The ATF's pistol brace ban

Since the Federal Register published the ATF's final rule to restrict stabilizing pistol braces on January 31, dozens of states as well as many private organizations have launched legal battles against the ATF, claiming that the new rule is unconstitutional.  Luckily, the recent overturn of the "bump stock ban" sets a strong legal precedent to quickly overturn the new stabilizing brace restriction.

A pistol brace is an accessory that was originally designed to facilitate for disabled veterans the ability to effectively operate a pistol with one hand.  According to the ATF's final rule, the additional surface area provided by a stabilizing pistol brace now classifies these firearms as a short-barreled rifle (SBR), which requires them to be registered and for new purchases to face a long waiting period and additional tax under the National Firearms Act (NFA).  This arbitrary policy shift infringes upon the rights of law-abiding citizens by reclassifying an accessory that had been previously legal and unrestricted.

With the creation of the new rule, the ATF essentially usurped the power to create a new law that deviates from existing law and precedent.  If left unchecked, this regulation sets a dangerous precedent that could develop into many or all federal agencies ruling through bureaucratic mandates with little regard for the Constitution, congressional authority, and legal due process. 

A similar executive ruling — the "bump stock ban" — was overturned in January 2023 by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which concluded that the administrative fiat used by the ATF under the Trump administration circumvented Congress and did not follow the legal procedures to become a law.  The same style of administrative fiat was used to tighten regulations on stabilizing pistol braces.  The overturn of the bump stock ban may open the door for legal precedent to shoot down the new pistol brace rule.
 A group of disabled veterans represented by the Wisconsin Institute For Law & Liberty (WILL) filed a lawsuit against the ATF on the grounds that the new rule violates the Second Amendment and the separation of powers, which prohibit agencies from creating laws through bureaucratic fiat in a process lacking congressional authorization and oversight.  The lawsuit also claims that each plaintiff utilizes stabilizing braces as a necessity to exercise his 2nd Amendment rights due to his disability. 

The National Rifle Association-Institute for Legislative Action, in conjunction with a coalition of 25 states and many other organizations, launched its lawsuit on February 9, against the Biden Administration's ATF, arguing that the ATF's "pistol brace ban" is an egregious overstep of its authority and a gross misuse of executive fiat.  According to the ATF website, the ATF's role in firearms is to "enforce the federal firearms laws," but this does not give the agency authority to rewrite them.  This is a clear abuse of power by the ATF.

While these lawsuits are pending, Republicans in Washington are doing everything they can to reverse not only this ruling, but past overreach by the ATF as well.  Senators Marshall (R-Kan.) and Kennedy (R-La.) have formally introduced the "Stop Harassing Owners of Rifles Today" Act, or SHORT Act for short.  This bill aims to remove some short-barreled rifles, shotguns, and other weapons from the daunting grasp of the NFA.  Notably, this bill would also require the ATF to destroy any records related to registration, transfer, or manufacture of firearms removed from the NFA by the bill. 

The SHORT Act adds supplementary pressure to the arguments surrounding the new rule on pistol braces.  For advocates of freedom, the ideal outcome would be the overturn of the pistol brace rule and the SHORT Act becoming law.  This would remove immediate threats to Second Amendment rights, and the destruction of registration records would put many at ease over fear of future confiscation and outlawing of NFA firearms.

The ATF's pistol brace ban illegally redefined federal firearms law through a usurpation of congressional authority, and subsequently infringes upon the rights of disabled individuals as well as the millions of firearms owners who legally purchased their firearms and pistol brace accessories.  The ban should be immediately overturned.  

Parker McCumber is an OEF veteran and firearms expert who currently serves as a field artillery officer in the Utah National Guard.  He has over 11 years of experience in combat arms roles within the Army and Army National Guard.

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