Can I Add a Vertical Fore Grip to My AR-15 Pistol?
We have had several customers ask us about adding a vertical fore grip and a folding stabilizing brace to their AR-15 pistol. Does this configuration transform the AR-15 pistol into an NFA firearm requiring a tax stamp?
The short answer is “yes.” The long answer is a little more complicated.
Pistols are Not Regulated by the NFA.
Under Federal law, a “handgun” means “a firearm which has a short stock and is designed to be held and fired by the use of a single hand….” 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(29). Under an implementing regulation of the National Firearms Act (“NFA”), 27 C.F.R. § 479.11, a “pistol” is defined as:
A weapon originally designed, made, and intended to fire a projectile (bullet) from one or more barrels when held in one hand, and having (a) a chamber(s) as an integral part(s) of, or permanently aligned with, the bore(s); and (b) a short stock designed to be gripped by one hand and at an angle to and extending below the line of the bore(s).
Pistols are not regulated under the NFA. In fact, pistols are not even included within the definition of a “firearm” under the NFA. See 26 U.S.C. § 5845(a); 27 C.F.R. § 479.11.
There is This Thing Called an “Any Other Weapon”
The NFA defines the term “firearm” to include, among other things, an “any other weapon, as defined in subsection (e).” Id. The NFA defines the term “any other weapon” (“AOW”) as:
… any weapon or device capable of being concealed on the person from which a shot can be discharged through the energy of an explosive, a pistol or revolver having a barrel with a smooth bore designed or redesigned to fire a fixed shotgun shell, weapons with combination shotgun and rifle barrels 12 inches or more, less than 18 inches in length, from which only a single discharge can be made from either barrel without manual reloading, and shall include any such weapon which may be readily restored to fire. Such term shall not include a pistol or a revolver having a rifled bore, or rifled bores, or weapons designed, made, or intended to be fired from the shoulder and not capable of firing fixed ammunition.
26 U.S.C. § 5845(e); see also 27 C.F.R. § 479.11. Importantly, pistols are excluded within the definition of an AOW.
Installation of a Vertical Fore Grip Converts a Pistol to an AOW
The ATF has long held that by installing a vertical gore grip on a handgun or pistol, the handgun or pistol is no longer designed to be held and fired by the use of a single hand. As a result, it no longer qualifies as a handgun or pistol under Federal statutes and regulations. Additionally, since it is no longer a handgun or pistol, it is not exempt from being classified as an AOW. Therefore, if an individual installs a vertical fore grip onto a handgun or pistol, he or she is “making” a firearm under the NFA, specifically, an AOW. Under the NFA, the term “make” includes “manufacturing, putting together, altering, any combination of these, or producing a firearm.” 26 U.S.C. § 5845(i).
What if the Overall Length of the Pistol is 26 Inches or More? Does That Still Convert It to an AOW?
There is a narrow exception to the rule that adding a vertical fore grip to a pistol creates an AOW. The phrase “capable of being concealed on the person” within the definition of AOW is not defined under Federal statutes or regulations. The ATF’s current position is that a firearm with an overall length of 26 inches or more does not meet the definition of “capable of being concealed on the person,” unless the firearm is actually concealed on a person. As a result, a person may add a vertical fore grip to a firearm with an overall length of 26 or more inches without creating an AOW, as long as it is not actually concealed on the person. In other words, it is not considered to be a “pistol,” an AOW, or even a “firearm” under the NFA as long as it is not actually concealed on the person.
How Do You Measure the Overall Length of a Firearm with a Stabilizing Brace?
Removable muzzle devices (such as flash suppressors, muzzle brakes, barrel extensions, etc.) do not count towards overall length or barrel length measurements, so they would be removed before measuring.
On June 25, 2019, the ATF clarified its position regarding how overall length for firearms using stabilizing braces should be measured. If the stabilizing brace is stationary, only standard receiver extensions are considered in overall length measurements. For example, accessories (extensions) that have superfluous material are not included in the overall length measurement. However, when a device operating as a stabilizing brace is attached to a firearm using a folding or collapsing mechanism, overall length is measured with the brace in the folded or collapsed position. Otherwise, a firearm could avoid classification as an AOW, yet retain the concealability and functionality of an AOW.
Making or Possessing an Unregistered AOW is a Felony
Making or possessing an unregistered AOW is a felony punishable by a fine and a maximum of 10 years imprisonment.
File an ATF Form 1 Application to Legally Make an AOW
To lawfully add a vertical fore grip to a handgun, a person must first make an appropriate application of ATF Form1, “Application to Make and Register a Firearm.” The applicant must submit the completed forms, along with fingerprint cards and passport photos for each “Responsible Person” in a gun trust, and pay a $200 tax. The application will be reviewed by the NFA Branch. If all of the “Responsible Persons” are not prohibited from possessing a firearm under Federal, state, and local law, and if possession of an AOW is not prohibited in the state used by the gun trust in the application, the form will be approved. Only then many the person add a vertical fore grip to the designated handgun.
Want a Better Bang for Your Buck? Register your Pistol as an SBR
Since it costs the same amount of money ($200) to make and register a short-barreled rifle (SBR), it is smarter to register your pistol as an SBR. That way you can install a fore grip and/or a stock anytime you want to do so.
Pistols are not regulated by the NFA. Pistols are excluded from the definition of AOW.
If you add a fore grip to a pistol, the ATF no longer classifies it as a pistol. It becomes an AOW, which is regulated by the NFA.
If the overall length of the firearm is 26 inches or more, it is not “capable of being concealed on the person.” If you add a fore grip to the firearm, it does not become an AOW, nor is it regulated by the NFA. However, if you conceal it on your person, it becomes an AOW, which is regulated by the NFA.
Muzzle devices are not included in overall length. Only standard receiver extensions are considered in overall length measurements. If the firearm is equipped with a stabilizing brace and a folding or collapsing adapter, overall length is measured with the brace in the folded or collapsed position.
It is illegal to make or possess unregistered AOWs. If you want to add a vertical fore grip to your pistol, file an ATF Form 1 application to register it as an AOW, or better yet, an SBR.
Would you like to have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you received a high-quality, state-specific NFA gun trust drafted by a very experienced gun trust attorney who is recommended by some of the largest and most successful Class 3 dealers in the United States? Let’s get started!