One trend currently sweeping the gun sphere, and for a great reason this time, is the “braced” AR or AK pistol. These short firearms are eminently handy, easy to procure and easier to transport legally. And while rifle cartridges and short barrels don’t necessarily go together like peanut butter and jelly, their appeal and convenience for the above reasons is undeniable.
Considering that the general consensus seems to be braces are once more A-OK for all otherwise legal purposes, a small cottage industry producing niche components has exploded into sector jammed with choices.
What’s the deal with all these braces? Are they just funny stocks? Is one really better than another? Should you even waste time changing the factory brace on your pistol? If you have questions, I have answers, and you have come to the right article to get them.
Questions about Braces
To make sure everyone is on the same page, and for the benefit of those who are a little late to the short-barreled barbeque, I will take a little room in the next sections to explain precisely how these traditionally rifle-actioned pistols fit into the pecking order of firearms types, why they are such a big deal, and more importantly why you should want one of them versus taking the more traditionally prescribed but laborious and expensive road in the form of a proper Short-Barreled Rifle (SBR).
After all that is sorted, I’ll get to the braces themselves.
How are these Little Rifles Suddenly Pistols?
That is simply a quirk of legal definition pertaining to firearms. To understand this properly, you must separate yourself from the nomenclature definition of what is accepted as a rifle and pistol and switch your brain into legalese mode.
As far as the ATF killjoys are concerned, a rifle is “A weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder and designed or redesigned and made or remade to use the energy of the explosive in a fixed metallic cartridge to fire only a single projectile through a rifled bore for each single pull of the trigger.” Remember that.
According to more boring ATF definitions, a pistol is “a weapon originally designed, made, and intended to fire a projectile (bullet) from one or more barrels when held in one hand, and having: a chamber(s) as an integral part(s) of, or permanently aligned with, the bore(s).” Got that?
Ok, so in essence, a rifle is designed to utilize or later has added to it a shoulder stock. A pistol does not essentially. Also, you cannot remove the stock from a rifle and call it a pistol. Remember: “Once a rifle, always a rifle.” Just because most sane people would consider an AR or AK action to be “rifles” no matter how shot the barrel is, the ATF does not care about that.
So in essence, if a manufacturer has decided to produce an AR, AK or some other action with no stock it would meet the definition of a pistol, not a rifle, since it was not designed to be fired from the shoulder.
If this sounds pedantic and maddening, sit tight.
What are these Braces, Then?
Pistol braces were originally introduced by a company SB Tactical who then licensed it to Sig Sauer for use on some of their 5.56mm pistols. According to the design letter received regarding the product from the ATF, the device as designed to allow a shooter to insert their arm through the brace and tighten it down, did not constitute a device to allow the pistol to be fired from the shoulder and would not re-classify a pistol it was attached to as something other than a pistol.
That is important to understand: if you attach a stock to a pistol, it becomes a rifle, voila. In the case of your pistol having a barrel shorter than 16”, you have just created an illegal SBR unless you submitted all the appropriate paperwork to the good, old, honorable American-as-apple-pie ATF.
Note I said stock, not brace. A few years back now, the idea caught on that you could shoulder the pistol-brace equipped, er, pistols and have for all practical purposes a short barreled rifle with none of the hoopla normally necessary to procure one.
There was must rejoicing among the gun world, and a host of manufacturers of both the braces themselves cropped up, with end users and manufacturers beginning to quickly slap together AR, AK and other varieties of pistol.
Then the other shoe dropped: I’ll spare you the grisly details since it has been covered ad nauseum all over the gun sphere by now and I do not want to type all that over, but there wound up being some additional ATF opinion letters written and sent to overly inquisitive minds on the subject that had a significant chilling effect on this party.
In short, there was concern that actually shouldering a pistol brace could, in essence, constitute a “redesign” of a brace-equipped pistol and see you locked up for manufacturing an illegal SBR.
“Oh boy” is right. But, thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and there was no rash of prosecutions or anything like that over such uses in the meantime.
While the ATF stayed mum and inscrutable to direct questioning on the matter since then (as is their custom, so they can snap it off in your ass later should they need to) most shooters and manufacturers have gone along happily churning out these brace-equipped guns by the truckload, much to the relief and rejoicing of a shooting public who have long chafed under the yoke of these odious regulations on short barreled rifles.
Why Do I Want One?
Simply put, a brace equipped pistol has tons of practical advantages over a proper SBR. For starters, you can purchase them legally over the counter the exact same way you’ll normally buy a handgun in your locality. Then there is the fact you can tote them over state lines with no mommy-may-I letter to the ATF.
What’s that? You didn’t know about that? Oh, yeah, too bad, Champ: should you have an honest to goodness papered SBR, you must write the ATF a notification letter every time you want to take it out of the state you reside in. Bummer. #landofthefree
A brace-equipped pistol, whatever its action, whatever its caliber, is still legally a pistol, and subject to all laws and regs concerning pistols. This means no permission slip needed to travel into a state where you may legally possess any given pistol, but also brace-equipped pistols enjoy easier carry when loaded in your vehicle in most states whereas shotguns and rifles often don’t.
The only downside to brace equipped pistols, and it’s a small one, is that you cannot install a vertical foregrip on it, as installation of a vertical foregrip on a pistol creates what the ATF calls an AOW, or “Any Other Weapon” which as we all know is a device of arcane and calamitous power no mortal should wield (without paying them a tax and getting another permission slip). Looks like you’ll have to bite your lip and use a hand stop, angled foregrip or plain handguard instead. Oh, the horror.
So, aside from the vert grip quibble, these guns have tons of advantages over SBRs on legal and procurement grounds alone, while matching them entirely in all other respective capability.
SBR purists lambast brace-equipped guns for looking somewhat doofier than a real stock as equipped on rifles and their sweet, sweet SBRs, but assuming you are buying your guns for practical use and not Instagram glory I think you can deal with a Velcro strap and a flexible bit or two hanging on the back of your gun.
Bottom Line: A brace equipped pistol AR or AK gives you all the merits of an SBR in a cheaper, easier to buy, easier to own package.
The following is a list of braces you will want to look into, from the classics to the latest cutting edge designs. All work better or worse for their intended purpose, and all also allow functionality for… ah… other things.
Give the list a perusal and see which ones catch your eye.
REMINDER: You can freely swap out a pistol brace for another on am AR or AK pistol, but you cannot switch the stock from your rifle to a brace then install a short barrel and call it a pistol. You would have just created an illegal SBR.
I am not an attorney, and even if I was I am not your attorney. It is strictly your own responsibility to stay informed and abreast of any legal rulings and legislative updates in your locale and at the federal level. Be smart. Neither the author nor the owners and operators of this website incur any responsibility for your actions.
SB Tactical SBA3
The company that stated it all. The SB3 is one of their newer designs, and they say it greatly enhances use of your pistol by adding a third point of contact. A nice perk is that this fits on any mil-spec AR carbine receiver extension, a ubiquitous and easily converted part. This allows length adjustment and also includes a QD swivel socket.
SB Tactical SB-MINI
This offering from SB tactical is designed as a lightweight, low profile solution. This is a “barely there” type of brace, and must clamp onto a specialty type of pistol-specific receiver extension. SB Tactical sells a couple models that will facilitate installation.
Gear Head Works Tailhook Mod 1
This nifty brace from Gear Head Works is another minimalist design machined from solid aluminum. It works by unfolding a sort of shelf that rides under the shooting forearm to counterbalance the muzzle, and in that role it works well. When not being used in that capacity, it folds up neatly at the end of the receiver extension to a stowed profile approximating a skeletonized buttplate.
A solid design, and very light, but no length adjustment. Must be installed on a special receiver extension.
Gear Head Works Tailhook Mod 2
The second coming of the Tailhook is a beefier affair than its predecessor, one with a molded polymer shank that fits over much of the length of the receiver extension tube. It now features length adjustment and a sling loop as part of the deal.
Comes with its own receiver extension which it must utilize.
KAK Industries-Shockwave Blade
A fairly unique brace that looks like a very anemic, skinny stock. Definitely not a stock though! This one is designed with a fin of sorts that protrudes below the body of the brace and allows the user to torque the pistol into their forearm for stability. Has 3 sling loops above, below and on the fin itself.
Uses its own proprietary receiver extension with 12 positions of adjustment.
Doublestar Corporation Strongarm Pistol Brace
This aluminum brace fits somewhere between conventional, full-bodied braces and the minimalist ones. Made of aluminum and anodized in an attractive flat black, this unit clamps onto a pistol receiver extension with two screws. Unfortunately allows no length adjustment but it does Include a sling swivel socket.
Maxim Defense PDW Brace
Piggybacking off another trend, that of PDW stocks on ARs, this brace mimics very closely the appearance of those stocks as popularized by Maxim and other companies. For those who don’t know, a PDW stock is a stock that telescopes around a receiver extension versus directly over it by use of two projecting rails akin to an H&K MP5 or G3 telescopic stock.
Multiple positions make it attractive and it collapses to a very compact overall length, but not the best cheek weld is provided. It is also drop-dead expensive.
Brace equipped pistols are here to stay, love them or hate them. If you have been holding off on getting one for some misplaced grudge about them being a hack workaround, ditch it: you can enjoy much of the benefit of owning an SBR with none of the headaches. This is one trend all shooters should get behind.