The legal status of a popular firearm accessory is facing a direct challenge from the ATF, and the response from opponents was immense.
The public comment period for the Biden administration’s proposed ban on most stabilizing pistol braces ended Wednesday, after 90 days and more than 209,000 submitted comments. April Langwell, Chief of the ATF’s Public Affairs Division, said the proposal is among the most commented on in the agency’s history.
“ATF received over 186,000 comments on the NPRM on bump stocks,” she told The Reload. “In comparison, ATF received 294,632 on the NPRM for definition of firearm frame/receiver that closed on 8/19, but as mail is processed this number will increase. Currently, the number of comments received on the NPRM for stabilizing braces that closed on 9/8 is 209,044, but as mail is received & processed that number will increase as well.”
The comments on the proposed brace ban were overwhelmingly negative, as many commenters accused the ATF of criminalizing law-abiding Americans while failing to substantively improve violence prevention.
“Banning the use of pistol braces will not lower gun crime rates,” Blake Nicholson said. “As a matter of fact it will only raise the gun crime by turning many law abiding gun owners into felons.”
Opponents of the proposed rule change are hopeful that their comments will make the agency rethink the pistol-brace policy, as it has in the past. In 2020, the ATF under the Trump administration proposed a similar ban, only to withdraw the proposal after more than 70,000 mostly negative comments. However, the Biden administration may have more resolve than its predecessor, despite facing greater backlash, due to the president’s enthusiasm for pursuing new gun control measures.
As previously reported by The Reload, several gun-rights groups created campaigns to organize their members in opposition to the rule once it became available for public comment. It appears that gun-control groups recently launched comment campaigns of their own.
“Don’t let the gun lobby and its extremist adherents drown out the voices of the gun safety majority and decide the future of gun regulation in this country,” said Robyn Thomas, the executive director of Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, in an email sent to members Tuesday. “Please take this opportunity to make your voice heard before tomorrow’s deadline.”
The group attached a sample letter for members to copy in support of the pistol-brace proposal.
Everytown for Gun Safety created a web page urging supporters to “Tell the ATF to Close the Arm Brace Loophole” and also crafted a sample comment for supporters to use.
“Much like with bump stocks, the gun industry has exploited a loophole to intentionally evade the law in order to make and market particularly dangerous short-barreled rifles,” the group’s page said. “Some arm braces allow a user to turn a pistol into a short-barreled rifle — one of the most highly regulated weapons in the country due to its combination of lethality and concealability.”
Many of those who commented in support of the proposed brace ban seemed to do so relatively recently, and they often used the comment templates provided by the gun-control groups. They focused heavily on public safety as their concern.
“This proposed rule is necessary to make clear that pistols configured with arm braces designed to be fired from the shoulder should properly be classified as short-barreled rifles and subject to the National Firearms Act,” Leslie Leffel said. “This proposed rule would be a win for public safety because short-barreled rifles are particularly dangerous due to their combination of concealability and lethality.”
Others pointed to the fact that braces have been used in certain mass shootings. “The ‘arm brace loophole’ has already seen deadly consequences: mass shooters in Boulder and Dayton used weapons equipped with arm braces to modify their pistols into more deadly weapons,” Renee Rule said.
Meanwhile, opponents approached their comments from a variety of positions.
Some see the ATF as exceeding its constitutional authority in attempting to regulate pistol braces. “ATF has invented over 40 criteria from which to re-define a short-barreled rifle in its ATF Worksheet 4999,” David Duncan said. “It is not acceptable for ATF to legislate and regulate in excess of the statute as written and intended by Congress.”
Others were critical of the agency’s inconsistency in its approach to pistol braces. “The ATF has repeatedly ruled on stabilizing braces in the past,” Daniel Schillinger said. “To continually change position on the legality of a firearm part has a high risk of making criminals out of what were previously law abiding gun owners. These individuals, myself included, felt safe in purchasing and possessing firearms with stabilizing braces due to the ATF having previously ruled and settled on this issue, after already previously revising their position.”
David Hawkins said he opposed the proposal simply out of consideration for the disabled. “I personally think pistol versions of rifles are stupid,” Hawkins said. “However in deference to individuals with disabilities I think pistol braces should not be a regulated item. Please reconsider this rule change.”
Langwell said the agency is now reviewing the comments on the brace ban and redefinition of what constitutes a “firearm” under federal law. She said the agency would take all of the comments into consideration as it crafts its final rule.
“ATF currently has a group of employees reviewing both the comments on definition of firearm and stabilizing braces,” she said. “Those reviewing track the comments expressing support and opposition. All comments are reviewed for content and given careful consideration. The notice and comment period enabled anyone to submit comments on any part of the proposed rules. While drafting the final rule, the agency will base its reasoning and conclusions on the rulemaking record, consisting of the comments, expert opinions, and facts accumulated during the rulemaking process.”
She said the ATF’s final draft would then be reviewed by Congress before adoption.
“Congress and the Government Accountability Office will have an opportunity to review the final rule prior to its effective date,” Langwell said.
UPDATE 9-9-2021 3:34 pm: This piece has been updated to include comment from the ATF.