Pistol-arm braces for AR and AK pistols have been one of the more controversial issues in the shooting industry and public for the past few years. The ATF flipped-flopped its stance on what an arm brace is and what is does when it is attached to a pistol, confusing not only manufacturers but shooters as well. Is a brace legal to attach to a pistol? Can they legally be placed against the shoulder to shoot the pistol or does that make the weapon an SBR (Short Barreled Rifle)? Also confusing was the recent introduction of short-barrel shotguns that look like a Class 3/NFA firearm.
We decided to take a closer look at the ATF’s definitions of these exotic firearms and chose the Century Arms RAS47 AK Pistol and Mossberg Shockwave shotgun to see what the current status of these hybrids is. We also know that exotic does not necessarily mean practical, so we tested these guns for home-defense use. We naturally acquired an arm brace for the RAS47 and decided to throw in a 75-round drum magazine. Why? Because we can and it is legal in the state we tested the guns. With the Shockwave, we wanted to better understand why it does not need a special stamp to purchase it. Doesn’t a shotgun need an 18-inch barrel to be legal?
Please note that we are looking at these firearms from the federal/national level. We cannot provide legal advice nor do we profess to have the last word on the legal status of these firearms. Our intent is to understand current ATF statues so we can follow the law to the letter. Where you live—the state, county or city—may have specific laws pertaining to these firearms. It would be wise to check with your state police on the status of the Shockwave and an AR/AK pistol in your local area. Where we tested the Shockwave and the RAS47 pistol in North Carolina, both were transferred over the counter without any additional paper work. As responsible shooters, we need to know our local laws and abide by them.
As an example of how state and local laws can affect ownership of the Mossberg 590 Shockwave even though it was being sold elsewhere in the country, it took passage of House Bill 1819 in the 2017 Texas legislative session to make ownership of the shotgun legal on September 1, 2017. From a company release:
“Thanks to efforts by members of the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate, House Bill (HB) 1819 passed in May 2017, the Mossberg 590 Shockwave will be legal in the state of Texas, beginning September 1, 2017. The legislation was advanced through the combined efforts of Senators Charles Perry and Craig Estes, Representatives Poncho Nevarez and Drew Springer, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Texas State Rifle Association (TSRA) and clarified Texas state laws concerning the purchase of suppressors and certain firearms, including the 590 Shockwave pump-action. The change in the law hits close to home for Mossberg as the company proudly manufactures the 590 Shockwave at their facility in Eagle Pass, Texas, which is also the home district for Representative Nevarez.
“All of us at Mossberg recognize that this bill would not have passed without the efforts of many,” said Joe Bartozzi, Mossberg executive vice president and general counsel. “We were proud to add our small role in the effort and are pleased to recognize the tremendous efforts of Senators Perry and Estes and Representatives Nevarez and Springer, the NRA and TRSA.”
Mossberg introduced the 590 Shockwave firearm at the 2017 SHOT Show, accompanied by a determination letter from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE), defining the pump-action as a “Non-NFA Firearm.” The 590 Shockwave comes from the factory with a 14-inch barrel, Shockwave Technologies Raptor grip and overall length of 26.5 inches. Because the 590 Shockwave is not capable of being shoulder-mounted and meets the overall length requirement of 26 inches, it is defined as “firearm” under the federal Gun Control Act (GCA).
To read the BATFE letter of classification or for more information on the 590 Shockwave, follow this link.
Did we rest the arm brace on our shoulder when testing? How easy was it to shoot a shotgun with a 14-inch barrel loaded with 2.75-inch shells? All hype? Any substance? We’ll start by saying this match up caused a permanent grin on some testers because the guns were fun to shoot even if they might keep someone at ATF up at night.
12-Ga. Shotgun Range Data
|Century Arms RAS47 AK Pistol 7.62x39mm||Hornady Black 123-gr. SST||Red Army Standard 122-gr. FMJ||Winchester White Box 123-gr. FMJ|
|Average velocity||2183 fps||2175 fps||2057 fps|
|Muzzle energy||1302 ft.-lbs.||1291 ft.-lbs.||1156 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest group||1 in.||1.2 in.||0.8 in.|
|Average group||1.5 in.||1.3 in.||1 in.|
|To collect accuracy data, we fired 5-shot groups from a bench using a rest. Distance: 25 yards with open sights. We recorded velocities using a ProChrono digital chronograph.|
|Mossberg Shockwave 12 gauge||Winchester Military Grade 2.75-in. 00-Buck||Aguila 1.75-in. #4 buck/ #1 buck||Aguila 1.75-in. 7/8-oz. slug|
|Pattern/group size||4.25 in.||10 in.||3.25 in.|
|To collect pattern data with shotshells and slugs, we fired at a distance of 10 yards.|
Mossberg 590 Shockwave 50659 12 Gauge, $455
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
The Shockwave was like all Model 590 shotguns—built to last and well made. We’d opt for the OPSol Texas Mini-Clip and pack it with Aguila Mini Shells.
|CHAMBER SIZE||3.5 in.|
|OVERALL LENGTH||26.37 in.|
|CAPACITY||5+1 (2.75 in. shells)|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||5.2 lbs.|
|WEIGHT LOADED||6 lbs.|
|BARREL||14 in. long, heavy wall, matte blued steel|
|RECEIVER||Matte blued steel|
|GRIP||Bird’s head-style, textured polymer|
|FRONT SIGHT||Brass bead|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT||6 lbs.|
|MADE IN||Eagle Pass, TX|
The Shockwave is manufactured with a 14-inch barrel and shotgun-type receiver fitted with a “bird’s head” style grip in lieu of the shoulder stock. It looks very much like a Class 3/NFA firearm, but is not. No tax stamp nor extra paperwork is required to purchase and own the Shockwave. Part of the legal definition of a “shotgun” means it must be made to be fired from the shoulder. Since Mossberg manufactures the Shockwave with a new receiver and pistol grip at the factory, it falls under the definitions in the Gun Control Act of 1968, which calls it a Pistol Grip Only (PGO) firearm. That’s why the Shockwave doesn’t fall under the National Firearms Act rules and doesn’t require a tax stamp. PGO firearms can include certain shotguns having a barrel or barrels of less than 18 inches in length. The final reason why the Shockwave can have a 14-inch barrel is the NFA definition of a “firearm,” the overall length must exceed 26 inches. The Shockwave, from muzzle to grip, measures 26.37 inches. Some state regulations prohibit the sale of such PGO firearms, so you must be mindful of your local regulations.
The Shockwave uses a receiver based on Mossberg’s robust Model 590 action. The Shockwave comes from the factory with the receiver fitted with the “bird’s head” grip and forend strap, which is manufactured by Shockwave. The polymer grip has a fine texture. Our sample is an early model, current models come with a sling swivel post in the grip butt.
The controls are like other Model 590 shotguns, including the ambidextrous safety button located at the top rear of the aluminum- alloy receiver. Left- and right-hand shooters find that the thumb of the shooting hand falls directly on top of it. It uses double action bars so the slide pumps smoothly, and the forend is coarsely ribbed polymer, which provides a good grip surface. The strap is helpful, as we found out during range testing. The Shockwave is equipped with a heavy-wall barrel like the barrels on Mossberg military 590A1 models. The plain barrel features a brass bead for rough sighting. In hand, the Shockwave is compact and very maneuverable, but we wondered how easy it would be to shoot.
At the range, we had an assortment of Aguila 1.75-inch and Winchester 2.75-inch shells. We also fired a few 3-inch shells through the Shockwave just for the experience. Recoil was brutal with 3-inch shells. Magazine capacity was the same as a standard Model 590: 5+1 capacity with 2.75-inch shells, 4+1 with 3-inch shells. With Aguila’s 1.75-inch minishells, the Shockwave has an 8+1 capacity. These minishells produce mild recoil, but typically do not cycle in a shotgun’s action because repeater shotguns are designed to use a shell with a minimum length of 2.75 inches. The OPSol Texas Mini-Clip is an aftermarket accessory that allows shooters to reliably cycle Aguila minishells. We acquired a Mini-Clip to see if this inexpensive adapter would allow us to run the Shockwave with 1.75-inch minishells. It did. The OPSol Texas Mini-Clip is made of a flexible polymer that snaps into the loading port of the receiver. Push the Mini-Clip in the loading port so it is flush to the rear and the bottom of the port, then rack the slide a few times to make sure the Mini-Clip is in position. It can be quickly removed without tools. The Mini-Clip reduces the size of the loading port so a minishell is perfectly positioned as it moves from the magazine tube to the elevator assembly. The Mini-Clip is compatible with all Mossberg 500, 590, and 590A1 models.
Shooting the Shockwave is a lot like shooting an AR/AK pistol; a bit awkward. We could shoot it one-handed, but follow-up shots were slow since you need two hands to cycle the action. With a two-hand hold, we fired the Shockwave at eye level, using the brass bead to aim, which gave us the best accuracy. We also fired it from the hip, which allowed for fast follow-up shots and good accuracy out to 10 yards. With our support hand held in place by the strap and firing hand on the grip, it cycled smoothly. The strap helped keep our hand in place, especially with 2.75-inch loads.
We found the Shockwave gave us tight patterns at 10 yards, not what we expected from a 14-inch barrel with a Cylinder bore choke. The Aguila buckshot minishell averaged a 10-inch pattern on an 18-inch wide target. Recoil was mild. Firing from the hip, we braced the grip on our hip and pumped as fast as we could and easily maintained control using minishells. Shooting Aguila minishell 7⁄8-ounce slugs offhand, we were rewarded with 4-inch 3-shot groups at 10 yards. We removed the Mini-Clip and loaded 2.75-inch Winchester military grade buck shot. At 10 yards, we averaged 4.5-inch patterns. The 2.75-inch shells had substantially more recoil. The 3-inch shotshell delivered brutal recoil and an 18-inch pattern with birdshot. We would avoid shooting 3-inch shells in the Shockwave.
Our Team Said: Loaded with Aguila minishells and equipped with the OPSol Texas Mini-Clip attached, the Shockwave offered a lot of firepower. We really like shooting the minishells through the Shockwave. The 2.75-inch shells were less fun to shoot due to recoil. We found the Shockwave accurate and effective. For a short-range defense weapon in cramped conditions like a vehicle, the Shockwave is a good choice.
Century Arms RAS47 AK Pistol 7.62x39mm, $749
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
The RAS47 was relentlessly reliable with any ammo we ran through it. We’d definitely opt for the arm brace since it allows better control and accuracy. The drum magazine makes it heavy and bulky. For that reason, we would think twice about using the drum to defend our home or use it as a vehicle gun.
|ACTION TYPE||Semi-automatic, long stroke piston|
|OVERALL LENGTH||20.5 in.|
|OVERALL HEIGHT||81.5 in.|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||6.5 lbs.|
|WEIGHT LOADED (30-rd. mag)||7.9 lbs.|
|BARREL||10.6 in. long, 4150 steel, nitride finish|
|MUZZLE DEVICE||Slant brake|
|HANDGUARD||Black Magpul Zhukov|
|GRIP||Black textured Magpul MOE AK|
|RECEIVER||Stamped steel, blued|
|MAGAZINE||(1) Magpul PMAG 30-rd.|
|REAR SIGHT||Tangent leaf, elevation adjustable|
|FRONT SIGHT||Winged post, windage adjustable|
|SIGHT RADIUS||15 in.|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT||5.4 lbs., single stage|
|SAFETY||2-pos. lever w/ bolt hold-open notch|
In 2015, an open letter from ATF stated an arm brace added to a pistol did not “make” the pistol an NFA (National Firearm Act) firearm. But—and here’s where confusion originated—if the arm-brace-equipped pistol was fired from the shoulder, that constituted a “redesign” of the firearm and made it an NFA firearm. This contradictory position by the AFT had manufacturers and shooters confused. Was an arm-brace-equipped pistol legal or not?
SB Tactical, an arm-brace manufacturer, requested the ATF reconsider its original position, and the ATF responded to SB Tactical in a letter dated March 2017. The ATF response helps clarify the ATF’s original position, stating, “the use of stabilizing braces, as designed, would not create a short-barreled rifle (SBR) when attached to a firearm” and further states “an NFA firearm has not been necessarily been made… even if the attached firearm happens to be fired from the shoulder.” However, the ATF did not fully put the matter to rest. The ATF stated that attaching an arm brace to a pistol and modifying the brace, such as removing the Velcro straps or making the attachment point sturdier or permanent, will create a Short-Barrel Rifle, which comes under NFA rules. The ATF’s letter was addressed only to SB Tactical, so a question remains if this applies to all manufacturers of arm braces. Also, keep in mind that your local and states laws may differ from the ATF’s federal statue. Obviously, this is still a gray area, but suffice to say customization and modifications made to an arm brace could be construed as a pistol being made into an SBR, so don’t do them.
We attached an RAS arm brace to our RAS47 pistol. The brace is flexible rubber with a Velcro strap designed to be attached to a shooter’s arm. The process of attaching the arm brace to the RAS47 was as simple as removing the pistol grip. With the grip removed, the arm brace slides in between the receiver and pistol grip. Tighten the pistol grip screw and you are good to go. The arm brace is not permanently attached and is easily removed.
The RAS47 is very much a modified RAS47 rifle except without a stock. The 10.6-inch barrel is capped with a muzzle brake ported on the top. The RAS47 came equipped with a polymer Magpul handguard and pistol grip. We liked the Magpul furniture because it updated the look of the RAS47, and the handguard protected the shooter from a hot barrel and gas tube. The action on the CA was smooth and easy to operate. The trigger was a single stage with the creep we expect in an AK. “Serviceable” describes it best, not awful by any means for a combat-style trigger. It field-strips like any AK rifle, which means it is easy and fast to tear it down and reassemble. The receiver is stamped steel. The RAS47 has a bolt-hold-open notch on the safety selector that allows the bolt to be held open. We liked this safety feature. The magazine release is T-shaped and provides more surface area to grasp, making it easier to operate than the typical AK magazine release. The RAS47 had a nicely executed blued finish. Since the RAS47 is equipped with a side mount, one could mount a red-dot optic.
The pistol ships with two 30-round magazines, but we also ran it with a CA AK47 75-round drum magazine ($126; CheaperThanDirt.com) made in Romania. We anticipated the drum would be fun to shoot and help us make empty cases real fast. It did both with no jams. Loading the drum required us to read the manual, which we highly recommend since these rounds are under a lot of spring tension and placement of the rounds in the drum is important. Loading the drum was tedious compared to firing the drum. The RAS47 ran without incident and barked through 75 rounds as fast as we could press the trigger. The drum wiggled side to side after inserted, but we had no issues with function. While there is a novelty aspect to the drum magazine, some testers felt three stick magazines were just as useful and easier to carry. Plus, the weight of the drum loaded is 5 pounds, which is added the 6.4 pounds of the pistol. A standard 30-round magazine makes the pistol easier to manipulate. If the SHTF, we’d probably want the drum. We could live without it and still have a very serviceable pistol.
At the range, we found there is nothing subtle about the RAS47. We tore through 30-round Magpul magazines without a hitch. Inexpensive Red Army Standard steel case, new Hornady Black brass case, and Winchester White Box brass-case ammo all ran well through the pistol. Using a rest, one test member could shoot about 0.8-inch 5-shot groups with the Winchester White Box ammo at 25 yards. With the Red Army Standard and Hornady Black ammo, smallest groups were 1.0 and 1.2 inches, respectively. Nice.
The RAS47 is a large pistol, requiring two hands to fire accurately and recover from the recoil, which was manageable but noticeable. When we moved to the drum magazine, the weight of the pistol greatly increased, and the extra weight did help reduce felt recoil. We felt the muzzle brake did a good job of managing muzzle climb.
We have used arm braces in previous tests of AR pistols and found an arm brace awkward to shoot when the pistol is strapped on the arm. For speed shooting, we rested the arm brace against our cheek as well as against our shoulder. Using the arm brace against our shoulder was not the most comfortable shooting. Some testers had to watch out not to get their noses jammed against the dust cover during recoil because the face was close to the receiver. Shooting it this way allowed us to gain better control of the pistol. We became quite efficient with quick 3- to 4-shot bursts. Some testers found that shooting too quickly caused the muzzle to climb rapidly. Those experienced testers found the RAS47 controllable and effective in rapid fire against our cardboard targets. It was easy to maneuver with it through doorways, down narrow halls, and around corners.
Our Team Said: The RAS47 is large and heavy, but it offers tremendous firepower in a relatively compact package. The cost is high compared to other home-defense firearm options. In our opinion, the arm brace helped shooters control the pistol. This would make a good vehicle gun and home defense tool.
Special thanks to Eastern Outfitters of Hampstead, NC, for their assistance. Written and photographed by Robert Sadowski, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.