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Bill to loosen gun laws heads to House where ATF director is set to testify

Georgia Congressman Andrew Clyde’s bill may be doomed to fail, but not before congressional Republicans seize the opportunity to skewer Democrats on gun control.

WASHINGTON (CN) — A Republican lawmaker opposed to new restrictions on a gun feature aimed at owners with disabilities but one that is also prevalent in mass shootings took a victory lap this week as his legislation cleared committee.

Georgia Congressman Andrew Clyde celebrated his measure’s passage in the House Judiciary Committee in a brief message posted to Twitter Thursday morning. “Major win for Americans’ Second Amendment freedoms,” the lawmaker wrote. “Next stop: the House floor.”

If made law, Clyde’s measure would roll back a federal rulemaking implemented in January by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that reclassifies pistols as rifles regulated under the National Firearms Act if the weapon is fitted with certain stabilizing braces that make for a gentler recoil.

Under the new classification, people whose pistols are equipped with a brace that allows them to be fired from the shoulder must register their guns with the government or remove the brace in a way that ensures it cannot be reattached. The new guidelines apply to any guns that meet the legal definition of a “pistol,” which would include certain configurations of AR-15 platform firearms.

The ATF has said previously that guns with attached braces do not need to be regulated under the NFA, but the agency’s tune has changed with the January rulemaking.

Opponents of the rulemaking, including congressional Republicans and gun lobbyists, have argued that it criminalizes people with physical disabilities who need such attachments to use firearms safely. The ATF has said that pistol braces designed to assist disabled shooters that do not allow the firearm to be shouldered are exempt from the rule.

The Republican-controlled House will be the next to consider Clyde’s legislation after the judiciary panel cleared it on a 23-15 vote Wednesday evening. The committee was initially set to vote on the measure in late March but postponed after a shooter killed six people at a school in Nashville. Arm braces have featured on many of the short-barreled rifles used in mass shootings, including Nashville, a representative for the gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety noted in an interview.

Although the bill’s markup was largely overshadowed by nearly 12 hours of debate on Republicans’ controversial border security legislation, some Republicans used it as an opportunity to blast the ATF rule for what they said was an overreach of executive power.

“What this rule proves is that the Biden administration and Democrats are intent to weaponize the ATF in order to erode the Second Amendment and take away constitutional rights from otherwise law-abiding Americans, and they intend to do so without the approval of Congress,” Congressman Matt Gaetz said. “The ATF has abused its rulemaking authority in attempting to regulate stabilizing braces.”

The Florida Republican, who has repeatedly sponsored legislation to abolish the ATF entirely, complained that House Democrats did not take action to restrict pistol braces by law during the years they held the congressional majority.

“This is part of a comprehensive attack on the Second Amendment, and this legislation would vindicate at least those who require the stabilizing brace,” Gaetz said. “While we all share the desire to reduce the frequency of gun violence, there is no evidence to suggest that these stabilizing braces contribute to it.”

Democrats have said that some gun owners do not use pistol braces as orthotics, but rather as recoil-stabilizing buttstocks, and that products originally designed to be used by disabled shooters are being marketed as a way to circumvent ATF restrictions.

Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie pushed back on the contention that pistol braces make recoil easier to control and therefore make guns more lethal. “It’s a plastic accessory,” Massie said.

New York Congressman Jerry Nadler was among committee Democrats who questioned how such arguments stack up against the markup’s delay in the wake of a deadly mass shooting. Nadler called it evidence that Republicans were fighting a losing battle to give gun owners a legal workaround to federal restrictions against rifle ownership.

The GOP may still find themselves fighting a losing battle against the pistol brace rule, regardless of any legislative delay. If Clyde’s measure passes in the House — where Republicans enjoy a slim majority — it faces an uphill battle in the Democrat-controlled Senate, and President Joe Biden would likely veto the bill even if it found its way to his desk.

Clyde’s office did not immediately return a request for comment on whether the lawmaker felt he had enough votes to push his legislation through the House.

Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee still has its sights trained firmly on the ATF. The panel announced this week that it would hold a hearing April 26 with the agency’s director Steven Dettelbach, during which it plans to examine the pistol brace rule and several of the ATF’s other firearms regulations.

Dettelbach testified Tuesday before the House Appropriations committee, during which he defended the ATF’s pistol brace rule as necessary to clarify federal restrictions on short-barreled rifles.

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Categories / Government, Law, National, Politics

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