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A Deeper Look Into the ATF Ruling on Pistol Braces

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Pistol braces are very basic devices which allow the shooter to press a pistol against their arm for increased stability. They have been legal to buy and use since 2012 and have been extremely popular. Late last Friday afternoon (conveniently before a holiday weekend) the ATF released new rules concerning pistol stabilizing braces.  The new rule turns millions of Americans into criminals for doing something which was perfectly legal a week ago, and most of those people won’t even know they’re committing a felony until they cross paths with an overzealous federal agent and have their lives ruined. Each violation comes with a ten-year prison sentence. 


It is 293 pages of confusing nonsense—seemingly purposely confusing nonsense—which immediately reverses a practice that the ATF has said was legal for the last decade. This was not a law passed by congress. This is a federal agency changing the existing rules on a whim. It also clearly goes against recent Supreme Court decisions concerning federal overreach (West Virginia v. EPA) and the Second Amendment (New York Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen).  

The law in question is the archaic and nonsensical National Firearms Act of 1934. One category of guns included under the NFA are Short Barreled Rifles, which are legal to own in most states but are heavily regulated, requiring paperwork, paying extra taxes, and registration with the government. This new rule takes normal everyday guns which have been purchased in vast quantities by regular citizens who didn’t want to deal with the nightmare that is the NFA and forces them into it.  

The number of Americans affected by this rules change is in the millions. There could be as many as forty million pistol braces in the US. They are extremely common and popular. The ATF had a comment period where people could express their opinions about this new rule, and the people were overwhelmingly against it for a wide variety of reasons and concerns. All of which the ATF promptly blew off and did whatever they felt like anyway.  


People who own these will have a mere 120 days to either destroy their property, turn them over to the ATF, or register them as Short Barreled Rifles under the National Firearms Act. Registering SBRs with the ATF is a process which currently takes several months to accomplish, sometimes well over a year—and that is before millions of new applicants were being coerced into that system.   

The ATF’s justification for this rules change is that it enables more powerful weapons to be concealed. This makes no logical sense whatsoever since adding a brace to an existing pistol makes it larger and concealed carry is already legal in the US. Despite the ATF’s claims about stopping concealable firearms, this rule change will make no difference to criminals, who already routinely violate the NFA by sawing barrels and stocks off the (mostly stolen) guns they use in crimes whenever they want something more compact. This rule will only harm regular law-abiding Americans.  

Buried deep within the ATF’s 293 pages they briefly mention that they’ve only had a hundred and five cases or investigations involving stabilizing braces since 2014 even though there are tens of millions of braces in circulation. That is no justification for the federal government threatening, coercing, and violating the rights of millions of Americans. 

The biggest victim of this ATF bait and switch will be regular people, not gun enthusiasts who keep up on news pertaining to gun rights. It will be the woman who got nervous during the riots and decided to get something to defend her home, who went to her local chain sporting goods store and bought an item which was perfectly legal at the time. She probably shot it once or twice, and now it sits in her closet—along with a mandatory ten-year prison sentence for an arbitrary new rule nobody ever told her about.   


The ATF’s new rules are also so horribly written that attorneys are still finding other potential traps inside. For example, an attorney for Gun Owners of America recently pointed out in order to register your previously legal brace gun with the ATF you have to include photographic evidence the gun exists and is in your possession, while normally you wouldn’t create an SBR until after the ATF approves it.  So now if the ATF delays or denies approving your form, you have already sent them photographic evidence that you possess a gun they deem to be illegal, and the only thing stopping them from taking “enforcement action” against you is their mercy.  

Sadly, the ATF is not an entity known for their mercy or nuance. It is best known for shooting people’s dogs and burning their houses down. And they work for a President who thinks it is funny to threaten American citizens with F-15s. Ironically, he said this during an event honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who fought for peace and had his 2nd Amendment rights denied by the government because of it.  

Lawsuits are already being filed against ridiculous abuse of power by various gun rights groups. It’s always difficult to predict what the courts will do, but there is a very good chance this rule will be struck down. However, that process could take a very long time, much longer than the tiny window the ATF is providing before they declare millions of us to be criminals. 


Larry Correia, New York Times bestselling novelist and author of the brand new book In Defense of the Second Amendment.

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