Murky New ATF Standards Worrying Gun Companies, Importers and More

Will braced pistols become NFA-regulated? Some worrying signs. (Photo: GunsAmerica)

New information is coming to light that indicates that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the BATFE or just ATF, is looking to change the criteria for some guns to prevent their import, as well as possibly reclassify some guns, which might restrict or ban their ownership.

This follows on the heels of a confusing declaration that the popular Honey Badger Pistol by Q is a short-barreled rifle, or SBR, subject to regulation under the National Firearms Act, or NFA. While the ATF stayed their initial ruling, this new information may confirm other concerns many gun owners and manufacturers had that this was only a start.

These new charges indicate that the ATF may no longer permit certain firearms from qualifying as pistols under current importation restrictions, as well as reclassify many existing firearms as NFA-regulated items.

Law firm Wiley issued a client alert with some details that may explain what’s going on with the ATF.

“Under [the] ATF’s new interpretation of the handgun definition, millions of AR-15-style pistols could be considered ‘too large or too heavy’ to fall within [the] ATF’s new interpretation, thereby making them unregistered NFA weapons, and subjecting manufacturers and gun owners to criminal prosecution,” explains Wiley.

“Given the private nature of [the] ATF’s classification rulings, and the subjective nature of the analysis, it is extremely difficult to know for sure whether specific firearms fall within the new interpretation,” they continue. “This appears to be part of a continuing trend at [the] ATF to apply firearms statutes in a more restrictive manner without informing the public.”

“In this uncertain regulatory environment, importers and manufacturers should consult counsel before making significant purchasing, importing, or manufacturing decisions for firearms that could be implicated by [the] ATF’s heretofore unknown and undisclosed analysis,” says Wiley.

While the ATF doesn’t publicize all of their internal rules used to classify firearms, in some letters the agency indicates that certain features may be used to qualify certain former pistols as rifles without any “sporting purpose.”

Those features include the use of rifle sights, a “rifle-length” barrel, an upper weight limit, the ability to accept magazines with a greater than 20-round magazine capacity, the ability to accept magazines that “contribute to the overall weight of the firearm” and an overall length that “creates a front-heavy imbalance when held in one hand.”

See Also: Honey Badger SBR Decision Put on Pause, A Possible Reason for Classification

One particularly confusing feature is whether the firearm is chambered for certain cartridges typically used with rifles and carbines, like 5.56 and 7.62 NATO — while at the same time qualifying these cartridges as pistol ammunition to prevent some types from being imported as well.

But one of the biggest concerns is that the ATF may consider some pistols Any Other Weapons, or AOWs, under the new definitions. The agency may redefine any firearm that isn’t a pistol, rifle or shotgun under 26 inches long as an NFA-regulated AOW, subject to registration and taxing.

This may be used to classify an impossibly large number of firearms, often sold as pistols with braces, as NFA items. This could also lead to big problems for existing gun owners.

Fears that the ATF may be coming after the large-frame pistol market, not just the Honey Badger, may be justified. Stay tuned for updates.

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About the author: Max Slowik is a writer with over a dozen years of experience and is a lifelong shooter. He has unwavering support for the Second Amendment and the human right to self-defense. Like Thomas Paine, he’s a journalist by profession and a propagandist by inclination.

{ 32 comments… add one }
  • Tim November 3, 2020, 7:47 am

    The problem is not people posting videos or people using the brace as a stock. The problem is that the ATF is making laws, along with the EPA, DEA ect. That is unconstitutional these people are not elected officials. A field agent wrote the honey badger letter. So anyone that works for the ATF can make laws up on a wim. That’s the problem and if the shooting community can’t see that then thats a bigger problem.

  • Yu November 2, 2020, 1:31 pm

    Obviously “the swamp” is still not drained as we would like. Too many hold overs who think they should be in control of our lives and rights.

  • Tiny November 2, 2020, 10:55 am

    The problem is in our own community…The Pistol Brace was designed to help a handicapped shooter shoot 1 handed….But the ATF opened a small door and we drove a truck through it. Then we started posting videos of a bunch of us shouldering the pistol brace and the outcome was predictable….We need to say and video less…Social media is going to ruin it for all of us if we keep posting this stuff….

    • Roy November 2, 2020, 6:19 pm

      Constant videos showing braced pistols being shouldered instead of cheeked got “theIr“ attention alright. Now folks get to pay the price.

  • Leo November 2, 2020, 9:31 am

    It’s is my understanding that pistol braces are for the purpose to be use at the forearm, to firmly secured in that part of the arm a pistol (which by ATF’s definition it is any gun with a barrel length not exceeding 16’) Then, Are all pistol braces installed properly? Yes, I believe so because I have not seeing any on a gun with a barrel with length not exceeding 16’. Are all pistol braces used properly? This is the area where it is difficult to say yes, because a lot of “pistol braces” in the market are made with the tendency for the brace to be in contact with the cheek, and once in that position, the shouldering it is a kind of natural reaction. Also, I understand that the caliber of the ammunition that it is in front of the pistol brace does not matter and only matters to the person who will fire that pistol (small caliber vs long caliber doesn’t equate pistol vs rifle)
    Now, the 2nd Amendment of our Constitution clearly states that our right to have and bear arms cannot be infringed by anybody including any government institution such ATF, and in regards of the subject of pistol braces and its properly installation and use, I believe needs to be more of a warranty and liability issue for the makers than an issue of legal coercion from the government. My conclusion: DEFUND THE ATF! Period!

  • mrpski October 30, 2020, 11:51 am

    The ATF is like every other government agency that is loaded with tenured employees that have a job forever and the way “equal opportunity” laws have been interpreted by liberal court justices, even killers deserve a second chance. We can all hope and pray that by 2024 there will be another For the People champion to lead our country once President Trump finishes his second term.

  • Rusty October 30, 2020, 11:48 am

    Kinda deja vu ala. BUMPSTOCK BAN???

    “When they took the range toys, i didn’t speak up, as I thought they were foolish. Now they have the precedent to take whatever they want, and the “bad” side is on the cusp of power….”

    Who do we really have to blame, but our collective attitude when we answered the BUMPSTOCK BAN with one big yawn??!!

    • Rattlerjake November 1, 2020, 12:57 am

      Obviously YOU have a mouse in your pocket, because not all of us sat back idly, but we sure can “thank” tose who did, for the new ATF agenda.

  • Exacto Knife October 30, 2020, 11:45 am

    For the record, in spite of the fact the infamous Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives is run by complete morons, there is no such thing as “BATFE”. The correct and official acronym is, and always has been, just “ATF”. This acronym always appears in this form on all official documents, their badges, official credentials, and everywhere else, except, it seems, among pro-firearm entities like the NRA and GunsAmerica. And, unlike “the FBI”, which is correct for that equally infamous agency, there is no “the ATF”; it’s just “ATF”. (Just like it’s not “NRA”, it’s “the NRA”, and it’s not “the GunsAmerica, it’s simply “GunsAmerica.”) Same with “DEA”, it’s not “the DEA”; the three-letter acronym (or TLA) is used like a proper name. The same goes for “Customs”, it’s not “the Customs”. You don’t call America’s worst human being “the Hillary”, do you? But you do use “the” for “the U.S. Marshal Service”, “the Secret Service”, “the U.S. Border Patrol” and some others. But not ATF.

    I don’t make the rules, but some people have a hard time figuring out this stuff. I worked in law enforcement for nearly 30 years at three different levels of government, so I’m quite familiar with this silly topic. And obviously I’ve given it more thought than most. Yes, I’m retired.

  • Dan Crocker October 30, 2020, 11:34 am

    He needs to MAKE TIME to address this.

    • Rusty October 30, 2020, 12:59 pm

      Like he made time to get rid of BUMPSTOCKS!!!

  • Reno October 30, 2020, 10:47 am

    BATFE has been beat down before we can do it again. Vote for pro-gun candidates
    arrest George Soros for treason!

  • Rouge1 October 30, 2020, 10:04 am

    We should apply these concepts, arbitrary rules and penalties to our voting laws since they aren’t considered an infringement on our constitutional rights. You should have to pass a nics background check to vote for one.

  • Loren Watts October 30, 2020, 9:03 am

    The easy and correct answer is to end all NFA laws. They unconstitutional

    • Paul Lech December 16, 2020, 11:09 am

      Most people just don’t learn. When the media tries to scare people the government is the knight in shining armor with a new law to end it. Hence the Uniform firearms act (now called the NFA after revision). People were ok with it because it would stop the MOB. but it didn’t Taxes did. When are people going to learn that criminals DO NOT follow laws, that is why they are called criminals. NO LAW WILL STOP THEY.

  • Robert Lee October 30, 2020, 8:54 am

    Its all about politics. If there is a new political party in power come 2021 you can probably expect lots of new interpretations of what constitutes a firearm you can not have. Isn’t it comforting to know that with the stroke of a pen you to can become a criminal. Time to stock up on ball bearings and sling shots.

  • TexDad October 30, 2020, 8:53 am

    Seems like the brace negates the weight problem. It’s designed to do exactly that.

    • michael smith November 3, 2020, 6:45 pm

      No Tex, As an older shooter with a gimp left arm, I use the stock on my still strong arm. It doesn’t negate anything. I guess you need to be there,and someday when and if you live long enough or injure yourself enough you will understand. And by the way I am just shooting a 9mm CZ Scorpion, not a .223 or other rifle cartridge.

  • RSConsulting October 30, 2020, 8:53 am

    Let me preface my comments, by stating I own a number of pistols that will likely be affected by any rule changes (Sig MPX & MCX for starters).

    But – let’s kinda be honest with ourselves also.

    The NFA, while being totally bogus and contrary to the constitution has, for better or worse (WORSE) survived court challenges. It SPECIFIES THE LEGAL DEFINITION for firearms – what is a rifle, pistol, AOW, SBR, Assault Weapon (not ASSAULT RIFLE – which is a legal definition for NOTHING – assault WEAPON MEANS SELECT FIRE).

    Pistols are firearms that are meant to be handheld – one or two hands.

    Pistol Braces – were initially designed by a group of VETERANS, so that VETERANS with disabilities (GOD BLESS THEM ALL) could fire a RIFLE CALIBER WEAPON ONE HANDED. BY NECESSITY – it would need to have a PISTOL LENGTH (shorter) BARREL, so that it COULD BE HANDED ONE HANDED (with a BRACE – that strapped the firearm TO YOUR ARM).

    So – pistols with BRACES WERE BORN.

    The ATF DOES NOT MAKE LAWS – IT ISSUES “OPINIONS” from its “Technical Division”, as to what a firearm SUBMITTED FOR OPINION classifies as – UNDER EXISTING LAW. Opinions are like ASSHOLES – they FREQUENTLY CHANGE FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER. And DO.

    Initially – ATF opined that, as long as the brace was NOT SHOULDERED – it was a PISTOL (not an SBR), but if you put it to your should – it BECAME AN SBR.

    They got away from this OPINION – mainly because ENFORCEMENT WAS DIFFICULT (hey, it was on MY CHEEK – not my shoulder).


    Show of hands – how many people STRAP A BRACE TO THEIR ARMS to shoot their braced pistols?

    Yeah – thought so…

    So – to be REALISTIC – “pistols” with braces that are shoulder fired ARE SBR’s. Wink, Wink, Bob’s Your Uncle – or any other excuse we want to float out there. We can pat ourselves on that back for “getting away with it”.

    Opinions change – FACTS DON’T.

    Enter the “Honey Badger Braced Pistol”. WHY the ATF guys chose this one to pick the fight? YOUR GUESS IS AS GOOD AS MINE. Could it be because the manufacturer is “Q” (might as well have called themselves Q-ANON). Who knows. Could it be that, when you look at their website – the SBR & Pistol versions are FUNCTIONALLY IDENTICAL – with the slight difference in the buttstock to accommodate THE STRAP?

    We walk right up to the line – stick toes over it and laugh, because “we got away with it”.

    Is the ATF “floating a test balloon” in anticipation of a JOE BIDEN VICTORY? Remember – BATFE is part of the “deep state” (unelected bureaucrats with union jobs, that dictate our lives with zero accountability).

    Administrations change – BUREAUCRACIES ARE FOREVER.

    ELECTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES. And Trump can be all the Orange A-Hole that people make him out to be. But the FACT OF THE MATTER IS – if Harris gets in (because even the dullest democrat knows Biden is TOAST), things are going to get MUCH WORSE FOR US.

    I run pistols with braces, for the same reason I love my IWI Tavor Bullpups (SAR, T7 & TS12). They are compact and allow freedom of movement in close quarters while still having my weapon at ready. And all of them (Sigs and Tavors) are PISTON DRIVEN – NOT DIRECT IMPINGEMENT – so I don’t have a PESKY BUFFER TUBE that increases OAL (even though the ATF in the case of pistols – doesn’t consider the buffer tube in OAL).

    Get ready for a real bumpy ride – DJT wins OR LOSES. Don’t WASTE AMMO at ranges – it’s not going to get any easier to find until (maybe) after the new year – assuming a DJT victory. And if we LOSE – it’s likely to NEVER GET EASIER OR CHEAPER TO FIND AMMO.

    We are living in a very dangerous time in our republic – as dangerous as 1776 or 1861. MAKE NO MISTAKE.



    • Boss October 30, 2020, 11:20 am


    • Rusty October 30, 2020, 11:43 am

      The “Leaders “ of the NRA got us started down this slippery slope when they “asked” the DOJ to examine BumpStocks, after our fearless leader TOLD ushe was gonna get rid of them…..

      Instead of having it up to a legislative act, where each and every lawmaker is held accountable by their constituents via the ballot box…,,,

    • Paul Lech December 16, 2020, 11:27 am

      Why the honey badger? As a former LEO & hobby gunsmith I will give my educate opinion. The honey badger has a TELEOSCOPING brace when full extended is 13 3/4″. ATF for as , long as I’m aware the ATF uses 13 1/2″ as standard length of pull on long arm. Do we think maybe, just maybe we stuck our toe over the line a little to far this time???

  • Bill October 30, 2020, 7:13 am

    Why can’t Pres Trump intercede? Why don’t gun groups ask him too?

    • RSConsulting October 30, 2020, 8:56 am

      A little BUSY TRYING TO STAY IN OFFICE at the moment, don’t you think?

      • T November 2, 2020, 12:03 pm

        Just like he was too busy to intercede on the bump shock issue??? He’s always TOO busy to help when the time is upon him and this country. The fake news is that he’s a supporter of 2A.

  • michael October 30, 2020, 5:38 am

    May be justified ? The ATF is NOT justified. This agency needs to be disbanned. Not a Constitutional agency along with many others.

    • Loren Watts October 30, 2020, 9:00 am

      Absolutely. AFT Has been a rough and out of control DEMOCRAT agency longer than the FBI

  • Will Drider October 29, 2020, 11:01 pm

    Read the NFA definition for A.O.W., it SPECIFICALLY EXCLUDES PISTOLS WITH RIFLED BORES. As a matter of fact, the NFA (actual text) doesn’t define “pistol or handgun” because: IT DOESN’T APPLY TO LAWFUL PISTOLS/HANDGUNS!

    DOJ/BATFE needs to read and understand exactly what is written in the LAW if they’re responsible for its “Administration”.

    • Pk October 30, 2020, 7:07 am

      I think this particular portion is probably aimed at the shockwave type “firearms”. Since by design they don’t fall under the category of a legal rifle, pistol, or shotgun they seem to be the proverbial low hanging fruit for the ATF to step in and regulate.

      • Paul Lech October 30, 2020, 1:53 pm

        The shock wave, tac14, tac13, & honcho are not and will never be SBR. SBS (short barrle shot gun) maybe. Whole different classification. ATF is reveiwing it becuase (even though the NFA is unlawful) the Honey Badger would fall under the definition of SBR. It was a limit that was pushed by making an adjustable brace. Now we are getting our pee-pee’s slaped for it. As stated in an above comment ” we put our toe over the line” no matter how wrong the line is!

    • Loren Watts October 30, 2020, 9:01 am

      Why would you expect a rough democrat gun control agency to follow the law?

      • T November 2, 2020, 12:05 pm

        The president hasn’t why would the democrats?

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