Amazon Sellers Disguised Banned Gun Parts as Bike Handlebars

Retailers used Amazon's platform to sell "stabilizing braces" for pistols banned by the company and targeted by the Biden administration.
Amazon sellers were disguising pistol stabilizers, which can help a handgun shoot like a rifle, as bike parts.
Third-party Amazon sellers disguised stabilizing braces, which can help a handgun shoot like a rifle, as bike parts and other items.

Anyone shopping for bike parts on Amazon recently may have come across what looked like a steal of a deal: a new pair of black rubber handlebars for $26.99 with free Prime delivery. The listing promised “quick and easy installation, just slide the bike handlebar grips onto your bike.”

But on second glance, a few customers spotted something amiss. One asked: “I'm confused, is this for a bike? This is a picture of a pistole (sic) brace.”


The thinly-veiled answer from another shopper gave away the true nature of the item: an accessory designed to be attached to the back of an AR-style pistol or other large handgun, enabling it to be shouldered and fired like a rifle, improving the shooter’s aim and control over the weapon. 

“This grip helps you ride your bike with more stability,” the reply said. “Added bonus, makes a little more up close and personal if you shoulder this grip thus giving you even more driving accuracy.” 

The listing, which was removed by Amazon after the company received an inquiry from VICE News, was one of more than two dozen “stabilizing braces” available on the site despite a policy banning sales and new federal regulations aimed at restricting ownership.

President Joe Biden announced plans to tighten rules on stabilizing braces in April 2021, weeks after a shooter using a gun equipped with one killed 10 people at a Colorado supermarket. A brace was also found on the weapon used in a shooting that left nine dead in 2019 in Dayton, Ohio.


The rules took effect in January and require certain “weapons with ‘stabilizing braces’ or similar attachments” to be registered with the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) by May 31. Those who fail to register “short-barreled rifles” risk a felony and up to 10 years in prison if they don’t comply or get rid of their gun. 


The rule change has been met with at least seven lawsuits from pro-gun advocacy groups and red state leaders. The ATF estimates that at least 3 million stabilizing braces are already in circulation in the United States, and those fighting to block Biden’s policy argue it risks criminalizing responsible gun owners who bought something that was previously deemed legal.

A spokesperson for the ATF told VICE News the new policy "does not outlaw the sale or possession of stabilizing braces,” so merely having one uninstalled or selling them on Amazon is not illegal. But Amazon’s terms of use for third-party sellers offering products on the platform “prohibits the listing or sale of all firearms,” including “pistol stabilizing braces” and similar folding or collapsible stocks.

Justin Wagner, senior director of Investigations at Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocates for gun control, told VICE News that the listings for stabilizing braces, even those disguised as bike parts, “are in plain violation of Amazon’s own policies.”

“Amazon’s firearms accessory sale policy only works if it’s enforced,” Wagner said. “Our nation’s largest online retailers shouldn’t be offering dangerous products that make shootings deadlier, let alone with free two-day shipping.”


A spokesperson for Amazon sent a statement to VICE News that said sales of “non-fixed gun stocks and pistol stabilizing braces” are prohibited on the site, and that “the products in question were evasively listed, have been removed, and we are taking corrective action.” 

“Amazon does not tolerate illegal or evasive behavior, and we enforce bad actors that make factual misrepresentations to customers,” the spokesperson said. “Third party sellers are independent businesses and are required to follow all applicable laws, regulations, and Amazon policies when listings items for sale. We continuously monitor our store, and have measures in place to prevent prohibited products from being listed.”

A handful of listings for stabilizing braces disguised as other items remained available as of Friday morning on Amazon, even after the company’s efforts to purge the site.

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The listings reviewed by VICE News showed gun braces available in multiple categories across Amazon’s site, including in the section for “Tools & Home Improvement.” Some were advertised as “gunsmithing tools” or other parts. 

The post advertising bike grips was not exactly discreet. Several buyers left reviews with comments that slyly described enhancing their weapons, and a few posted photos of the obvious gun part actually installed on the end of bicycle handlebars.


“My bicycle goes as fast as a motorcycle now and is very comfortable to ride with these handlebar grips,” wrote one five-star reviewer who gave the name Retired American Patriot. “I highly recommend them for those smaller bicycles that you want to have a full size bicycle feel.”

AR-style weapons can be modified into various configurations, and the pistol and rifle versions are similar in many ways, including firing the same calibers of bullets. The particulars over which weapons are legal to own without special federal paperwork are governed by the National Firearms Act, originally passed in 1934 to combat a crime wave in the Bonnie and Clyde era, when lawmakers wanted to restrict “short-barreled” rifles that could be easily concealed.

The ATF initially ruled in 2012 that the law did not apply to stabilizing braces and then doubled-down in 2017, calling them “perfectly legal accessories for large handguns or pistols,” unless "employed as a shoulder stock,” in which case any rifle with a barrel less than 16-inches long requires registration. Stabilizing braces proliferated in recent years, and most of the items for sale on Amazon appeared to be knock off versions of name-brand models made by major manufacturers.

Lawsuits challenging the Biden administration’s new brace rules argue the restrictions are arbitrary and won’t work as intended to prevent shootings. In one case filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Gun Owners of America, the lawyers wrote: "This makes absolutely no sense from the perspective of 'public safety' or common sense, as a person can lawfully possess, without NFA registration, both a handgun (short) and rifle (long) version of the same platform firearm (such as an AR-15 or AK-47), but cannot possess a 'short barreled rifle' (medium) version of the same platform."


The new federal rules exclude items “that are objectively designed and intended as a ‘stabilizing brace’ for use by individuals with disabilities.” Some versions can be strapped to the forearm, enabling shooters to aim and fire when they wouldn’t otherwise be able.

Whether the new rules remain in effect will be up to the courts. Other challenges to the ATF regulatory decisions have scored victories in recent weeks, including cases involving “bump stock” devices and untraceable “ghost guns.”

Even if Amazon wipes out stabilizing braces from its site, the items are still widely available online and will be for the foreseeable future, since they are perfectly legal to buy, sell, and own—right up until they are installed on a short-barreled rifle. 


The "bike parts" actually installed on bikes. Screenshots.

Cody Wisniewski, senior attorney for constitutional litigation at the Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC), one of the groups that has challenged the brace restrictions, told VICE News that companies like Amazon are ultimately free to decide what they buy and sell, even as public pressure grows to restrict online sales of guns and accessories.

"FPC is deeply concerned that a massive segment of American society is prevented from engaging in lawful speech and conduct online,” Wisniewski said. “While such policies are neither moral nor wise, we respect that private property owners may set their own rules."

Amazon shoppers who posted about the brace disguised as bike handlebars also seemed well aware of the possibility they could be breaking the law if they bought the part and had it installed on an unregistered short-barreled rifle. One misspelled the acronym for ATF and asked: “Will aft's customer service reps visit my home if I buy this?”

To which one customer replied with an apparent suggestion for how to dispose of the evidence: “Kinda of hard to argue if your bike somehow ends up at the bottom of a lake.”

Follow Keegan Hamilton on Twitter: @keegan_hamilton