WASHINGTON, D. C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan on Tuesday added Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives chief Steve Dettelbach to the long list of witnesses he wants to testify before his committee.
Jordan sent the former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio a letter on Monday demanding that he appear at an April 26 hearing to explain ATF’s issuance of a new regulation on pistol braces, which are designed to let disabled shooters better control their weapons by increasing the stability of one-handed firing.
The new ATF rule classifies pistol braces as short-barreled rifles subject to extra regulations under the National Firearms Act if they modify pistols to be fired from the shoulder. The National Firearms Act imposes heightened regulations on short-barreled rifles because they are easily concealable, can cause great damage, and are more likely to be used to commit crimes, according to the Justice Department.
Jordan, a Champaign County Republican, has announced a long list of investigations since becoming committee chairman in January. They include probes of how President Joe Biden handled classified documents, whether the federal government targeted parents protesting at school board meetings, whether big tech companies censored conservatives and an examination of the “radical left weaponization of federal government.”
Democrats on one committee maintain that Jordan’s probes themselves constitute government weaponization. Last week, they released a 316-page report that attacked the credibility of several “whistleblowers” who have alleged misdeeds by the FBI, describing three of them that Democrats have met as conspiracy theorists who “did not present actual evidence of any wrongdoing at the Department of Justice or the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
Dettelbach served as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio during Democratic President Barack Obama’s term and was the Democratic party’s nominee for Ohio Attorney General in 2018, losing to Dave Yost. The U.S. Senate confirmed him as ATF director last year.
Jordan’s Monday letter to Dettelbach says a 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a West Virginia case against the Environmental Protection Agency “raises serious doubts about ATF’s ability to regulate pistol braces absent a clear mandate from Congress,” because federal agencies must be able to point to “clear congressional authorization” for the authorities they claim.
A press release from the Champaign County Republican said the hearing will be an opportunity for his committee “to hear directly from Dettelbach, as the head of the agency, about the decisions that led the ATF to implement its controversial pistol brace policies. In addition, this hearing will allow Members to learn more about the reversal of years of previous ATF opinions in regulating firearms with stabilizing braces.”
The National Rifle Association last month sued ATF over the rule, claiming it will force the the millions of Americans who own a pistol and a stabilizing brace, regardless of its style or caliber or type, to either dispose of, alter, or register their firearms at the risk of facing 10 years in prison and large fines.
“The bureau is declaring that they will effectively decide on a case-by-case basis whether a firearm is subject to the NFA,” said a statement from Jason Ouimet, executive director, National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action. “Every American gun owner is in danger of potentially facing felony charges at the whim of these bureaucrats and without any new statute in place.”
NRA estimates there currently between 10 and 40 million stabilizing braces in circulation in the United States
Dettelbach and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the final rule in January. They said that since the 1930s, the National Firearms Act (NFA) has imposed requirements on short-barreled rifles because they are more easily concealable than long-barreled rifles but have more destructive power than traditional handguns.
Beyond background checks and serial numbers, those heightened requirements include taxation and registration requirements that include background checks for all transfers including private transfers.
“In the days of Al Capone, Congress said back then that short-barreled rifles and sawed-off shotguns should be subjected to greater legal requirements than most other guns,” said a statement from Dettelbach. “The reason for that is that short-barreled rifles have the greater capability of long guns, yet are easier to conceal, like a pistol. But certain so-called stabilizing braces are designed to just attach to pistols, essentially converting them into short-barreled rifles to be fired from the shoulder. Therefore, they must be treated in the same way under the statute.”
“Almost a century ago, Congress determined that short-barreled rifles must be subject to heightened requirements,” said a statement from Garland. “Today’s rule makes clear that firearm manufacturers, dealers, and individuals cannot evade these important public safety protections simply by adding accessories to pistols that transform them into short-barreled rifles.”
In addition to seeking Dettelbach’s testimony in April, the letter from Jordan and Subcommittee on the Administrative State, Regulatory Reform, and Antitrust Chairman Thomas Massie of Kentucky seeks transcribed interviews from three top ATF officials.