New ATF Power Play Could Impact Millions Of Gun Owners

The proposed rule change won’t be officially published until Friday, but a draft document of the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco, and Explosives’ new plans for pistols with stabilizing braces has been published to the Federal Register, and gun owners, Second Amendment activists, and manufacturers of the devices are already crying foul.

In the ATF’s proposed rule change, the agency outlines several supposedly objective factors that will determine whether a handgun equipped with a pistol stabilizing brace is considered a pistol or a short-barreled rifle that must be registered under the National Firearms Act.

The problem is that while the ATF outlines what those many factors are (caliber; weight; length; attachment method; and even after-market accessories like scopes and sights, to name a few), the agency doesn’t provide gun owners with any specifics that would take the guessing out of whether or not the ATF would consider the gun a pistol or an item that must be registered under the National Firearms Act. For example:

Appropriate aim point when utilizing the attachment as a stabilizing brace. If the aim point when using the arm brace attachment results in an upward or downward trajectory that could not accurately hit a target, this may indicate the attachment was not designed as a stabilizing brace.

The draft proposal is full of weasel words like “may,” “might,” and “likely,” but fail to provide gun owners with a clear standard and set of rules that can be followed. In fact, the ATF adds that “no single factor or combination of factors is necessarily dispositive, and FATD examines each weapon holistically on a case-by-case basis. Because of changes in design or configuration of a weapon or attachment, as well as future changes in technology, this list is not exhaustive and other factors may become relevant to a weapon’s classification.”

How are gun owners supposed to know if their gun is now considered an NFA item by the ATF? They can’t, because the ATF makes those determinations on a case-by-case basis. If, however, the ATF decides that you’re in possession of an unregistered NFA item, you could be facing a decade in federal prison.

So, the agency plans “to implement a separate process by which current possessors of affected stabilizer-equipped firearms may choose to register such firearms to be compliant with the NFA.”

As part of that process, ATF plans to expedite processing of these applications, and ATF has been informed that the Attorney General plans retroactively to exempt such firearms from the collection of NFA taxes if they were made or acquired, prior to the publication of this notice, in good faith.

This separate process may include the following options: registering the firearm in compliance with the NFA (described above), permanently removing the stabilizing brace from the firearm and disposing of it, replacing the barrel of the firearm (16” or greater for a rifle, or 18” or greater for a shotgun), surrendering the firearm to ATF, or destroying the firearm.”

Again, there’s no way of knowing for sure if your gun with a pistol stabilizing brace should be registered, but if you don’t and the ATF ever determines that it should have been, you could be sent to prison. That’s the stick. The carrot dangled by the ATF is its willing to waive the $200 tax stamp that gun owners would ordinarily have to pay.

Be on the safe side and register your gun, in other words, or risk the wrath of the Department of Justice and a decade behind bars if the government decides afterwards that your gun is an NFA item.

Alex Bosco, the founder of SB Tactical, has been trying to get clarification from the ATF on his products for years, and he says the draft guidance makes things far worse than the current confusion.

“By failing to define the criteria, the ATF is codifying its holistic “we’ll know it when we see it approach” to determinations that create confusion and serve as little more than a power grab. It does nothing other than create uncertainty and confirm that ATF does not want to be held accountable. It claims limitless power to assess products under a holistic approach that gives the agency maximum discretion and Americans minimum protection.”

Bosco will join me on Friday’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co to talk more about the ATF’s proposed guidance, which will impact the owners of millions of AR-style pistols across the country. It’s no coincidence that the ATF’s proposed rule change is being released now, because the mandated public comment period is going to take place during the holiday season when many gun owners will be checking in with the news less frequently and may not hear of this at all.

The public comment period will officially begin on Friday, and we’ll let you know the easiest way to submit your comments.

President Donald Trump can act to stop this, and if the Trump brand is going to continue to enjoy the support of most gun owners, he needs to do something as quickly as possible.

While I think Maj is being a little hyperbolic there (FDR signed the National Firearms Act into existence, Johnson approved the Gun Control Act of 1968, and Bill Clinton gave us a decade-long gun and magazine ban, for starters), Trump’s support among gun owners will absolutely take a yuge hit if he allows the ATF to impose these rules on gun owners. That would not only hurt a prospective 2024 run, but would hurt son Donald Trump, Jr.’s credibility with gun owners as well.

Remember, it was just a couple of weeks ago that the idea of Don Jr. taking over as head of the NRA was being floated around Washington, D.C., and there’s already talk of him running for office in the next couple of years. The younger Trump has done quite a bit to court pro-Second Amendment support, but if his dad doesn’t even lift a finger to stop the ATF’s power play then the courtship is going to end with Don Jr. being left at the altar (or the ballot box).

My hope is that the president will do all he can to reign in the ATF in its attack on pistol stabilizing braces, and if you’d like to encourage him to do so you can contact the White House, Department of Justice, and your members of Congress here. Be polite, be civil, be encouraging, but be clear: the ATF’s proposed rules on pistol stabilizing braces need to be reversed ASAP.

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