An NRA logo on the podium at the 2024 Great American Outdoor Show
An NRA logo on the podium at the 2024 Great American Outdoor Show / Stephen Gutowski

Ruling: Millions of NRA Members Exempt From Pistol Brace Ban

The ATF can’t go after NRA members over guns with pistol braces on them.

That’s the outcome of a preliminary injunction issued by a federal judge on Friday. US District Judge Sam A. Lindsay sided with the gun-rights group and enjoined the federal agency from enforcing its rule reclassifying pistol-brace-equipped guns as short barrel rifles (SBRs) under the 1934 National Firearms Act (NFA). The decision keeps any NRA member who owns a braced gun from facing six-figure fines or imprisonment if they didn’t register their gun by last year’s deadline–something most owners didn’t do.

“[C]ompliance with the Final Rule is not discretionary, and the NRA’s members face severe penalties for their failure to comply with the Final Rule,” Judge Lindsay wrote in NRA v. ATF. “Accordingly, both of the final requirements for injunctive relief are satisfied because the threatened injury to the NRA’s members outweighs the threatened harm to the Defendants, and enforcement of the Final Rule under the circumstances will not disserve the public interest.”

The ruling is a concrete, if temporary, win for the NRA. While the group has lost millions of members due to an ongoing corruption scandal, and it’s unclear exactly how many remain, those who’ve stuck with the group will now enjoy protection from the long arm of the ATF. The decision puts NRA members under the same legal umbrella employed for members of the Second Amendment Foundation, Firearms Policy Coalition, and Gun Owners of America through previous rulings.

The case stems from the ATF’s decision, at the urging of President Joe Biden, to reclassify guns with pistol braces as short barrel rifles subject to NFA regulations. Despite previously finding the devices did not convert pistols into SBRs, the ATF used federal rulemaking to reverse itself in January 2023. The result was an expansive rule that likely affects millions of gun owners across America.

“While firearms equipped with ‘stabilizing braces’ or other rearward attachments may be submitted to ATF for a new classification determination, a majority of the existing firearms equipped with a ‘stabilizing brace’ are likely to be classified as ‘rifles’ because they are configured for shoulder fire based on the factors described in this rule,” the ATF said in the rule. “Because many of these firearms generally have a barrel of less than 16 inches, they are likely to be classified as short-barreled rifles subject to regulation and registration under the [National Firearms Act (NFA)] and [Gun Control Act].”

Gun-rights groups took immediate legal action against the rule and the courts cast a skeptical eye at the ATF’s reversal. By May 2023, multiple federal judges had issued preliminary injunctions against the rule. The rule’s grace period, where the ATF allowed owners of braced guns to register their firearms tax-free without facing criminal charges, came to an end that month as well, but only between 0.6 percent and eight percent of owners complied.

By August 2023, a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals panel found in Mock v. Garland that the rule was “unlawful” because it exceeded the ATF’s authority and ran afoul of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The panel then sent the case back down to US District Judge Reed O’Connor for further hearings on the merits of the challenge. In October 2023, he ruled the ATF’s rule violates the Second Amendment.

“[T]he Court finds that the Government Defendants’ implementation and enforcement of the Final Rule substantially threatens to inflict irreparable constitutional harm upon the [Firearms Policy Coalition] members,” Judge O’Connor, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote in Mock v. Garland. “Absent injunctive relief, the Final Rule will impair and threaten to deprive them of their fundamental right to keep and bear commonly used arms as a means of achieving the inherently lawful ends of self-defense. See U.S. CONST. AMEND. II (providing that the ‘right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’).”

Friday’s ruling is built on the groundwork laid in Mock. Judge Lindsay, a Bill Clinton appointee, cited the Fifth Circuit’s determination that the ATF overstepped its authority in his ruling.

“Based on the reasoning in Mock, the court similarly determines that the NRA is likely to succeed on the merits of its claim that the Final Rule violates the APA because it is not a logical outgrowth of the Proposed Rule,” he wrote.

He also rejected the ATF’s argument that any harm suffered by NRA members, such as named plaintiff Dr. Carl Carlson, was self-inflicted because they chose not to register their guns during the grace period.

“[T]hat Dr. Carlson or other NRA members could have registered their firearms tax free during the grace period to avoid the $200 registration fee is quite beside the point,” Judge Lindsay wrote. “Because any costs incurred by the NRA’s members will be unrecoverable due to Defendants’ sovereign immunity from money damages, and the likely reality of NRA members facing criminal penalties and fines for noncompliance during the pendency of this lawsuit, the court determines that the irreparable harm requirement for injunctive relief is satisfied here.”

NRA members had enjoyed some level of protection from the ATF’s rule since US District Court Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk issued a nationwide injunction against the rule in November 2023’s Britto v. ATF that covered all pistol brace owners. However, in recent years, the Supreme Court has signaled opposition to nationwide injunctions issued at the district court level. Judge O’Connor and the Fifth Circuit denied previous attempts to offer legal protections for anyone other than named plaintiffs. So, Friday’s injunction could offer a more durable immunity as the case against the ATF rule continues on appeal.

The NRA celebrated the ruling as a “major victory” that it said would protect upwards of 350,000 members in Texas and millions more nationwide.

“From day one, we vowed to fight back against President Biden and his rogue regulators – and to defeat this unlawful measure,” NRA President Charles Cotton said in a statement.

The Department of Justice, which represents the ATF in federal cases, did not respond to a request for comment on the decision. A number of the brace ban challenges pending in the Fifth Circuit, including Mock and Britto, were consolidated late last year. Parties in the combined case have submitted their briefs, but the court hasn’t scheduled oral arguments yet.

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019


Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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