AR-15s come in various configurations. There are rifles, with 20”barrels and carbines, typically with 16” barrels. There are also AR-15 pistols, with barrels under 16”, typically 8” to 14”. The pistols will be the focus of this article.

Manufacturers and owners sought to make the pistol more usable by attaching a stabilizing brace to the buffer tube, which extends out at the rear of the AR-15. About ten years ago, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) approved several versions of braces, deciding they were not “stocks” that would make the AR-pistol a short-barreled rifle, requiring registration under the National Firearms Act (NFA).

Short-barreled rifles are defined in under the U.S. Code as designed to be fired from the shoulder, having a barrel less than 16 inches or a rifle under 26 inches in length. Short-barreled rifles are legal in most states, so long as the owner passes a background check, registers them under the NFA and pays a $200 tax. Failure to register the weapon can result in prosecution under state or federal laws, carrying substantial prison sentences.

Recently, BATF sought to make sense of its opinions on AR pistol braces. The result is ATF Final Rule 2021R-08F. The Final Rule, effective January 31, 2023, essentially treats all AR-15 pistols with braces as short-barrel rifles. Owners have until May 31, 2023, to:

  • Replace the existing barrel with a barrel at least 16” long;
  • Remove the brace or alter it so it cannot be reattached;
  • Destroy the firearm;
  • Turn the firearm in at the local BATF office;
  • Register the firearm as a short-barrel rifle. BATF waives the $200 charge during this period.

Owners of AR pistols with barrels under 16 inches long had until May 31, 2023 to register their firearm as a short-barrel rifle or face criminal prosecution, or at least pay a $200 registration fee to register after May 31.

In November, 2023, a federal judge in Texas held that BATF violated the Administrative Procedures Act in creating the above rule.  The judge enjoined enforcement of the rule.  The decision will likely be appealed and its final outcome is yet to be decided.

I recently read that about 150,000 applications had been submitted to register AR pistols with braces. Some sources estimate that millions of AR pistols have been sold. Whether the failure to register the firearm or remove braces will result in wholesale prosecutions is anyone’s guess.

If you have any firearm related questions, you may call James Wagner at 865-546-9321.