Black Aces Tactical, the SigTac SB15 arm brace and ATF’s misguided determination letter

On November 14th Black Aces Tactical received a determination letter from the Firearms Technology Industry Services Branch (FTISB) regarding their recent submission of what at first glance appears to be a SBS or AOW. Black Aces Tactical was hoping to have the item classified as a “firearm” thus removing it from the purview of NFA entirely.

ftb1  The SigTac SB15 arm brace has caused quite the controversy since its introduction and much to the delight of those in states where SBRs are illegal and those who don’t wish to go through the process of obtaining a NFA firearm. Some contend that the arm brace is a “loophole” or a way to “cheat” the system but the law supports ATF’s determination that the arm brace was never designed or redesigned with the intent for it to be shoulder fired. The determination letter that accompanies each arm brace states that “We find that the device is not designed or intended to fire a weapon from the shoulder.”

atfsig  In March of 2014, Sergeant Joe Bradley of the Greenwood Police Department received a reply from the Firearms Technology Branch (FTB) in response to his question which asked, if an AR-15 type pistol was fired from the shoulder, would it cause the pistol to be reclassified as a Short Barreled Rifle. FTB responded that it would not and that it had previously determined that firing a weapon from a particular position (like placing the buffer tube to one’s shoulder) does not change the classification of the weapon. It further asserts that ATF did not classify the SigTac SB15 arm brace as a stock so its improper usage would not change the weapons classification.

So what’s all the buzz about this new letter from the FTISB to Black Aces Tactical? Black Aces Tactical submitted a sample which they say had an overall length of 27 inches. The sample had a SigTac SB15 arm brace attached as well as a vertical foregrip to the left side. On page 3 of ATF’s response, the FTISB explains what would make a pistol an AOW but since the OAL was greater than 26 inches and NOT concealed on a person, the sample was excluded from being classified as an AOW.

sigbraceusage  FTISB classified the sample as a “firearm” as defined by the Gun Control Act of 1968 and not a “firearm” under NFA, which is what Black Aces Tactical was after. However, FTISB states that should the weapon be concealed its classification may be changed. What’s more troubling is what comes next.

“Should an individual utilize the SigTac SB15 pistol stabilizing brace on the submitted sample as a shoulder stock to fire the weapon from the shoulder, this firearm would then be classified as a “short-barreled shotgun…because the subject brace has then been made or remade, designed or redesigned from its originally intended purpose.

This seems to be a complete contradiction of its earlier determination that when shouldering an AR-15 type pistol, with or without the brace, the classification of the firearm remains the same. So what changed? Nothing.

Unfortunately for ATF, it seems to have missed an important definition in the National Firearms Act. One of the definitions of a “firearm” is a shotgun with a barrel length of less than 18 inches or a weapon made from a shotgun if the weapon has an overall length of less than 26 inches or a barrel less than 18 inches. A shotgun is defined as “a weapon designed or redesigned…and intended to be fired from the shoulder…” Since the sample was never intended to be fired from the shoulder and is not a shotgun, then it surely cannot be a firearm under the National Firearms Act which would exclude it all together from becoming a short barreled shotgun.

Is it possible that ATF has now changed its position on the SigTac SB15 arm brace and is getting ready to issue a determination letter which would result in an individual shouldering an AR-15 type pistol with the brace converting the firearm into an illegal short barreled rifle?

If so, ATF has apparently chosen to ignore the definitions found in the National Firearms Act again. Attaching the brace to a buffer tube and shouldering it is not “making or remaking” nor is it “designed or redesigned ” from its originally intended purpose. ATF even stated in its determination letter that comes with every SigTac Brace that it “does not convert that weapon to be fired from the shoulder.” A rifle is defined as “a weapon designed or redesigned…and intended to be fired from the shoulder…” If ATF is planning to issue a determination letter similar in nature as applicable to AR-15 style pistols, ATF will have failed to reconcile that under NFA an AR-15 style pistol cannot be defined as a “firearm” as it doesn’t meet any of the criteria! An AR-15 style pistol was never a rifle and as such even with a SigTac brace attached falls outside of NFA’s regulation.

I’ve requested the first two pages of the letter along with more information about the sample which was provided to ATF for the determination. While the determination letter is specific to the sample provided, it is possible that Black Aces Tactical has opened Pandora’s box with regards to the SigTac SB15 arm brace and its future, but the law does not support the transformation that ATF suggests.

20 thoughts on “Black Aces Tactical, the SigTac SB15 arm brace and ATF’s misguided determination letter

  1. Is it possible that the ATF ruling is due to the fact that BlackAces Tactical does not manufacture the receiver, therefore the firearm started life as a shotgun? Could you swap parts on an AR-15 rifle and legally make it a pistol?


    1. From ATF FFL Newsletter November 2009 Pages 2-3:

      “Pistol Grips and Shotguns

      Firearms with pistol grips attached:
      The definition of a shotgun under the GCA, 18 U.S.C.
      §921(a)(5), 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 an explosives to fire through a smooth bore either a number of ball shot or single projectile for each single pull of the trigger.

      Certain commercially produced firearms do not fall within the definition of shotgun under the GCA even though they utilize a shotgun shell for ammunition. For example, firearms that come equipped with a pistol grip in place of the buttstock are not shotguns as defined by the GCA.

      A firearm with a pistol grip in lieu of the shoulder stock is not designed to be fired from the shoulder and, therefore, is not a shotgun.”

      To answer your first question, if the firearm they started off with never had a buttstock attached, it was not a shotgun by definition and was outside the purview of the Gun Control Act of 1968. Similarly, the definition of a shotgun under the National Firearms Act of 1934 requires that it intended to be fired from the shoulder. It would not be considered a shotgun in that regard either.

      Since I don’t know how that firearm started it’s life, whether it was a virgin receiver or a pistol grip attached to it instead of a buttstock, I can’t elaborate more. It would depend on what Black Aces Tactical started out with.

      You cannot take a rifle to a pistol legally. ATF has said once a rifle always a rifle. You would need a factory AR pistol or a virgin receiver to build an AR pistol.


  2. So…. By the ATF’s logic (shetchy, I know), and my understanding, if one was able to purchase a virgin stripped shotgun receiver, make it into a shotgun pistol, and was over 26″ long, it would be legal? And I wouldn’t have added the horizontal (vertical) foregrip.


      1. The only manufacturer I am aware of who sells gripless, stockless firearms is Remington, and its a 14″ barrel, and Remington treats them as a SBS from the factory, I can buy one as a SOT, you cannot.

        However, I have and do make legal 14″ shotguns, starting with a pistol gripped NEW, from the factory shotgun, 870s and 500s are available, then, I cut the barrel down to 14″, and use a shockwave grip, this brings it to 26 1/2 inches, and its legally a firearm in PA, and its legal to carry loaded, and in your vehicle, or in a holster openly, in both cases, conceal it, and it falls under the purview of the NFA.


  3. Something that ‘kind of’ ties to this. I was at Palmetto Armory a few weeks ago. Since I’m from NC and they’re in SC, I can buy a rifle from them but NOT pistols. They had a bunch of blemished AR receivers that were cheap…unfortunately I couldn’t buy them because….and this is what the salesman said.

    “…we have to send it to NC so it can be registered..”
    (me) “Why?”
    “…because this receiver could be used for a rifle or a pistol..and you can’t buy pistols out of state…” (without sending them back to NC for registration).
    (me) “Where did this goofy law come from?”

    Anyone ever heard of this? I admit I’ve never tried to buy a pistol out of state though…



    1. You can’t sell a pistol to an out of state resident without it transferring through a FFL. 18 USC 922(b)(3)

      (b) It shall be unlawful for any licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, licensed dealer, or licensed collector to sell or deliver…
      (3) any firearm to any person who the licensee knows or has reasonable cause to believe does not reside in (or if the person is a corporation or other business entity, does not maintain a place of business in) the State in which the licensee’s place of business is located, except that this paragraph (A) shall not apply to the sale or delivery of any rifle or shotgun to a resident of a State other than a State in which the licensee’s place of business is located if the transferee meets in person with the transferor to accomplish the transfer, and the sale, delivery, and receipt fully comply with the legal conditions of sale in both such States (and any licensed manufacturer, importer or dealer shall be presumed, for purposes of this subparagraph, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, to have had actual knowledge of the State laws and published ordinances of both States), and (B) shall not apply to the loan or rental of a firearm to any person for temporary use for lawful sporting purposes;

      The rifle/shotgun is the exception to the rule. Receivers are by definition a “firearm” and as such are subject to this control.


      1. Virgin AR receivers are not a rifle, or a pistol, simply a receiver, and when in final usage, they become what they are, a rifle, or a pistol, and are subject to the same rules for either.

        Pa tried to make a bare AR receiver a pistol, and it was shot down in short order, we transfer them as just a receiver. Not as a pistol.


      2. David, read it again. Pistols do not have extra restrictions on interstate transfers. Rather, those restrictions apply to all firearms EXCEPT rifles and shotguns. If it isn’t a rifle or shotgun, then it is restricted in interstate transfers. That includes bare receivers/frames.


  4. In the first paragraph, I think this sentence is missing a “not” somewhere:

    Black Aces Tactical was hoping to have the item classified as a “firearm” thus removing it from the purview of NFA entirely.


  5. What you are missing is that we are taking about the SB15 “Pistol” Stabilizing Brace. It is designed to stabilize a pistol and not a “firearm.” Attaching it to a “firearm” IS “redesigning” and “remaking” from its originally intended purpose. Shouldering the weapon then illustrates that the pistol stabilizing brace has been “remade” into a stock, and we’re left with a SBS.


  6. It seems to me that the industry is going to push this issue to the bitter end, per usual! The buffer tube on the AR family of rifles is a necessary part of the firearm by design and not an added-on feature that has no essential, functional purpose other than to accommodate a Sig-tac brace, which is installed now on a plethora of weapons. This is a antagonistic action on part of the industry which will likely be the death of the concept, causing all to be denied the device. As Forrest Gump so astutely stated, “Stupid is as stupid does”. What we are seeing from the industry is indeed STUPID! and will likely result in what ATFE failed to do initially, either banning of the brace or reclassifying the AR pistol as a firearm under NFA. WELL DONE!!


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