifles with stabilizing braces to have tax stamps has provoked the righteous anger of millions of legal gun owners who, at the stroke of a pen, could become felons just because their rifles happen to have a particular cosmetic accessory. On Jan. 13, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms announced a ban on a commonly used firearm accessory called a pistol brace. The ATF says any weapons equipped with these “stabilizing braces” or similar attachments “that constitute rifles under the NFA” must be registered no later than May 31, 2023.

All this because one of the great minds ruling over us decided that the killing power of a gun was somehow increased by making it shorter and giving users the option to brace it on their arms.

Frangible ammo increases a gun’s killing power.

Full auto fire increases a gun’s killing power.

Larger calibers increase a gun’s killing power.

However, shorter barrels equal shorter effective ranges, which actually reduce a gun’s killing power.

The new SBR tax stamp ruling is widely rejected by millions of Americans not only because people perceive it to be an infringement on the Second Amendment, but also because the ruling makes absolutely no sense. The ATF may argue that short-barreled rifles of all sorts contribute to America’s gun violence because they’re more easily concealed, but many mass shooters use full size rifles and perfectly legal carbines, and gang violence usually involves the humble 9mm pistol.

People get SBRs for different reasons. Some SBR users get them for their ergonomics and the fact that they make great vehicle rifles, while others get them simply because they look cool. But no sane, law-abiding person would carry a short-barreled rifle as an EDC gun while getting their morning coffee.

So why does the ATF hate SBRs? It all comes down to politics. In 2021, there was a shooting in Boulder, Colorado which left ten dead and two injured. The shooter happened to be using a short-barrel AR-556 with a pistol brace, which blue politicians considered to be a dangerous weapon of war despite the fact that no weapon in the entire small arms inventory of the US military has a pistol brace. The shooter would have been just as deadly if he had used a full sized rifle, but “the powers that be” felt like they needed to be seen doing something, anything to act on the recent tragedy to look good for their constituents.

A Ruger AR-556 with a pistol brace, similar to the one used in the 2021 Boulder shooting.
A Ruger AR-556 with a pistol brace, similar to the one used in the 2021 Boulder shooting.

Not long after, the Justice Department announced that Attorney General Merrick Garland signed proposed rule 2021R-08, “Factoring Criteria for Firearms with Attached ‘Stabilizing Braces'” which would clarify whether a gun marketed with a stabilizing brace effectively turns a pistol into a short-barreled rifle. Fast forward to January 13, 2023, and now the ATF is warning that everyone with a barrel shorter than 16 inches, regardless of whether or not it’s equipped with a stabilizing brace or not, must have a $200 NFA tax stamp or else it’ll be considered a felony and a violation of the National Firearms Act, punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison and/or up to a $10,000 fine. If enforced, this would turn millions of Americans into felons overnight.

However, if you want to be a law abiding citizen and don’t want to wait months after paying your $200 tax stamp just for the government to say your SBR is “legal,” there is an alternative solution: bullpups.

As stated earlier, a lot SBR users want their short-barreled weapons for their ergonomics. Bullpup rifles were designed for the exact same reason. Always shorter than conventional rifles, they still have 16 inch barrels which satisfy the ATF’s requirements for barrel length. No NFA tax stamp required, no ridiculous wait times, and fully compliant with the law, the bullpup is the poster child for a compliant compact rifle. It also helps that a bullpup rifle’s full length barrel allows it to generally outrange SBRs.

Since they’ve never been used in mass shootings, gun-grabbing politicians probably don’t even know they exist. With their high price points, niche market, and “weirdness” factor it’s highly unlikely that they’ll ever appeal to the average psychopath anyway.

However, the very design that makes the bullpup unique poses its own challenges. Since magazines are located in the buttstock by design, reloading is very different, and shooters who’ve developed lightning quick reloading skills by honing their muscle memory on a conventional rifle will have to go back to basics with a bullpup’s configuration.

In addition, most bullpups don’t have the crisp trigger pulls of conventional rifles. The factory trigger on a Steyr Aug, for example, averages at 10 pounds compared to the Springfield Saint’s 4.5 pound factory trigger. This is due to the position of the trigger in relation to the action. Since the trigger is located further away from the firing mechanism, extra linkages are required for a bullpup to fire, making these weapons less than responsive. A “good” bullpup trigger can only be fairly compared to other bullpup triggers.

The Steyr Aug, a classic bullpup rifle.
The Steyr Aug, a classic bullpup rifle.

If you can ignore these inherent imperfections, the bullpup has more to offer than just its compact size. It offers better balance than a conventional rifle. Since most of the heavy components on a standard rifle are housed in the receiver which sits above or slightly forward of a user’s shooting hand, this makes many of them very front heavy. On a bullpup, however, the receiver and feed system are placed to the rear of the shooting hand, in what would be considered the weapon’s buttstock. Many bullpups are balanced so well they can be fired with one hand (this is possible, but not recommended).

Since their barrels are so short, they make great weapons for close quarters combat. It’s easier and faster to transition from the low ready stance to a proper aimed shooting position with a bullpup than it is with a rifle, and short bullpup barrels don’t peek from behind corners like full size rifles do.

However, one of the undeniably great things about bullpup rifles is how well they take optics. Modern bullpups like the Keltec RDB, MDRX, and Tavor all have relatively flat tops, where the cheek rest on the buttstock meets the barrel along one straight line. When using conventional rifles, users who have good cheek welds when shooting with open sights will often have to resort to a “chin weld” when shooting with optics due to the higher scope mount or else buy a cheek riser. For bullpup users, all that matters is buying the right scope mount height, and shooters will be able to get a proper cheek weld, essential for accurate shooting.

Many optics from Sightmark offer risers to help with absolute cowitnessing with your gun’s iron sights. Models such as the Sightmark Wolverine with its durable aluminum/rubber housing and 1-million-hour battery life are perfect for powerful, high caliber bullpups like the Keltec RFB and its 20 rounds of .308 magazines.

For those who truly want to reach out and touch their targets from a thousand yards away, Desert Tech’s multi-caliber MDRX is up to the challenge. Capable of 1 to 2 MOA groups at 100 yards, the MDRX can be configured to shoot 6.5 Creedmoor and hit man sized targets from up to 1000 yards away. The Presidio 5-30×56 makes an excellent companion for the MDRX with its quality glass and high magnification power, perfectly capable of landing shots at ranges of 1000 yards or more.

As for the ATF’s SBR ruling, as of this writing, it’s still in legal limbo. Pro-2A organizations, veterans, and Republicans have been putting pressure on this unconstitutional ruling, and hopefully no one will have to shell out the $200 for a tax stamp that won’t do anything to address mass shootings or lose their SBR in a boating accident.

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