ATF Brace Ban Alternatives: Picatinny Rail Options

Sigh… Over a decade after the ATF’s 2012 express written approval of pistol braces, and after reportedly over 40 million were sold, the Jan 31 ATF decree announced pistol braces were now banned. The decision sent highly-concerned shockwaves around the country to law-abiding owners that what you legally purchased yesterday was not necessarily legal to have installed as of May 31, 2023.

Yet again, an example of us letting the government run rampant. If the brace ban decree is not shut down in the courts, you will need some options that are not an arm brace or shoulderable attached device. That is still a murky area with lots of undefined language like “shoulderable,” “surface area,” “functional extension” … etc., which all have no quantitative measurements defined. Kind of like saying your car is illegal if it “could fly” which is not reasonable as it can have “some path of flight” after being driven off a cliff.

The Thordsen Customs line of Pistol Cheek Rest kits were introduced in 2014 and have withstood the test of time and scrutiny. They are designed and intended to provide a third point of contact on the users cheek and provide a viable solution for AR style pistol lovers to enjoy the accuracy, comfort, utility, reduced weight, and the sexy lines of their AR pistol.

According to the ATF, pistol armbraces, which people may inadvertently shoulder, are “in scope” of the decree. However, buffer tubes and extensions which “do not have sufficient surface area” to shoulder are not in scope of the ruling (at this point). If you have an AR build that requires a pistol buffer, compliance of the decree is as simple as removing the brace or installing an upper with a 16-inch+ barrel.

There is still some hope. According to several manufacturers — all noting straight tubes/extensions and cheek rests are still completely out of scope (according to the ATF’s Maxim and Thordsen cheek rest letters)‚ are conspicuously not listed as part of the ATF decree. 

So, here are some “should be legal” options according to what we know. At the very least, these options should become an example of your attempt to comply with the ATF decree. If you own one of the many firearms with the very common rear picatinny accessory rails, such as the MPX, AK, Scorpion, MP5, PCCs, shotguns, semi-autos, and even some bolt-action guns, or any ARs with rear conversion plates, you’ll need an option after you remove your brace. Midwest Industries (MWI) may have a few options for your pistol, and a path for a stock, if you intend to proceed with registering the gun as an SBR.

MWI Options

If I oversaw marketing for MWI, its slogan would be “No wimpy products.” Historically, MWI products have never been the lightest, but they are without question one of the strongest. MWI has a long standing legacy of quality, and it works directly with several companies as an outsourced manufacturing partner.

From my perspective, its folding stock mechanism is among the strongest around. Buy once, cry once, the quality of MWI is exceptional and its new line of Beam products also can be adapted and moved from pistol to rifle as needed.

Thordsen cover with a Law Tactical Folding adapter on an AR-15
Thordsen covers are compatible with Law Tactical Folding adapters.

For a rear picatinny rail gun owner, the best option (we think) is removing the brace and leaving a rear extension in place or attaching a plain looking buffer tube. However, if you own an integrated SB Tactical brace, you will need to replace that entirely with something else. MWI has folding models of bufferless, standard pistol tubes with rear picatinny rail attachment. 

MWI also has something called a Beam series and the new highly adaptable Alpha Series that also include an adjustable-height cheek rest. Most of these models are available in fixed or side-folding options and a few adjustable-length models.

MWI offers a simple thumb screw accessory which replaces the hex screw with a thumb/wrench/slot screw which is field serviceable for attaching/detaching any of the Beam, tube, stock, or brace-compatible solutions without hex wrench. 

MWI Brace Compatible Beam

The standard Brace Compatible Beam is in essence a very heavy-duty bufferless skeletonized tube that is available in different profiles. The round Brace Compatible Beam can be used as a buffer tube-style extension and left bare or covered with some type of foam or paracord cover. It is also compatible with Tailhook braces or the MWI Stock Plate which converts it to a rifle stock.

Fixed and folding Beam attachments for the AR-15
For picatinny rail pistols, the Beam offers fixed and folding options.

Models are available in both fixed and folding models. I have been using the standard Brace Compatible Beam with just a foam cover for about a year now without a brace on a BRN-180 pistol receiver build. I can slip a 16-inch barreled BRN-180 rifle upper on and swap to the MWI side-folding extruded stock or the Alpha Series configured stock. As you might recall, the ATF allows pistols to transform back and forth between rifles and pistols — once a pistol, always a pistol.

MWI Alpha Series Beam

The new Alpha Series was in essence the Gen 2 of the MWI Beam concept based around very broad adaptability. The Alpha Series Beam can be used bare as a receiver extension, folding bufferless “tube,” cheek rest, brace host, and stock. So, if you are on the path to registering your gun as an SBR, or just want one highly-adaptable solution to move around from pistols to rifles and configure as needed, the Alpha Series is an amazingly flexible option. 

AR-15 with a MWI Beam mounted
For those who want to convert their pistol to a rifle and pack it again legally, the Beam can deliver both functions with just removal of the buttstock from the Beam.

MWI also offers an Alpha Series M4 Beam which is compatible with all standard carbine buffer tube-compatible stocks. For the pistol owner, this could be used as a receiver extension, and on a rifle or after an SBR tax stamp a stock was added. The other very cool feature of the Alpha Series of folding and fixed stocks is that they can be disassembled and reconfigured for different purposes and are specifically designed to do so.

The cheek rest and folding mechanisms are ambidextrous configurable, and the rear, padded, stock plate is adjustable up/down in several positions. The length-adjustable model also offers a wide range of length adjustment.


All Alpha Series models are designed to be compatible with the optional pistol brace adapter plate, which can be simply covered with a protective tube cover or used with compatible bolt-on braces such as the Tailhook. If you are looking for some options for your picatinny rail pistol, look at what MWI has to offer.

Thordsen Customs

Throughout the years, Thordsen Customs has helped firearms owners become compliant with the ever changing landscape of arbitrary gun laws at the Federal and State levels. One of the products Thordsen Customs is known for is its featureless (and futuristic looking) stock for the AR-15, which effectively transforms the evil pistol-grip rifle into a featureless hunting rifle-style stock.

The company also has several additional products such as capacity-limited magazines. Thordsen Customs also has a long history of offering a variety of pistol cheek rests that can fit both pistol and carbine buffers. Similarly, Maxim Defense also offers an aluminum, adjustable cheek rest in its specialized short buffer assembly.

SIG MPX SBR fitted with a Beam stock
This SBR’ed MPX can use any of the Beam stock options.

The cheek rest offers the shooter an option to rest their cheek on the buffer tube more comfortably, thus improving accuracy and enjoyment of the firearm. Thordsen and Maxim both have approval letters from the ATF and neither product seems to be notably in-scope of the arm brace ban of Jan 31.

I had the opportunity to install and test out a few of Thordsen Customs cheek rests and buffer tube covers as options to replace removed pistol braces. Although Thordsen does offer full kits, which also include a pistol buffer tube, most kits are available as simple slip-on kits that do not require any modification or removal of the buffer tube. Generally, most of these kits can be installed in under 10 minutes. The company offers several options:

  • Buffer Tube Cover – Standard with No QD mounts
  • Buffer Tube Cover – Enhanced with side QD swivel mounts
  • Cheek Rest w/ Wider MFT Cheek Rest – Standard with No QD mounts
  • Cheek Rest w/ Wider MFT Cheek Rest – Enhanced with side QD swivel mounts
  • Cheek Rest w/ Slim CAA Cheek Rest – Standard with No QD mounts
  • Cheek Rest w/ Slim CAA Cheek Rest – Enhanced with side QD swivel mounts
  • Cheek Rest w/ Medium Thordsen Cheek Rest – Standard with No QD mounts
  • Cheek Rest w/ Medium Thordsen Cheek Rest – Enhanced with side QD swivel mounts
  • All versions are offered in a variety of colors

Buffer Tube Covers

The Thordsen Buffer Tube covers are a nice looking upgrade to an otherwise bare pistol or carbine buffer tube at only 3.5 ounces. The cover looks great and adds a little length to the overall buffer tube. However, it protects it from damage and offers a cover that is a bit warmer feeling on the cheek than an ice cold or red hot piece of aluminum.

Thordsen cover on an AR-15 pistol
A simple and comfortable solution is a Thordsen cover which can accept a cheek rest and QD swivel mounts.

I especially like the Enhanced level kits, which feature the Enhanced Buffer Tube Cover as the base of the build and include left and right QD swivel mounts. I featured the Buffer Tube Cover on the ultralight custom blue camo Aero Precision build. This was a good fit for this ultralight build and still affords great use of the pistol.

Cheek Rest Options

Both Command Arms and Mission First Tactical have been supply partners with Thordsen since its first cheek rests were introduced. Essentially, the Thordsen Buffer Tube cover is designed to receive the snap-on accessory cheek rests from CAA, MFT, and Thordsen’s cheek rest. All provide good, uniquely different options. 

The MFT version is the widest overall and provides onboard A123 battery storage and an overall wider profile cheek rest. The caveat with the MFT is that it does not provide full folding when used in conjunction with the Law Tactical Folding Stock Adapter. However, the CAA and Thordsen cheek rests do lay flat with this accessory. The MFT version is shown on the unmounted fixed buffer adapter for picatinny rails.

The CAA is what I call the slim width in the group. Overall, it is the most compact option while still providing a very comfortable cheek rest shown on the silver custom PWS build. Thordsen’s cheek rest option is the medium-width option. It is currently being produced with industrial 3D printing (read that as very high production quality) until it has finalized the injection molding process.

Thordsen cheek rests for AR-15 pistols
Thordsen offers a wide array of options that are not considered braces.

The Thordsen version was installed on the custom Aero Precision with Geo Fractured camo. Thordsen also offers a fixed picatinny rail mount adapter for buffer tube compatibility on large format pistols like the MPX/MCX and similar rear picatinny rail pistols.

Final Thoughts

Though there are some legal decisions being made around the legality of the ATF pistol brace ban pre-May, these Thordsen Cheek Rests are options, if you want to assure you are attempting to be compliant. More importantly, for those who choose to carry an AR pistol (or similar format firearm) in a vehicle — which has a high likelihood of being inspected by LEO — the most prudent course of action is to have that firearm equipped without a brace and with something that reduces questioning (such as a cheek rest or simple buffer tube cover).

It is my confirmed opinion that 99% of LEO have no freaking clue about actual firearms laws and what is and is not legal as far as large-format pistols go. During a traffic stop and “lawful with cause” search is not the time to have a six-hour discussion while handcuffed on the legality of how you have configured your AR pistol. The Thordsen Cheek Rests and Buffer Tube covers are a great option to potentially reduce those inspection headaches and debates around the current legality of pistol braces.

Do you have a compliance plan for AR pistols and the like after May 31? Share it in the comment section.

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