ATF ‘Pistol Brace’ Ruling Could Have Sweeping Impacts For Wyoming Gun Owners

An ATF ruling that would classify firearms outfitted with pistol braces as short-barreled rifles could require up to 40 million guns to be registered, something many gun owners see as unconstitutional.

Mark Heinz

January 16, 20235 min read

Pistol brace Warrior Poet Society 1 1 16 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

A federal ruling on firearms that would reclassify some popular AR-15 variants as “short-barreled rifles” could have sweeping implications for Wyoming gun owners, say a gun dealer and a gun rights advocate. 

“It’s just one of those ridiculous things,” Lorrell Woolley, co-owner of Wyoming Minute Man Supply in Thayne, told Cowboy State Daily.

AR-15 pistols are popular with his customers, who frequently outfit them with pistol braces, or devices that allow them to be fired from the shoulder, Woolley said. 

The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives on Friday announced a ruling to classify those ARs – as well as numerous other firearms outfitted with pistol braces – as “short-barreled rifles.” 

Under the National Firearms Act of 1934, such firearms are subject tax stamps as well as other restrictions. 

The ruling could put millions of gun owners at odds with the law, Mark Jones of Buffalo, director of hunter programs for Gun Owners of America, told Cowboy State Daily. 

“This could require up to 40 million guns to be registered,” he said, adding that “(we) consider gun registration to be unconstitutional.”

It Goes Back To Gangsters

The 2019 film “The Highwayman” is based on the true story of two lawmen – played Woody Harrelson and Kevin Costner – who organized the ambush and killing of the notorious bandits Bonnie and Clyde. 

In one scene, Costner’s character strolls into a sporting goods shop and purchases a Thompson submachine gun, a Browning Automatic Rifle and numerous other weapons to arm his men for the ambush. 

That’s historically accurate. 

Prior to the 1934 firearms act (passed the same year Bonnie and Clyde were killed), BARs, Tommy guns and other fully automatic weapons could be bought over the counter. Short-barreled shotguns (with barrels less than 18 inches) and short-barreled rifles (with barrels less than 16 inches) were legal as well. 

The firearms act was enacted largely in response to the havoc wreaked by Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger and other outlaws and gangsters. The gangsters favored full-auto weapons for their firepower. They also were fond of short-barreled shotguns and rifles because they could be easily concealed, but still packed far more wallop that handguns. 

The 1934 act severely restricted civilian ownership of fully-automatic weapons. It also required short-barreled rifles to be registered and for the owners to pay a tax stamp on them. 

Those stamps today cost about $200.

Are They Pistols Or Rifles?

The ATF until now has classified short-barreled ARs and similar firearms as pistols, even if they were outfitted with braces that allow firing from the shoulder. They also haven’t been subject to the short-barreled restrictions. 

Reclassifying them as short-barreled rifles would make them subject to registration and the tax stamp under the 1934 firearms act, Jones said. 

Because of the sheer number of firearms involved, the backlog might drag on for months or even years, he said. And the owners of those firearms might not be able to legally carry or use them without the tax stamps or registrations. 

According to the ATF pistol brace ruling, the owners of such firearms who don’t get tax stamps and registrations would have to remove the braces and use them strictly as handguns. Or, they could destroy them or surrender them to authorities. 

People who violate the ruling could be fined up to $250,000 and face prison time.

The ruling is expected to take effect this week, Jones said. Once that happens, owners of those firearms will have 120 days to comply. 

Licensed firearms dealers who sell such guns would have 60 days to bring their inventories into compliance. 

Woolly said that wouldn’t disrupt his business. 

“It won’t affect us terribly,” he said. “We mostly order in our stock as it’s needed.”

Handy For The Disabled, Backpackers

Woolley said many of his customers buy AR pistols outfitted with braces as “backpacking guns” because they’re light and compact. They also can be custom made to chamber cartridges like the 10 mm auto, which has gained popularity as a good round for defense against large predators in the backcountry. 

Pistol braces also help disabled shooters, Jones said. 

“They’re popular among disabled people, including many disabled veterans, who might not be able to shoot those firearms accurately otherwise,” he said. 

Pushing Back 

The full implications of the ruling, which is roughly 300 pages long, aren’t yet clear, Jones said. 

“GOA has been fighting this for months, but things keep changing,” he said. 

GOA has lobbied some members of Congress in other states to push for a legislative overturn of the ATF ruling, he said. 

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter