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Justice Department announces new regulations for handgun attachments

The rule takes aim at stabilizing braces, which have been used by mass shooters to convert pistols into short-barreled rifles.

WASHINGTON (CN) — U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives signed a new rule Friday placing stricter regulations on pistols with attached stabilizing braces that effectively turn the firearms into short-barreled rifles.

The Department of Justice said it is implementing the stabilizing braces rule to force manufacturers, dealers and owners to comply with the National Firearms Act when using the braces to convert pistols into rifles with a barrel of less than 16 inches, commonly referred to as short-barreled rifles.

Gun manufacturers have produced and sold these braces to attach to pistols and help a shooter stabilize their arm to support single-handed fire.

ATF Director Steve Dettelbach said that for decades the federal government has imposed stricter regulations on short-barreled rifles than other firearms “because they are more easily concealable than long-barreled rifles, but have more destructive power than traditional handguns.”

These heightened regulations include higher taxes and registration requirements like background checks for all transfers, including private ones.

“Keeping our communities safe from gun violence is among the Department’s highest priorities,” Garland said in a statement. “Almost a century ago, Congress determined that short-barreled rifles must be subject to heightened requirements. Today’s rule makes clear that firearm manufacturers, dealers, and individuals cannot evade these important public safety protections simply by adding accessories to pistols that transform them into short-barreled rifles.”

President Joe Biden said in a statement the move aims to help reduce gun violence and make it more difficult for these weapons to end up in the hands of "individuals intending to inflict carnage."

Once published in the Federal Register, the rule gives manufacturers, dealers and owners 120 days to register any existing short-barreled rifles covered by the rule or remove the stabilizing brace to return the firearm to a pistol. 

According to Dettelbach, the rule will not affect stabilizing braces that are designed to assist disabled individuals, who may not be able to reliably control a heavy pistol, and not for shouldering the weapon as a rifle. 

ATF first proposed the rule in 2020 after a gunman shot and killed nine people outside of a bar in Dayton, Ohio, the previous year using an AR-type pistol outfitted with a brace and a double-drum magazine capable of holding 100 rounds of ammunition. 

But the agency received backlash from opponents of the proposal, including the National Rifle Association, which condemned it as an attack on American citizens’ Second Amendment rights by “radical, anti-gun extremists.”

The proposal gained renewed attention in 2021, when another mass shooting was carried out by a gunman who used a Ruger AR-556, a pistol that comes standard with a SB Tactical brace already installed, to shoot and kill 10 people at a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colorado.

According to Ruger's quarterly sales figures, the gunmaker made $111 million that year in sales from the AR-556 and its four latest additional pistol offerings, accounting for 22% of the company’s sales. 

Advocates have pushed for greater gun control legislation as deaths from gun violence and mass shootings are on the rise. There have been 22 mass shootings and over 1,400 gun-related deaths reported in the first 13 days of 2023, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive

In December, a study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that homicide became a leading cause of death in children younger than 17, following a spike of gun violence during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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