Gun rights advocates and the owners of pistol stabilizing braces are scrambling to stop a rule by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that will make possession of the brace a felony after May 31.
“I think this is going to be a very fluid situation over the next week or so,” William Kirk, a Second Amendment lawyer, YouTuber, and president of Washington Gun Law in Washington state, told The Epoch Times. “I would recommend my clients find a reliable news site and check it a couple of times a day.”
On May 31, the ATF’s 120-day amnesty period for pistol brace owners will end. Pistol brace owners who don’t destroy, register, or surrender the braces to the government by the deadline will possess contraband and be subject to arrest, according to the ATF.
“Our members are going to start going to jail,” Aidan Johnston, director of federal affairs for Gun Owners of America (GOA), told The Epoch Times. “Our members are extremely concerned.”
GOA and other gun rights groups have filed lawsuits to stop the rule from taking effect. A National Rifle Association spokesman said this is why such groups were formed.
“This is yet another reminder of why gun owners have to be actively engaged at all levels and particularly as we head into the 2024 election cycle,” Billy McLaughlin, NRA spokesman, wrote in an email to The Epoch Times.
The ATF’s erratic rulemaking on pistol stabilizing braces epitomizes government overreach and abuse for many gun owners, advocates argue.
The ATF did not return a call seeking comment. But ATF Director Steven Dettelbach attempted to address some of those concerns during an April 26 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.
Dettelbach has steadfastly claimed that ATF is enforcing the National Firearms Act as it was written and passed by Congress. He said the ATF has one objective.
“Everything we do begins and ends with public safety. We must do that while respecting our citizens’ constitutional rights, and we can,” Dettelbach said.
But gun owners say the ATF has waffled on whether the braces are legal accessories for large-format pistols or if they convert those pistols into short-barreled rifles (SBR), which are illegal under the NFA.
The pistol stabilizing brace was invented in 2012 to assist the disabled and others who may need help shooting large-format pistols built on the AR 15 and similar platforms. The stabilizing brace attaches to the rear of the pistol and the shooter’s forearm. This allows the shooter a steadier aim while holding the pistol with one hand.
The ATF issued several open letters stating that the braces did not change pistols into short-barreled rifles. However, the rule published in January said that changes in the braces’ design and videos on how to use them make clear that the items convert the large format pistols into prohibited SBRs.
Estimates on how many gun owners are affected range from 3 million to 40 million.
Second Amendment advocates have been on the offensive.
The NRA joined a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota. McLaughlin said more is at stake than just a firearm accessory.
“This rule is effectively the largest gun ban in American history and it is being done unilaterally by the Biden administration with zero congressional oversight and authorization. The NRA is actively involved in trying to stop this rule with a lawsuit,” McLaughlin wrote in his email.
The case is Firearms Regulatory Accountability Coalition, Inc., v. Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The other plaintiffs are SB Tactical, B&T USA, Wounded Warrior Richard Cicero, and a coalition of 25 states led by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley.
The other states are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming.
GOA, the Gun Owners Foundation, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the ATF, Dettelbach, and the U.S. Department of Justice in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The 152-page lawsuit takes the ATF rule apart, explaining why the GOA believes the rule is unconstitutional.
In the only case in which a ruling has been issued, William Mock, Christopher Lewis, Maxim Defense Industries, LLC, and the Firearms Policy Coalition sued Garland, the Department of Justice, Dettelbach, and the ATF in the Northern District of Texas.
Judge Reed O’Connor, a George W. Bush appointee, found that the rule is constitutional. The plaintiffs have appealed the decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
While gun owners watch the lawsuits, lawyers say it’s too late to depend on the courts. With the deadline little more than a week away, pistol brace owners must decide whether to comply with the law or face possible consequences.
“This will not be resolved before the enforcement deadline that’s been set,” Dillon Harris, a lawyer with the Civil Rights Defense Firm in Pennsylvania, told The Epoch Times. “You can’t expect the court to interfere within the next nine days. [Pistol brace owners] need to act now.”
Harris said that how the pistol brace owner proceeds depends on what they want to do with the firearm. To keep the gun, they must either reconfigure it into a legal firearm by removing the brace or installing a longer barrel. Or, the weapon can be registered under the NFA.
If the owner decides to register the gun, they can avoid paying the tax by starting the registration process before May 31. However, Harris said any action taken after the deadline could result in criminal charges.
“The ATF has indicated that they will use their enforcement discretion,” Harris said.
Kirk pointed out that recent comments from the ATF indicate that the process may be more complex.
During the April 26 hearing, Dettelbach assured the Judiciary Committee that all that needed to be done to make a firearm with a brace legal was to remove the brace. However, on May 19, the ATF posted a link to the rule on Twitter.
ATF’s Mixed Messages
According to the rule, an owner must “permanently remove and dispose of, or alter, the ‘stabilizing brace’ such that it cannot be reattached, or the firearm is turned in to your local ATF office. Or the firearm is destroyed.”
Kirk said the conflicting statements are reminiscent of the open letters.
“That just takes us down a rabbit hole that goes on and on,” Kirk said.
In the meantime, Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), and 180 other House Republicans have introduced a Congressional Review Act resolution to block the pistol brace rule. According to a press release on Clyde’s website, Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) have introduced a companion measure in the Senate.
“This abuse of rule-making authority required either registration or a ban of pistol-braced firearms, dangerously violating our Constitution and irresponsibly disregarding Congress’ sole legislative authority,” Clyde’s press release reads.
“Unquestionably, this is nothing more than a reckless attempt to advance President Biden’s ultimate goal of an unarmed America.”
Johnston said he appreciates the sentiment, but it’s time for congressional action.
“It is Congress’ responsibility to address this. When they come back from recess, the ban will be in effect. No clear action has been taken yet,” Johnston said.