The ATF proposed a sweeping new rule on Monday that would classify millions of guns equipped with stabilizing pistol braces as short-barrel rifles. It would require them to be registered to remain legal, but the agency is putting up roadblocks that make compliance less likely than it already was.
Recent efforts to register or confiscate guns or accessories have fallen flat. New York’s S.A.F.E. Act required registration of “assault weapons,” but only four percent of eligible guns were actually registered. New Jersey’s effort to confiscate any magazine holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition failed to garner even a single magazine, according to documents obtained by Ammoland.
The ATF’s refusal to either grandfather currently-owned braces or waive the $200 fee associated with registering the guns makes their proposed registration or confiscation scheme much more likely to fail. Estimates vary wildly from 3 million to 40 million for how many braces are already out there. Even trying to round up or register the lower end of that spectrum is already little more than a fantasy, but trying to make owners do it and give the ATF $200 for the privilege makes it all the more farcical.
The agency outlined explanations in the proposal for why it decided not to allow Americans to either keep the braced firearms they already own or, at least, register them for free. They mostly boil down to concerns gun owners or retailers would break the law to abuse the system.
“In order to enforce the regulation, a complete grandfathering of existing firearms with an attached ‘stabilizing brace’ is problematic in that manufacturers could continue to produce these items that are actually ‘rifles’ under the statutory definition and subject to the NFA and market them as grandfathered firearms with an attached ‘stabilizing brace’ not subject to the same regulation,” the ATF said. “This could potentially pose an enforcement issue that may not be resolved for years if not decades.”
Waiving the tax for registration was rejected on a similar basis, with the ATF assuming gun owners would use the fee waiver to lie and register non-braced guns at no cost.
“This scenario was rejected because ‘stabilizing braces’ are not serialized, and an individual or entity could merely register all firearms possessed with the intent of later obtaining a ‘stabilizing brace,'” the agency said in the proposal. “Further, although the ‘brace’ is used on a particular weapon, an individual might register all pistols as SBRs and then attempt to utilize other stocks on these firearms.”
The ATF notes in its proposal that it doesn’t expect any guns to actually be turned in if the rule goes into effect. Instead, it seems agency officials are mostly counting on owners voluntarily removing and destroying their braces to accomplish the effort’s goal. That’s more realistic than trying to actually enforce the rule in any significant way. Still, it’s difficult to see a significant number of owners voluntarily destroying hundreds of dollars of their own property because the ATF would like them to do so.