Future of Bill to Nullify ATF Pistol Brace Rule Is Bleak, Even If It Clears Republican House

Gun Rights

News Analysis

A bill to nullify a controversial rule from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) regulating pistol stabilizing braces will be debated in the House of Representatives this week. Few believe it has much of a future after that.

The House will debate HJ 44, a bill to nullify the pistol brace rule under the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

The CRA allows Congress to disapprove rules by passing a bill in both houses and having the President sign it into law.

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The June 12 vote on HJ 44 by the House Rules Committee was largely symbolic. The bill is expected to fail in the Senate. If it survives there, President Joe Biden has promised to veto the bill.

In addition, division between the Republican majority and hardline conservatives had Rules Committee Ranking Member Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) questioning the extent of GOP support. Committee Chair Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told McGovern he could rest easy.

Epoch Times Photo
A pistol stabilizing brace is seen in this undated photo. (Michael Clements/The Epoch Times)

“There’s a Democratic Senate and a Democratic President, so I wouldn’t worry too much about what’s passed into law,” Cole said. “American Democracy’s inherently chaotic from time to time, but we usually get to the right place.”

The vote was party-line 9 to 4, with Democrats voting “No.” They want the pistol brace rule to remain in effect. They said it would save lives while preserving the Second Amendment.

Republicans said the ATF has overstepped its authority, so the rule should be trashed.

In a civil but tense exchange, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said that neither the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) nor ATF Director Steve Dettelbach understood the rule.

Nadler was testifying before the Rules Committee against the bill.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) attends an election-night gathering at Arte Cafe in New York on Aug. 23, 2022. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

During a House Judiciary Committee hearing last April, Dettelbach said that possession of a brace was not a crime under the rule. He said if pistol brace owners removed the brace from their guns, they would comply with the rule.

Immediately after that hearing, the ATF released a statement clarifying that possessing an unregistered, functioning pistol brace is a felony. The ATF rule clearly states that the brace must be rendered unusable once removed if the owner doesn’t want to register it.

Nadler repeated Dettelbach’s claim to the Rules Committee.

“If you have the brace and you don’t attach it to a short-barreled gun, it’s okay,” Nadler said.

Nadler then read part of the rule to the committee that once the brace was removed, it would have to be altered so it couldn’t be reattached.

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Steven Dettelbach testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing to be the next director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 25, 2022. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Massie expressed surprise that Nadler, a former Judiciary Committee chair, and ATF director Dettelbach could be mistaken.

“Neither of you understands this rule,” he said.

Democrats repeatedly invoked mass shootings in their arguments, including the March 27 shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee. Nadler claimed the devices increase a weapon’s lethality by making the gun more accurate.

Rep. Mary Scanlon (D-Pa.) disputed Republican claims that the rule was a ban. She said she had seen online videos demonstrating how to use the braces to get around federal law. Scanlon accused the GOP of being controlled by the National Rifle Association, which represents millions of gun-owning Americans.

“The rule does not prevent veterans with disabilities from using the arm braces how they were originally designed,” she said.

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​​House Rules Committee member Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said during the panel’s four-hour Jan. 30 meeting that ending the federal healthcare worker vaccination mandate is “part of a bigger discussion that we should have regarding deference to the executive [branch] and to the bureaucratic state.” (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

“The Second Amendment is not a suicide pact.”

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said more is at stake than a firearm accessory. He said the more significant issue is how laws are written, and that the Executive Branch had overstepped its bounds.

All three branches of government have betrayed the trust of voters, according to Roy. He said it’s time that Congress brought itself and the agencies to heel.

“It’s embarrassing that this body won’t do anything to hold the executive to account. It is our duty as Congress to defend the Constitutional separation of powers,” Roy said.

He said that’s why Republicans were pushing the REINS Act of 2023 and the Separation of Powers Restoration Act of 2023. Rep. Michelle Fischbach (R-Minn.) agreed.

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Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) speaks at a House committee hearing on May 18, 2023. (House Judiciary Committee/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

“Rule-making is no way to govern,” she said.

On Jan. 13, the ATF issued criteria to determine if the pistol stabilizing brace converted pistols into short-barreled rifles (SBR), which are regulated by the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934 and the Gun Control Act of 1968.

Under the NFA, a firearm is considered short-barreled if it has “a rifled barrel under 16 inches in length or [is] a smooth-bore firearm with a barrel under 18 inches in length.”

Gun manufacturers have been offering large pistols built on the AR15 platform. In 2012 companies began selling braces designed to stabilize heavy pistols for a steadier aim by the disabled, elderly, or others who may need assistance.

That rule went into effect on Jan. 31.

At that time, the ATF set a 120-day amnesty period in which owners of pistols equipped with the devices could register them without paying the $200 NFA tax. The amnesty period expired on May 31. Owners of the devices could be charged with a felony and face up to 10 years in prison, $250,000 in fines, or both for each violation.

Relatively Few Registered

By the June 1 deadline, over 250,000 braces had been registered with the ATF. Estimates on how many gun owners are affected range from 3 million to 40 million.

Since then, several lawsuits have been filed, and federal judges have issued injunctions for people covered as parties to the legal actions.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction just before the deadline protecting Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) members and Maxim Defense customers from the rule.

Judges also issued injunctions in a lawsuit filed by the Second Amendment Foundation (pdf), and another by Gun Owners of America, the Gun Owners Foundations, and the State of Texas (pdf).

According to the FPC website, the court will hear oral arguments in its case, Mock v. Garland, on June 29. FPC did not return a call seeking comment.

Judges Issue Injunctions

Joining FPC as plaintiffs are Samuel Walley, William Green, and Rainier Arms, LLC. They are suing the ATF, ATF Director Steve Dettelbach, the Department of Justice, and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.

On its website, Gun Owners of America (GOA) posted statements vowing to fight what the group considers an unconstitutional rule. Gun Owners Foundation officials called on Congress to rein in the ATF.

Massie said he expects the rule to be overturned entirely eventually.

The congressman added that the rule is an affront to all law-abiding citizens: “What they’re offended by is that you can get the government’s authorization that what your doing is legal, and then get up one day and you’re a felon.”

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