Millions of firearms owners across the United States have until Wednesday to comply with a 21st century regulatory rule rooted in the 1930s fight against gangsters.
May 31 is the deadline to comply with the new rule from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives governing “stabilizing braces” that convert certain firearms into “short-barreled rifles.”
Failure to comply — there are options — could expose gun owners to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, according to the ATF.
While there is no national firearms registry, Congress in passing the National Firearms Act of 1934 subjected particular types of weapons — machine guns, short-barreled rifles and short-barreled shotguns — to taxes and required them to be registered with the ATF in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record. The lawmakers nearly 90 years ago “chose to regulate certain ‘gangster-type weapons’ more stringently than other firearms because they were viewed as especially dangerous and unusual,” according to the Federal Register entry published Jan. 31 on the new “stabilizing braces” rule.
That’s the date the rule took effect, opening a 120-day period for owners of these braces to register them without having to pay a $200 tax, ATF Deputy Chief Erik Longnecker told lehighvalleylive.com.
The option to register the affected firearms tax-free under the ATF Final Rule 2021R-08F is scheduled to be discontinued in the federal eForms System effective at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday. Instructions on registering under the eForms System are available at atf.gov and linked from the ATF’s webpage for “Factoring Criteria for Firearms with Attached ‘Stabilizing Brace.’”
According to the ATF, other compliance options provided under the rule are to:
- Remove the short barrel and attach a 16-inch or longer rifled barrel to the firearm.
- Permanently remove and dispose of, or alter, the “stabilizing brace” such that it cannot be reattached.
- Turn the firearm into your local ATF office.
- Destroy the firearm.
“Stabilizing braces” convert a variety of firearms platforms into short-barreled rifles that federal authorities say “specifically are dangerous and unusual due to both their concealability and their heightened ability to cause damage — a function of the projectile design, caliber, and propellant powder used in the ammunition and the ability to shoulder the firearm for better accuracy,” according to the 98-page Federal Register entry on the rule signed Jan. 13 by Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Attorneys representing Boulder, Colorado, and Dayton, Ohio, voiced support for the new regulation after shooters in both cities used “pistol braces (that) allowed them to better hide their weapons and better deploy them to attack dozens of innocent victims,” the Federal Register entry states. The alleged Boulder gunman in 2021 used a legally purchased Ruger AR-556 pistol to kill 10 people at a supermarket, The Associated Press reported. In Dayton in 2019, a shooter killed nine people and wounded 14 others in 30 seconds with a .223-caliber firearm — also legally purchased — that featured a short barrel and a pistol brace, NBC News reported.
Josh Fleitman, campaign director with Pittsburgh-based CeaseFirePA, said of the new rule “without a doubt this will save lives,” arguing it’s “fair to characterize as a win for gun safety.”
“I would characterize it as a win, yes, but a relatively minor step in the grand scheme of policy change that can help save lives from gun violence,” he told lehighvalleylive.com.
Fleitman said more lives can be saved from firearms in Pennsylvania under two bills passed Monday, May 22, by the state House, where Democrats used their razor-thin majority to push gun-control measures after a years-long standstill in the politically divided government, according to the AP: The “red flag” bill, which would allow a judge to order the seizure of firearms if asked by family members or police, passed on a 102-99 vote, with two Republicans voting alongside Democrats, and one Democrat flipping to vote with Republicans; the other bill, which passed by a 109-92 vote, seeks to expand background checks on firearms buyers in Pennsylvania and end an exception for private sales of shotguns, sporting rifles and semi-automatic rifles, known as the “gun show” loophole.
The bills go to the Republican-controlled state Senate for approval before they would appear on Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s desk, and Fleitman said he’s optimistic on their chances for passage.
Opponents of the “stabilizing braces” rule say it violates the Second Amendment to the Constitution. The ATF rejects that argument based on legal precedent on an “important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms” supported by “the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons,’” the rule’s Federal Register entry states.
Citing the Congressional Research Service, the National Rifle Association in February said there were between 10 and 40 million stabilizing braces in circulation. The NRA is backing a lawsuit challenging the “stabilizing braces” rule as unlawful.
“The pistol brace rule is a clear abuse of power by the ATF, which is why the NRA has actively engaged in this fight and is challenging the rule,” association spokeswoman Amy Hunter said in a statement Thursday. “A limited injunction was issued against the rule this week, and we are awaiting a ruling on our motion for a preliminary injunction in the District of North Dakota.”
According to the Federal Register review of comments on the regulation: “A majority of commenters opposed the proposed rule or any new regulation or registration requirements for firearms equipped with an attached ‘stabilizing brace.’ Commenters broadly argued that ATF should not make any changes from previous determinations regarding ‘stabilizing braces,’ thus allowing owners of such attachments to continue using these items in their current configurations.”
The road to regulating “stabilizing braces” creating “short-barreled rifles” dates to 2012, when the ATF received an inquiry about a forearm brace “designed to assist people with disabilities or limited strength or mobility with firing heavy pistols safely and comfortably, as these weapons can be ‘difficult to control with the one-handed precision stance,’” the Federal Register states. The new rule does not affect “stabilizing braces” that are objectively designed and intended for use by individuals with disabilities, and not for shouldering the weapon as a rifle, the ATF says — specifying that these types of braces are designed to conform to the arm and not as a buttstock.
Later, manufacturers began introducing new technologies designed so pistols could be fired from the shoulder, leading to pressure from members of Congress in June 2020 on the ATF to take action. The ATF also describes firearms including AR- and AK-type firearm platforms that are converted into “short-barreled rifles” via “stabilizing braces.”
Following is an ATF document titled “Common weapon platforms with attached ‘stabilizing brace’ designs that are short-barreled rifles”; click this link to view it at atf.gov if it is not displaying:
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Kurt Bresswein may be reached at email@example.com.