Super-short AR-15 guns that legally fall under the ATF’s definition of a pistol have been around for decades. However, in recent years these guns have been given a phenomenal jump in popularity due to the Bureau’s approval of a number of non-buttstock braces that can be fitted to these handguns to give the user the ability to fire the gun from a more supported position. We take a look at some of the better designs on the market.
Why these are needed (a crash course)
According to the National Firearms Act of 1934 (the NFA), arms that the government thought to be too dangerous for over the counter sales, such as machine guns, suppressors, and short barreled rifles and shotguns, were regulated with an obscene $200 tax and special requirements to obtain one of these registered devices. When you take into account that $200 in 1934 is some $3500 in today’s dollars, you can see why this was thought so unachievable.
In regulating short-barreled rifles, the NFA states that any rifle less than 26-inches overall had to be registered and so regulated. However, as long as a pistol did not have a buttstock, and was made from the beginning as a handgun, it could be shorter than this requirement. That’s where these braces come in at.
The Sig Sauer SB15 brace
Perhaps responsible for the spark of this current trend, Sig’s SB15 Brace, a simple upside-down U-shaped device that could be fitted to the buffer tube of an AR-style pistol and enable the gun to be fired while the SB15 steadied on the forearm of the shooter through use of a Velcro strap.
In 2012 the company submitted their design to the ATF’s Firearm Technology Branch who concluded that the brace was NFA-compliant, “Based on our evaluation, the FTB finds that the submitted forearm brace, when attached to a firearm, does not convert that weapon to be fired from the shoulder and would not alter the classification of a pistol or other firearm.”
Then earlier this year, the use of it even as a shoulder stock of sorts was deemed OK:
MAC weighing in with a SB15 brace on a SIG pistol.
Even when fired when resting against the shoulder, the $139 SB15 provides the basic third point of contact while allowing somewhat of a cheek weld on the pistol– thus enhancing accuracy and control. On the downside, it’s a little pricey and the U-shaped brace itself is on the clunky side. In addition, it usually requires a buffer tube cover such as the Phase 5 or KAK to fit properly (more on those below).
The Thordsen Customs Pistol Builder’s Package
For $117 and in a choice of black, OD green or dark earth, Thordsen Custom’s offers their AR Pistol Build package. Consisting of a buffer tube, tube converter, adapter, saddle kit, recoil buffer, castle nut and mounting hardware, the package has a unique cover to the tube that gives a wide a sturdy platform that translates into an instant cheek weld when needed. Certainly svelter than the SB15, it also does not have the side-benefit of being a forearm brace if needed. Moreover, yes, its ATF approved as well.
The Phase 5 Tactical Pistol Tube
Although designed to work with the Sig SB15 brace, with its cheek-friendly soft foam covering, the AR-15 Pistol Buffer Tube Complete Assembly (PBT-CA) by Phase 5 can be a standalone “thing that goes up” for your gas gun build. Consisting simply of a CNC-machined 7075 aluminum billet buffer tube with a Mil-Spec end plate and castle nut wrapped in a NPVC-constructed buffer tube foam pad, it allows an overhang that can be used to achieve that oh-so-elusive cheek weld on an AR pistol. Best yet, its only $69.
KAK Gen 2 Tube
Designed to be used in conjunction with a SB15 brace, the KAK Industries produces a buffer tube that extends some 7.125-inches from the butt plate. Coated out the outside with a peanut fluting, the enhanced tube can be used on its own much like the Phase 5 tube. Cost? $40.
While there is no perfect solution, odds are by this time next year the offerings for NFA-compliant AR pistol tube-based stabilizers will double or even triple.
And we can’t wait.