On the January 13th, 2023 the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives signed a new rule that could make millions of Americans felons overnight. Rule 2021R-08F amends how the ATF interprets a firearm equipped with a stabilizing brace is classified. According to this new ruling weapons equipped with stabilizing brace and a barrel length of less than 16” are now short barreled rifles. This is due to the term ‘rifle’ being reevaluated. The new rule clarifies that a rifle being “designed, redesigned, made or remade, and intended to fire from the shoulder” includes any attachments that allow a weapon to be fired from the shoulder. Stabilizing braces were intended to be used by disabled veterans who could only shoot with one are. The braces attach the firearm to the arm of the shooting hand and can be shot like a pistol. Under previous classifications rifles with a barrel length of less than 16” attached with a stabilizing brace were legally defined as pistols.
An estimated three to seven million pistol braces are in use according to the ATF’s estimations. The Congressional Research Service estimates that this number is closer to 10 to 40 million. Under the National Firearms Act of 1934 short barrel rifles were made a restricted type of firearm. In order to legally poses a short barrel rifle, one must successfully compete a form 1 document, submit fingerprints, pass a federal background check, and pay a $200 tax stamp. Possessing an illegal short barreled rifle is a felony under federal law which is punishable by $10,000 and or ten years in prison. This new ruling would make millions of Americans felons overnight without them knowing. Those who possess these firearms have five solutions: register the firearms as a short barrel rifle before May 31st of 2023, attach a 16” barrel, dispose of the brace, turn in the firearm to an ATF office, or destroy the firearm themselves.
The ATF has made many reclassifications and statements over the past decade that a stabilizing brace does not turn a pistol into a short-barreled rifle. The new ruling goes against all previous precedent by the ATF. Gun owners are now unsure how their rights will be affected by the agency. This impacts both private citizens and Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs). This new rule is dangerous because it makes millions of unknowing Americans felons and it has been submitted though in a nebulous way which limits accountability.
First, this ruling makes millions of Americans felons overnight. In order for people to not face criminal punishment they must take action, but most citizens won’t hear about this new rule. Most people are not following up on current ATF rulings. Thereby millions of Americans will become soon to be felons without knowing it. The reason one would buy a stabilizing brace is because the ATF has previously allowed one to possess it. This has been used as a legal avenue to avoid registering their firearm into a national data base and paying a $200 tax stamp. 2021R-08F and future ATF contradictions leaves citizens trying to tip toe around what they can and can’t own. In many states short barreled rifles are not allowed. This puts many Americans in a tough position for legal firearm possession. The only legal avenue for these people is to purchase a new barrel or give up the firearm.
The second and main reason this dangerous is because of the lack of transparency and the future precedent it sets. Bureaucracies can and do set laws in all functioning governments. It would be very inefficient for a government to solely rely on its legislative branch to legislate the who country and all of its interests. In order to do this both the legislature or a bureaucracy must be transparent so that all citizens can hold its leaders accountable and know the rule of law. Apart of the ATF’s regulations is that it must “consult the public when creating, modifying, or deleting rules.” The ATF then typically opens up a public comment sections and responds to the comments and considers them before the final ruling. For rule 2021R-08F, the ATF was not this transparent. They deliberately chose to not open up a comment section or notify the public of their thoughts of changing the rules. This is following a similar rule change in regards to pistol braces in 2021. For this rule change, Worksheet 4999, there were over 210,000 comments, which is among the most in the agency’s history, and the vast majority of them were negative. With this amount of backlash, it is very hard for the agency to justify a rule change that has a very negative public view. The absence of a public comment section allows the agency to rule as they please without public input. This is exacerbated by the ATF not notifying the public about their future rule changes as well. The lack of transparency from the ATF limits citizens ability to influence how the government governs.
“ATF Open Letter on the Redesign of ‘Stabilizing Braces.” The Shooter’s Log, December 29th, 2020, https://blog.cheaperthandirt.com/atf-open-letter-redesign-stabilizing-braces/.
Cantrell, Emilee. “Attorney General Knudsen Files Lawsuit against Biden Administration’s Unlawful Pistol Brace Rule.” Montana Department of Justice, https://dojmt.gov/attorney-general-knudsen-files-lawsuit-against-biden-administrations-unlawful-pistol-brace-rule/.
Factoring Criteria for Firearms with Attached “Stabilizing Braces”, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, https://www.atf.gov/rules-and-regulations/factoring-criteria-firearms-attached-stabilizing-braces.
National Firearms Act, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, https://www.atf.gov/rules-and-regulations/national-firearms-act.
Texas v. ATF, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, 6:23-Cv-00013, February 9th, 2023, pp. 26–29.