- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Gun rights activists are claiming victory after the Trump administration withdrew new guidance that could have effectively outlawed stabilizing braces, which resemble gunstocks and attach to pistols to steady the shooters’ aim.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) had said the devices can transform pistols into short-barreled rifles subject to federal regulation and taxation — a perpetual fear of gun owners.

But after significant outcry from members of Congress and others, the agency withdrew its notice for public comment on the guidance less than a week after publishing it.

“Common sense prevailed,” Rep. Richard Hudson, North Carolina Republican, told The Washington Times. “This vague and subjective rule would have made criminals of thousands of law-abiding citizens overnight.”

Mr. Hudson, joined by 89 other House members, had petitioned the Trump administration to reverse course.

The ATF said it was trying to set clear rules so people wouldn’t be unwittingly caught breaking the law. But gun rights groups said the administration appeared to be searching for ways to outlaw legally-purchased devices.

Erich Pratt, senior vice president of Gun Owners of America, called the reversal a “great victory.”

“Gun owners will have to stay vigilant, as no doubt, the ATF might try to reimpose similar regulations next year,” Mr. Pratt said.

Several gun control groups did not respond to requests for comment on the reversal.

In the original notice, the ATF said manufacturers sometimes tout the products as braces when they’re dealing with regulators and then turn around and advertise them as devices that allow customers to fire their pistols “from the shoulder” — essentially turning the firearm into a short-barreled rifle.

“This is far from the ‘incidental’ use of an arm brace as a shouldering device as described in ATF’s 2017 guidance, but is instead marketing material that directly contradicts the purpose or intent that the manufacturer conveyed to ATF,” the notice said.

Unlike many kinds of pistols, short-barreled rifles and shotguns explicitly qualify as “firearms” under the National Firearms Act, which means owners have to register them with the federal government and pay associated taxes.

The ATF acknowledged that there are legitimate uses for the devices.

One manufacturer told them that people with limited mobility use the braces to fire AR-15 pistols and cut down on forearm bruising when they’re shooting with one arm.

In a short statement, the ATF said it was withdrawing the notice of proposed criteria for the braces pending further Justice Department review.

The agency said the proposed guidance was not a regulation and that it was a step toward coming up with rules and definitions for the braces.

Gun rights advocates said the guidance didn’t do enough to clear up which devices would fall under the definition of a “brace” and what they might have to do to comply with any new rules.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade group for the gun industry, estimated that there are approximately 700,000 arm brace-equipped firearms.

Lawrence G. Keane, the group’s senior vice president and general counsel, said the NSSF had lobbied members of Congress and the Trump administration on the issue.

“Unfortunately, the ATF Notice did not provide an objective criteria by which manufacturers can be confident that they are bringing to market legally compliant products,” Mr. Keane said in a statement to The Times. “The final chapter of this story has not been written, but the pen is now in the hands of the incoming Biden administration.”

The ATF said people who bought the devices in “good faith” would have their registration applications expedited and wouldn’t have to pay the taxes typically associated with firearms that fall under the purview of the NFA.

Mr. Pratt had sarcastically applauded the Trump administration for agreeing to waive the tax.

“What a compromise,” Mr. Pratt said. “Honest gun owners get to add themselves to the ATF’s national gun registry, and the ATF won’t charge them $200 to do it!”

In its original notice, the ATF also floated other potential options for owners: removing the stabilizing brace from the gun, replacing the barrel, surrendering the gun to the federal government, or destroying it.

The ATF had said it planned to use its enforcement discretion not to force people to register the devices if they made the purchases in good faith.

Mr. Hudson said the feds had something more nefarious in mind.

“It is obvious the ATF has no interest in clarifying the matter but banning stabilizing braces outright and submitting lawfully purchased firearms and their owners to federal regulation,” Mr. Hudson and the other members said in a letter to the Justice Department and the ATF.

Adam Kraut with the California-based Firearms Policy Coalition said the group is still on guard for potential future action, calling the ATF’s approach on the issue “schizophrenic.”

“The ATF’s withdrawal of their proposed guidance should be the end of the road for this assault on lawful accessories and law-abiding gun owners, but we know better,” said Mr. Kraut, the group’s director of legal strategy.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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