WASHINGTON (CN) — The same week that a lone shooter killed three children and three adults at a private school in Tennessee, House Republicans were set to debate a resolution aimed at scrapping new federal firearms guidelines.
Georgia Congressman Andrew Clyde introduced the legislation, which supporters positioned as a check on what they called an unconstitutional restriction on pistol brace attachments recently unveiled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The House Judiciary Committee had been scheduled to take up Clyde’s resolution on March 28, but panel chair Jim Jordan chose to postpone the bill’s markup in the aftermath of the mass shooting one day earlier at the Covenant School in Nashville.
Blaming his colleagues across the aisle but resolved to return to the issue, the Ohio Republican told The Hill last week that the committee had decided to stand down so that Democratic lawmakers could not make the markup “a political thing.”
Congressional Republicans have long railed against the ATF’s new pistol brace rule, signed in January by Attorney General Merrick Garland.
“Unquestionably, this is nothing more than a reckless attempt to advance President Biden’s ultimate goal of an unarmed America,” Clyde said in March in a statement unveiling his resolution. Congress has the authority to review and disapprove of federal agency actions such as the ATF rule.
The ATF rulemaking redefines how the agency evaluates pistols fitted with a rearward attachment designed to stabilize the weapon while being fired. The new guidelines, which went into effect January 31, hold that pistols using a stabilizing brace that allows them to be fired from the shoulder can now be regulated as short-barreled rifles under the National Firearms Act.
The federal law, first written in 1935, requires owners of rifles and other regulated firearms to register them with the government. Now, under the January rule, anyone who owns a pistol with a stabilizing brace must do the same by May 31.
If guns with pistol braces go unregistered, they must be destroyed or the brace removed in such a way that it cannot be reattached, the ATF said. Violating the new rule carries fines or up to 10 years in prison.
Although the “pistol” designation might suggest a certain category of firearms, it’s not just handguns that are subject to the new regulations. AR-15-type weapons — such as the one that made up part of the Nashville shooter’s arsenal — can be legally classified as pistols if they meet certain ATF criteria.
The ATF has previously said that a stabilizing brace attached to an AR-15 would not make it a rifle under the National Firearms Act, but the agency’s January rulemaking could mark an about-face on that policy.
Critics of the rule, including congressional Republicans, have said that it would unnecessarily criminalize lawful gun owners who have until recently been using pistol braces in accordance with federal law. Lawmakers point in particular to people with physical disabilities who use such attachments to safely operate firearms.
“Disabled persons, including disabled veterans for whom the pistol brace originally was created, will lose the benefit of this useful tool and potentially their ability to operate firearms entirely,” Arizona Republican Andy Biggs said during a March 23 hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, just days before the Nashville shooting. “Millions of law-abiding Americans will be turned into felons overnight by the stroke of a pen and without any congressional action,” Biggs complained.
The ATF, however, has said that the new rule does not apply to stabilizing braces designed as orthotics.
“This rule does not affect ‘stabilizing braces’ that are objectively designed and intended as a ‘stabilizing brace’ for use by individuals with disabilities, and not for shouldering the weapon as a rifle,” the agency said in a statement accompanying the rulemaking. “Such stabilizing braces are designed to conform to the arm and not as a buttstock.”