The idea of a rifle caliber pistol sounds foolish until you consider that pistol is a legal term. In the United States AR 15 pistols exist due to the National Firearms Act. The NFA makes owning a rifle with a barrel shorter than 16 inches a regulatory hassle.
So to combat this the industry produced AR pistols. Since they lacked a stock they are considered pistols and the barrels can be as short as you want them to be.
The problem is without a stock these weapons tended to be difficult to use effectively. They are a bit heavy, hard to manage recoil with, and generally tough to shoot beyond a 100 yards. Unwieldy is probably the best term to describe them. Still, they were a solution for those wanting to avoid the additional NFA regulation.
That unwieldy nature changed with the invention of the SB Tactical / SIG Brace. These pistol braces changed the AR 15 pistol world. There is no reason to build an AR 15 pistol without a pistol brace.
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What’s a Pistol Brace?
I’ll not only tell you what a pistol brace is, but I’ll also tell you what its not. A pistol brace is not a stock. A pistol brace attaches to the rear of AR 15 pistol and slides over the buffer tube. It’s typically held in place via friction. These braces are designed to be used attached to your forearm. Once attached to your forearm they are designed to add stability to the platform.
Now these devices are designed and intended to be used mounted to the forearm. The question is can it be used in other roles? Most commonly its asked can the brace be used against the shoulder. The answer is complicated.
Currently, as of this writing yes the ATF is okay with you using the brace against your shoulder. The problem is they’ve flip flopped on the issue several times in the last few years. The item was never out and out banned, but the regulation on how its used has changed according to the ATF.
You’ve always been allowed to strap the device to your arm, and even been allowed to use it to rest your cheek on. The enforcement of whether or not you can put the pistol brace to your shoulder is what seems to change with the political winds.
First they said okay, go ahead and shoulder it. They couldn’t regulate improper usage of an item. Then they said, nope, using a brace as a shoulder brace redesigns the weapon into a short barreled rifle. Finally, in the year of our lord 2017 they said they were wrong and you can shoulder the brace. However, there are a few caveats.
First, it cannot be modified to make it easier to shoulder. What does this mean exactly? Well it’s hard to say the ATF is always vague. To me it just means leave it in its factory configuration. This is a gun blog though, and we aren’t offering legal advice.
Second, you can have the intent to build an SBR when you install the brace. Remember the intent of this device is for it to be strapped to your arm.
Pistol braces make the unwieldy easy to run and gun with. As an arm brace it adds significant stability to a hard to use platform. Used as a cheek rest it makes it easy to use your sights. Yes, bracing the gun against your shoulder also makes it insanely easy to use.
Regardless of how you use the device it turns an unwieldy AR pistol into an accurate and easy shooting platform. At the end of the day it also makes the weapon look complete. Looks aren’t hardly the most important consideration, but they can’t be ignored.
Our Top 5 Picks for AR 15 Pistol Braces
1. SB Tactical
This is the pistol brace that started it all. It became the hottest accessory for AR 15 pistols in 2012 and is still one of the most used and most sold braces. Pistol brace design has evolved over time, but this classic pistol brace remains of the industries favorites. The brace is made from soft polymer rubber and is incredibly thick.
Your arm slides in and is secured with a velcro strap. The soft rubber nature of the brace allows it to form to almost any size arm. The velcro strap is plenty adjustable as well. This friction fit design makes it so the brace doesn’t move when met with the light recoiling 5.56 from an AR pistol. Trust me, installing it can be a real pain, but overall it’s worth the effort once you get the brace on the tube.
A quick pro tip hand sanitizer makes installation much easier as it lubes the brace, but dissolves quickly which allows the friction fit to do its thing. The SB Tactical brace certainly has some M4 style design and comes in just about any color you can imagine.
The KAK Shockwave Blade is one of the most unique and interesting brace designs. It’s a single piece of hard polymer that doesn’t have an opening for your arm. The KAK Blade brace doesn’t strap onto your arm, but is designed to rest inside your arm.
You can add a velcro strap, but one isn’t included. The Shockwave Blade is designed for use with the Shockwave AR Tube. The tube is dimpled and can be used with the set screw included with the Shockwave Brace.
This allows you to adjust the length of the KAK for you individual arms. This gives shooters with gorilla like arms a bit easier of a time. The Shockwave blade is the most affordable AR 15 pistol brace, but not the best for being braced to your arm. Using it against your shoulder is okay, but the thin nature makes recoil noticeable after a few hundred rounds.
SB Tactical was the company who invented the first AR brace so don’t be surprised to see them here more than once,. The original brace was a fantastic piece of kit, but there are some of use who prefer a more minimalist approach.
The SB Tactical mini is a much smaller and simpler AR 15 pistol brace. This brace attaches to the very end of a buffer tube and is only a few inches wide. It’s just enough material for an opening to strap to your forearm.
This gives your AR 15 a skeletonized appearance that’s unique and great for a 9mm AR 15 pistol. The Mini design is much lighter than the original SB 15 tactical brace. It trims almost half a pound from the original design.
It’s still friction fitted and designed with a rear back plate the prevent the brace from sliding forward. The SB Mini is also nice and affordable, and comes at around the same price as the SB 15. The one downside is that it makes a terrible cheek rest.
4. SIG Brace
SIG Sauer teamed with SB Tactical in the beginning of braces and with their major push made them successful. SB tactical is making their own braces and so is SIG. The SIG Sauer SBX brace is a redesign of the original SB 15 brace.
They trimmed both weight and size to make a more compact and sleeker looking AR 15 pistol brace. The overall design of the brace looks more AR stock like, while still remaining a brace.
It still features a wide opening for arms of all sizes and a velcro strap to secure the brace to your forearm. It simply trimmed away at material SIG decided wasn’t needed on the original arm brace.
This lighter weight model functions well as a arm brace, a shoulder brace, and even a cheek rest. The SBX Brace is an outstanding overall choice hat is a little pricey, but far from unaffordable.
Speaking of pricey braces I bring you the Maxim Defense PDW brace. It’s certainly the most expensive brace on this list, but my favorite overall. The Maxim Defense PDW brace is the only model I know that collapses and locks into place.
It makes your AR pistol look closer to a space gun than an AR. The brace portion is small, but uses a strap to brace the gunto your forearm. You simply pull the brace rearward to its desired position and it locks into place.
The Maxim defense AR 15 pistol brace includes QD sling mounts and a very nice set of JP Silent Captured springs designed for this brace. It’s extremely well made, easy to use and well designed. It is the most expensive brace on this list, but easily the best overall.
AR 15 pistol braces are an absolute must have for the AR pistol enthusiast. The controllability it adds to a weapon cannot be underestimated. It’s easy to use, easy to install and does so much for your gun. It’s a worth investment to nay AR pistol, or any pistol that’s making use of an AR buffer tube.