Cracking Down on Gun Owners
A new Biden administration rule could subject millions of gun owners to criminal penalties.
On January 31, the Federal Register issued the final rule on firearms equipped with a stabilizing brace. Now, millions of gun owners are at risk of becoming felons.
Tucked inside the $1.7 trillion omnibus passed in December was a $1.67 billion budget for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). This funding will be used to regulate “stabilizing braces”—more commonly known as “pistol braces”—which are attachments designed to allow a firearm to be fired comfortably by one-handed shooters. The Department of Justice recently submitted the final rule to the Federal Register, requiring owners to register their firearms with the ATF to avoid NFA (National Firearms Act) tax. If owners do not register, they will need to replace their barrel with one 16 inches or longer or remove the brace so that it cannot be reattached. Other alternatives are to forfeit the firearm to the ATF or destroy it. Failure to do so by May 30th may lead to a felony charge, jail time, and a $250,000 fine.
According to an April 2021 report from the Congressional Research Service, up to 40 million firearms could be made illegal by this new rule. That means potentially tens of millions of gun owners who legally purchased their firearms and pistol brace accessories could be subject to registrations, additional tax burdens, or even criminalization if they fail to meet the ATF’s registration demands. This ruling is an unnecessary regulation that accomplishes nothing in the way of security, and creates taxes that may bar individuals without disposable income from exercising their constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
Pistol braces were originally designed for disabled veterans to safely handle pistols in recreational shooting. The attachment fits the back of a pistol or handgun—effectively lengthening the body of the gun—and straps around the user’s forearm to hold it in place. According to the ATF final rule, manufacturers have used stabilizing braces to circumvent the higher taxes for short-barreled rifles. The bureau claims that the provided surface area of a brace indicates it’s intended to be fired from the shoulder, thereby justifies changing its designation to that of a short-barreled rifle and requiring the purchase of a NFA tax stamp and registration of the firearm with the ATF.
The Justice Department claims adding a brace to a pistol will “transform them into short-barreled rifles,” making them “more easily concealable” than a rifle, and “more destructive ... than a traditional handgun.” These claims are nonsense. The brace attachment has no effect on either the caliber of the bullet fired, or the velocity of a bullet leaving the barrel, nor does it change the rate of fire, or the capacity of a magazine. Without changing those factors, it is impossible to substantiate any claim that the firearms in question have become “more destructive" with use of a brace. Communities will not be safer simply because it is more difficult now to obtain a firearm with a brace. The same pistols can still be purchased without a brace, not to mention that many of the firearms affected by this ban have the same barrel lengths and fire the same caliber projectiles as other regular pistols. If anything, the ruling will divert sales to firearms that do not have the NFA's excise tax.
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While the Department of Justice claims this ban helps keep communities safe by making it harder to obtain these types of alleged “rifles,” the ATF has stated in their own reports that this rule is intended to prevent individuals from circumventing the NFA—a law subjecting certain firearms, such as “short-barreled rifles,” to a $200 tax and registration with the ATF. The ATF’s final rule will change the designation of pistols with attached stabilizing braces such that those pistols fit the NFA definition of short-barreled rifles and are thus subject to the tax.
The NFA tax burden incurred will prevent lower income individuals from being able to own and enjoy these firearms and thus exercise their Second Amendment rights. It will make it more onerous for those who wish to own a pistol with a stabilizing brace to do so, and will discourage those with fewer means from purchasing commonly owned, widely available pistols that are popular for home defense.
This policy seems like a way to levy an additional tax on certain firearms under the guise of protecting citizens and preventing firearm-related violence. It is doubtful that this policy makes anyone safer. Individuals are responsible for their own security and the security of those in their care. Those who oppose this “stabilizing brace” final rule should reach out to their elected representatives to make their feelings and concerns known.