By Bethany Blankley, The Center Square
Members of the U.S. House and Senate are urging the federal government to withdraw a rule change they say targets veterans and hurts law-abiding gun owners. Their letters to the federal agencies followed an announcement by Texas that it would be challenging the new rule.
At least 141 Republican members of the House signed the letter urging the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms (ATF) to withdraw proposed guidance on stabilizing braces. Four Republican senators sent a separate letter roughly a week later.
House members sent the letter to the U.S. Attorney General and acting director of the ATF several days after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the proposed rule is unconstitutional and Texas would fight it.
Led by Rep. Richard Hudson of North Carolina, the House members argue that the proposed guidance would make millions of law-abiding citizens, including disabled veterans, criminals overnight.
“This proposed guidance is alarming and jeopardizes the rights of law-abiding gun owners and disabled combat veterans across the country,” they write. “Should this guidance go into effect, a disabled combat veteran who has chosen the best stabilizing brace for their disability is now a felon unless they turn in or destroy the firearm, destroy the brace, or pay a $200 tax. Furthermore, it could make millions of law-abiding citizens felons overnight.
The proposed rule “outlines the factors ATF would consider when evaluating firearms equipped with a purported ‘stabilizing brace’ to determine whether these weapons would be considered a ‘rifle’ or ‘short-barreled rifle’ under the Gun Control Act of 1968, or a ‘rifle’ or ‘firearm’ subject to regulation under the National Firearms Act.” The proposed rule would retroactively impact gun owners who lawfully purchased pistols with stabilizing braces under the ATF’s previous standards and force a new federal registration regime on future users of the accessory.
A stabilizing brace is not a weapon. It is a device that attaches to the rear of a pistol and slips around the user’s forearm often used to reduce recoil, prevent injury, and allow the user to more safely and accurately fire their gun. Tens of millions of stabilizing braces are sold nationwide.
According to a recent report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, “there are between 10 and 40 million stabilizing braces and similar components already in civilian hands,” and “[a]ltering the classification of firearms equipped with stabilizing braces would likely affect millions of owners.”
Members point out that the ATF has acknowledged that there are legitimate uses for certain stabilizing braces; “the brace concept was inspired by the needs of disabled combat veterans who still enjoy recreational shooting but could not reliably control heavy pistols without assistance.” A $200 tax would not curb gun violence but would negatively impact disabled combat veterans, they argue.
In their letter to the ATF, Republican senators Josh Hawley of Missouri, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and Ted Cruz of Texas argue, “These measures are concerning enough on their face. But more alarming is ATF’s apparent willingness to unilaterally make important firearms policy determinations wholly apart from Congress. Americans’ rights to keep and bear firearms are safeguarded by the Second Amendment, and the responsibility for implementing those constitutional protections rests with elected lawmakers – not unelected federal bureaucrats.”
In December, Rep. Hudson sent a similar letter to the ATF signed by 90 members of Congress. Initially, the ATF withdrew its guidance on stabilizing braces Dec. 23, 2020, only to resubmit them again a few months later.
The Center Square is a 501(c)(3) non-profit focused on state- and local-level government and economic reporting.