On January 31, 2023, Biden’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) bypassed Congress and posted its finalized rule, “Factoring Criteria for Firearms with Attached ‘Stabilizing Braces,’” to the Federal Register. This rule will effectively turn millions of Americans into felons if they fail to comply with intentionally vague restrictions on a gun accessory that has been legally used for over a decade.
The Biden Administration quickly threatened up to 10 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for Americans who did not comply with its ambiguous policy. The ATF’s new rule criminalizes gun owners by expanding the definition of firearms regulated by the National Firearms Act of 1934 to include pistols with stabilizing braces as “Short Barreled Rifles.” Now, a gun owner who continues to own or use one of these braces could go to jail.
We, the people, elect representatives who theoretically vote and write legislation in our best interest. These legislators are accountable to the American people, and we can vote them out of office. But unelected faceless liberal bureaucrats and federal agents are immune to that accountability. The Biden Administration’s appointed ATF director has no reason to make rules in the best interest of the American people because he does not report to the American people. This lack of accountability is why the Biden Administration’s latest scheme to criminalize gun owners is so dangerous to millions of law abiding Americans.
Stabilizing braces are accessories designed to attach to the end of a pistol and wrap around the shooter’s forearm. For over ten years, the ATF has approved the lawful sale, use, and ownership of pistol braces and acknowledged that the use of a pistol brace does not violate the National Firearms Act. By changing their opinion on this interpretation of the law, the Biden Administration places the American gun owner in a difficult and unpleasant situation.
When gun owners had uncertainty about pistol brace regulations, the ATF assured them in several letters — the first signed in 2012 — that they could purchase and use these braces for recreation, self-defense, and all other lawful purposes. A decade after giving their initial “green light” on pistol braces and the accessories skyrocketing in popularity, the ATF estimates that about 3 million stabilizing braces are attached to firearms in the U.S. today. Meanwhile, the Congressional Research Service estimates that anywhere from 10 to 40 million stabilizing braces are currently in circulation.
Since January 31, legal gun owners have been given 120 days to choose one of the four options provided by the ATF: 1) make significant changes to their affected firearms, 2) register the firearms with the ATF by providing their name, address, and fingerprints to the agency, 3) destroy the firearms altogether, or 4) turn their guns into the ATF. Failure to comply with this rule and follow one of the options above is punishable by up to 10 years in prison or a fine of up to $250,000. Further, those who live in states especially hostile to the Second Amendment may only be left with two options: destroy the firearms or turn them in.
For as little attention the issue has received, many of the millions now affected by the ATF’s conduct will not become aware of the rule and its consequences until they are placed in handcuffs for violating a rule Congress never passed. The ATF’s disgraceful actions are the final act in a 10-year setup for entrapping our nation’s law-abiding gun owners that started with the letter this agency mailed out in 2012.
The reason our Constitution guarantees us — the people — the right to keep and bear arms is because our Founders viewed this right as, in the words of the Second Amendment, “necessary to the security of a free state.”
Americans are witnessing our country fall into a state of tyranny and chaos. Progressive prosecutors in cities across the nation have enabled violent criminals to flood our streets only days after committing illegal acts. At the same time, the president and executive leaders are launching fierce campaigns to criminalize self-defense, ban entire classes of firearms, and remove due process protections that all Americans should be afforded.
After non-violent gun owners have received ATF approval to purchase stabilizing braces for a decade, the same agency will now deem a failure to comply with new regulations for them a felony. The ATF unilaterally decided that millions of gun owners in America could now be given a label and treatment our society reserves for murderers and rapists.
This rule lacks as much logic as it does a justification to exist, especially when the millions of existing pistol braces are overwhelmingly used for lawful purposes and rarely play a role in crimes.
The executive branch should not be making laws on behalf of Congress that can lead to millions of Americans being thrown in prison. The ATF’s new rule is a vile and politically charged attack on millions of law-abiding gun owners.
Jack Brewer serves as Chair of the Center for Opportunity Now and Vice-Chair of the Center for 1776 at the America First Policy Institute.
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