* This article contains updates as of June 17th, 2023. All udpates are shown in red – not to confuse but to show the big changes made from 2022 to June 2023. The article is not legal advice and could be out of date in a few months. Seek legal advice from a lawyer, local, or federal law enforcement.
Knowing the difference between a SBR vs AR Pistol will keep you out of jail. Really? Is it that serious? Is a federal penalty and time in prison serious? Are people breaking the law? Yes. But let us help you understand the rules and where you might get into trouble. Because without a SBR tax stamp, your short barreled firearm might be illegal.
* Unless you’re a member of the Firearms Policy Coalition or Gun Owners of America, you cannot own a rifle with a barrel less than 16″ or an overall length less than 26 inches with an attached stock OR pistol brace, without an SBR tax stamp.
This may change as the supreme court hears cases – always consult a lawyer or law enforcement if you have questions.
What is a SBR Tax Stamp
The Tax Stamp is literally a stamp, put on your SBR paperwork that allows you to purchase or keep a built short barreled rifle. It’s non-transferrable – each purchaser needs to get their own tax stamp.
The tax stamp is actually paid to the IRS. We pay this because of the National Firearms Act.
When was the National Firearms Act enacted?
The National Firearms Act (NFA) was passed into law in 1934. It made it illegal to purchase a firearm with a barrel length less than 18 inches illegal to posses (as of 2022, the barrel length is 16 inches).
The NFA imposed a tax on all new firearm sales or builds with barrel lengths less than 18 inches. It continues today with barrel lengths less than 16 inches. The tax in 1934 was $200. It hasn’t changed since 1934. Imagine what $200 felt like in 1934. Using an inflation calculator, $200 would be equivalent to about $4,000 today.
Worth it? Perhaps!
Tell me the difference between an AR pistol and an SBR?
The differences between an AR Pistol and an SBR will keep you out of prison. But what are the specifically? The criteria are pretty simple. Here’s a quick summary.
Is it shoulder fired? If yes, continue with the criteria below. If no, it’s a pistol. * Here’s where changes were made. The pistol brace was originally meant to be used by people with disabilities, unable to shoulder fire the weapon – for whatever reason. The brace was meant to allow a single arm/hand to manipulate the rifle.
Because the ATF feels users are using it to shoot the rifle from the shoulder, it’s no longer considered as a tool for the disabled and treated as a stock.
Barrel length – Less than 16″
Overall length – less than 26″
Barrel Length Differences
A rifle becomes an SBR when its barrel length is less than 16 inches.
If it has an overall length of 30 inches (4 inches more than the minimum overall length), it’s still a short barreled rifle.
DPMS MOE HIPERFIRE RBT PISTOL LOWER BUILD KIT WITH MAXIM PDW BRACE, BLACK
Type of Stock
Now enter the type of stock. SBR’s will have a stock meant to be fired from the shoulder. Shoulder stocks do not have the means to attach to a shooter’s forearm like AR Pistols.
AR Pistols strap onto a shooter’s forearm using a pistol brace. These braces help steady the shooter’s arm while firing the weapon.
The arm brace was originally designed for shooters with disabilities. A single-arm amputee could shoot a rifle using this arm brace to steady their rifle.
* Despite the obvious use by those with disabilities, ATF has issued guidance and will enforce the rules calling the brace a stock.
Is it legal to shoot with a pistol brace like shoulder stocks
Are there issues with shooting the pistol braces like shoulder stocks? Yes. Many people argue that using a pistol brace like a shoulder stock “ruins it” for disabled shooters who depend on the brace.
You can see the argument here – and its fair. We’d feel terrible if shooters couldn’t enjoy shooting braced rifles because a few assholes took too much advantage of the ATF’s leniency. Then again – some say that all gun control laws are infringements on our rights.
* We saw this coming unfortunately. Many in the industry did too. That’s why we recommend donating to the Firearms Policy Coalition – they’re vehemently fighting for your gun rights.
Regardless of the handguard type, a SBR can have a vertical grip or hand stop on the handguard. The ATF is fine with these types of accessories on SBR’s.
They’re common with normal length civilian, military, and law enforcement rifles.
The handguard accessories are illegal once placed on an AR pistol. Why? We don’t know – it’s the ATF. Perhaps they don’t think you need additional stabilization since the pistol brace is fixed to your forearm already.
* If you have a conventional AR pistol, that meets the SBR rules on barrel length, overall length, and stock or brace – then you have an SBR and need to:
- Update parts to make it legal (remove the stock or brace) – REFactor Tactical wrote a blog explaining the ATF is allowing a buffer tube to stay on the pistol without the stock or brace.
SBR Overall Length Rules
As in our first example, an SBR is a rifle with a barrel less than 16 inches. Now, if the barrel is 16 inches but an overall length of less than 26 inches, then it’s still considered an SBR.
We think the ATF’s and politicians feelings behind the length restrictions are because it would make the rifle easier to conceal. Many of these politicians have never used or shot a gun. They haven’t held one. But the smaller in length, the more lethal the gun may be – at least in their eyes.
Long barrel vs short barrel rifle
The long barrel vs short barrel rifle debate has been argued a lot on firearm blogs and forums for years. Which should you choose? Well – it depends on a few factors.
Start with “Why?”
Why do you want to own an SBR? Going the SBR route is a fun trip down the rabbit hole of governmental paperwork. I thought the paperwork was difficult to read at first. But eventually (with the help of National Gun Trusts guides), I built my own SBR.
An SBR is lighter than a normal rifle, the parts were cheaper (we found this was true with Aero Precision complete uppers). It’s less clunky while running, clearing your home from threats, or moving around obstacles.
It all depends on your “Why” – why do you want your SBR?
If you can use a rifle with a barrel length longer than 16 inches and an overall length of 26 inches or more – then buy the longer barrel vs the short barrel rifle. You’ll get the longer barrel rifle sooner than the short barrel rifle.
Can you pass a rigorous background check?
By rigorous – I mean – can you have the FBI do a longer background check than the 20 or so minutes NICS does for a regular firearm? The answer is probably, YES. As long as you can get a normal firearm, you can probably get an SBR.
The most difficult part of the tax stamp paperwork is filling the damn thing out. Again – National Gun Trusts has great walkthrough guides on completing the paperwork. Take a passport photo, get your fingerprints, pay $200. That’s all it takes.
Wait times for SBR tax stamps
It took me approximately 7 months to do a paper ATF Form 4 for my home built SBR. Was it worth it? Probably not.
* The ATF did a kind of Amnesty free tax stamp deal back in May. This has clogged up the tax stamp approval pipeline out to at least a year.
The ATF now as eForms where you can fill out the most common ATF forms and submit electronically. Pay your tax, submit fingerprints, and you’re looking at around 1 – 2 months of wait time.
You can check the average wait time here.
How to make a short barrel rifle?
Building a short barrel rifle is basically no different than your typical AR-15 build. You’ll purchase all the normal parts – your upper, lower, charging handle, bolt, barrel, etc.
Then you’ll have to register it with the ATF and pay the tax stamp.
You can build it with stripped components or buy a complete upper, complete lower, and register it.
Once you put the upper and lower together with a regular stock, an overall length of less 26 inches, a barrel length of less than 16 inches, it’s an SBR. If you buy the components, don’t put them together until you have your tax stamp.
Who sells short barreled rifles?
Some gun dealers are allowed to sell short barreled rifles. Gun dealers with their SOT (class 3 license) can sell you a short barrel rifle.
If these dealers have their FFL as a class 07 license, they can even build you a short barrel rifle. If a class 01 or class 02 license, they’ll just be able to sell you a short barrel rifle.
These gun dealers will also be able to sell you AR pistols. Many manufacturers understand the stigma that comes with doing all the SBR paperwork. They will sometimes sell their SBR builds with an AR pistol configuration.
How to purchase a short barreled rifle
If you have a good gun dealer, they’ll walk you through the ATF form. They’ll give you the serial number, manufacturer, model, etc. You’ll fill out the form just like National Gun Trust walks you through.
What should I do if I’m moving with NFA firearms?
My family was considering a move to a more liberal midwestern state from Texas. I looked up the state’s rules. They do not allow SBR’s without the county police chief’s “permission”. Now – when you fill out the SBR paperwork, the county police chief gets a copy of your paperwork. It’s non-negotiable.
In Texas, the county police chief gets the document but doesn’t need to approve it.
Can you carry an SBR in your vehicle?
I haven’t heard of any rules saying you couldn’t. However, imagine all the hoops you have to jump through to get the SBR. If you lose it (stolen, lost, whatever), you might be in more trouble than losing a regular firearm.
I often wondered too … if there’s a shooting and you tried to stop it – could you use an SBR? If you’re out in town and it’s in your vehicle? I’m sure you could, but would it put you under special scrutiny? I imagine it would.