PSA: Critical Analysis Of Shouldering A Brace

    Just before the NRA Annual Meeting, SB Tactical released the amazing reversal letter from the ATF about shouldering “Stabilizing Braces”. The community rejoiced. All across social media, gun groups were overjoyed. However, some were a little too eager and jumping to the wrong conclusions.

    The letter that was released was directed to SB Tactical and for their line of products. However, some people believe that this letter applies to all braces. It is my opinion that this is further from the truth. Let us look at the evidence.

    In 2015 ATF publicly released their “OPEN LETTER ON THE REDESIGN OF STABILIZING BRACES”. Go ahead and Google it. That letter is not addressed to anyone in particular, whereas this recent letter is addressed to Mark Barnes Esq. Outside Counsel to SB Tactical.

    So what does that actually mean? That letter is for SB Tactical and their products. What about the other stabilizing braces out there? The only two that have any real possibility are the Gearhead Works and the Shockwave Blade.

    Marty of Shockwave Technologies posted on his website that shouldering the Blade is ok. However critical thinking gives me cause for concern.

    I just got off the phone with a very nice gentleman at ATF Tech Branch—who was fielding these calls today. (He was, understandably, very well versed on the subject—and very nice about it even though he’s been on the phone all day, repeating himself ad nauseam.) I identified myself and asked him specifically if the letter that’s making the rounds is limited to one company’s products–or if it applies to all pistol stabilizing braces. He said: “The letter covers all pistol stabilizing braces, including the Shockwave Blade.” So that settles that.

    He then gave me a bit of further guidance for our customers:

    1. By “permanent affixing,” ATF considers that to be adding permanent Loctite to the large set screw that secures the Blade into the dimples in the KAK tube. As long as you don’t red Loctite the set screw in place, ATF considers it to be “temporarily placed” and “perfectly okay to shoulder.” (He didn’t beat around the bush on this topic.)
    2. “Length of pull”—for lack of a better word regarding pistol braces—begins to enter a “gray area” above 13.5″. Above 13.5″ begins “to enter shoulder stock area.” (His words. I believe this has to do with the “comfortableness” aspect.) On an AR-15, the “length of pull” for the Blade is approximately 13.13″, so no issues there. But if you use the Blade on a firearm that requires a large adapter of some sort, please make sure that you only use the dimples up to the point that you remain below the 13.5″ length. Stay below 13.5″ and according to ATF, it’s okay to shoulder a Shockwave Blade.

    So there you have it. Anything you read to the contrary on a web forum, social media site or industry blog is simple misinformation by people who are not being completely honest.

    Marty reached out to me privately on Facebook when I was asking questions about this mystery ATF Agent that was able to give an opinion over the phone. Marty claims that the ATF Agent in question desires to remain anonymous but Marty provided his name and phone number so I could verify what Marty claimed. I did my best in contacting said Agent but unfortunately was never able to get in touch with him. I was able to ascertain the Agent’s title and role in the ATF. He is a “Firearms Enforcement Officer” in the Firearms and Ammunition Technology Division (FATD) of the ATF. They are the people who draft technical opinions. When I called the number for this Agent, it went to a busy tone every time. So I called FATD directly to try and talk to someone. Their answering system clearly states that the Firearms Technology Branch does not respond to inquiries regarding technical, policy or legal questions over the phone or email. Questions must be submitted in writing. Go ahead and try calling them (304) 616-4300. Press 3 for private citizen and you get the same response as I did.

    So how did Shockwave get an agent over the phone? There is an option for FFL holders over the phone. But is that really important? Not really. Marty of Shockwave probably did talk to someone. I’m not debating the validity of the conversation but the authority this person has to make determinations over the phone. I talked to my local ATF office and the Agent I spoke to expressed his opinion on the matter as well. But that is all it is. Just someone’s opinion. Even though the Firearms Enforcement Officer gave his opinion over the phone what weight does that carry? Look back at the SB Tactical letter. It is written by Marvin G Richardson, he is the third highest person in the ATF. Not some nameless Firearms Enforcement Officer who wishes to remain anonymous.

    There are other things you should be critically analyzing and that is Shockwave’s response. As I pointed out, the ATF reversal letter is addressed to SB Tactical. And yet Marty claims “The letter covers all pistol stabilizing braces, including the Shockwave Blade.”

    I find it interesting that this “letter” applies to Shockwave when they distanced themselves when the Open Letter was released. Here is a screen cap of Shockwave’s response to the Open Letter.

    So which is it? An Open Letter that is meant for the public doesn’t apply but a private letter does apply sounds like double talk.

    If we assume that the private SB Tactical letter does apply to other braces then shouldn’t the entire letter apply then?

    In SB Tactical’s letter, it mentions steps one could take that undermine’s the stabilizing brace’s ability to function. Specifically, length, which Marty mentions in his public post but skipped the part about removing the arm strap. While the Blade has slots for a strap, the Blade does not come with straps. So doesn’t that undermine its ability to be used as a brace? I suppose you could add a simple strap and comply with the letter if it does apply to the blade.

    But what about the Gearhead Works Tailhook?

    We do have confirmation from the ATF that this announcement applies to ALL pistol braces despite what some sources are claiming.

    Gear Head Works is pleased to announce that the ATF has reversed their prior ruling on “use” of a forearm brace for a pistol as a shoulder stock constituting a “redesign” or “remaking” of the pistol as a short barreled rifle subject to NFA restrictions.

    Gear Head Works sells two models of stabilizing braces which have been approved by the ATF for sale and use on pistols in the United States. In a January 2017 letter, the ATF declared that Gear Head Works’ Tailhook MOD1 and Tailhook MOD2 were a “forearm brace” such that when a Tailhook is attached to an AR-type pistol, the classification of the weapon as a pistol is not altered. That is, the weapon remains a pistol when a Tailhook is attached and does not become a short barreled rifle subject to NFA restrictions.

    In Gear Head Works’ January 2017 approval letter for the Tailhook, the ATF refers back to their “January 2015 Open Letter on the Redesign of Stabilizing Braces” for information on use of the Tailhook as a shoulder stock constituting a redesign or remaking of a weapon. According to the new ATF letter dated March 2017, the prior guidance on use of an approved forearm brace as a shoulder stock constituting a “remaking” or “redesign” of a firearm has been reversed. ATF has concluded that attaching a forearm brace doesn’t ‘make’ a short-barreled rifle because it is not intended to be and cannot comfortably be fired from the shoulder. Therefore, an NFA firearm has not been made when the forearm brace is not reconfigured for use as a shoulder stock – even if the attached firearm happens to be fired from the shoulder.

    They make the same claim as Shockwave Technologies. But where is the proof? What confirmation is there? How come they don’t have their own letters? Tinfoil hat time, you shoulder a non-SB tactical brace and something bad happens. You get charged with making an NFA item. What do you say in court? “Gearhead Works and Shockwave said it was ok” won’t do well for you in court like a letter from the ATF.

    But there are bigger issues at large as well with these two products. Look at their approval letters.


    In that last page it specifically calls out “AR-Type Pistol” and goes on to say that the findings are only based upon what was submitted. They only submitted the Tailhook on an AR Type Pistol. And yet we have seen examples online of the Tailhook on the back of KRISS Vectors, MP5s, and CZ Scorprions.

    If the design, dimensions, configuration, method of operation, or materials used were changed our determinations would be subject to review

    So have they gotten approval for the use of the Tailhook on pistols other than AR-Type pistols? Not that I have seen. Also the same problem arises with the inclusion of the Tailhook into the SB Tactical letter. The Tailhook does not have an arm-strap. So by removing the Arm-strap doesnt that undermine its ability to be used as a brace?

    Now take a closer look at Shockwave’s approval letter.

    Look at the photo of the Blade that was submitted. Here are some photos I dug up of the original Blade.

    That looks nothing like what is being sold now.

    The old blade used two screws, one in front and one in back to clamp the blade onto a pistol buffer tube. The new one has a single set screw similar in position as a carbine stock. It is used in conjunction with the 12 position KAK buffer tube. This is a considerable change in functionality. The current blade is adjustable and nothing in the approval letter mentions adjustability but it does mention “flexible” The current Blade is not flexible at all.

    If we look back at the GHW letter, it did mention that any changes would require a review of the ATF’s determination. Has Shockwave and KAK gotten a new letter approving their latest Blade? Marty claims that the length is 13.5″ and to stay compliant just keep the blade under that length. But isn’t there such a thing as constructive intent? That would be like attaching a folding stock to a pistol and advising people to keep it folded and you are good to go. That doesn’t work so why should this apply as well?

    So what does all this mean? SB Tactical did some serious work to get a letter from some high ranking officials in the ATF. That is hard evidence you can take to court. Gearhead Works and Shockwave are only claiming their products are good to go. Doesn’t that make them liable for any issues? Doesn’t that put their consumers at risk? If their products are good to go then why don’t they have letters from the ATF saying the same thing? It’s not that hard to get a letter. According to the ATF’s Firearms Technical Branch phone system, anyone can submit an inquiry in writing. If you have a brace that is not made by SB Tactical I would be skeptical about shouldering it until something more concrete is seen rather than said.

    Nicholas C

    Steadicam Gun Operator
    Night Vision & Thermal Aficionado
    Flashlight/Laser Enthusiast
    USPSA competitor

    Any questions please email him at [email protected]