House Votes to Nullify ATF Rule on Pistol Braces, Senate Votes to Keep it

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U.S.A.On June 13th, 2023, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to overturn the proposed rule of the BATF, which is set to make the possession of pistols with a pistol brace installed a federal felony, punishable with up to a $10,000 fine and or ten years in prison. The vote was almost entirely on party lines, passing 218 to 210. Two Democrats voted for the resolution, and two Republicans voted against it.

On Thursday, June 22nd, 2023, the Senate voted against  H.J. Resolution 44 by a razor-thin margin of 50 to 49. Three Senators, who were considered possible swing votes, voted against the resolution. Two more votes would have been necessary to pass the resolution. Vice President Harris would have almost certainly broken a tie vote against the measure. The three swing votes were Senators Tester from Montana, Manchin from West Virginia, and Sinema from Arizona. Senators Baldwin (D-WI), Brown (D-OH), and Casey (D-PA) were candidates to vote for the measure because they will be coming up for election in 2024. All voted against it.

The vote was for House Joint Resolution 44 :

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives in Congress assembled, That Congress disapproves the rule submitted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives relating to “Factoring Criteria for Firearms with Attached ‘Stabilinzing Braces'” (ATF final rule 2021R-08F), and such rule shall have no force or effect.

The ATF rule reversed a decade of ATF policy where they assured purchasers and manufacturers of pistol braces such items were legal and not regulated by the NFA.

Wyoming Congresswoman Harriet Hageman voted for the resolution. From her office:

“This latest unconstitutional rule from the A.T.F. is a blatant attempt to take away our 2nd Amendment rights and strip away the ability to
defend ourselves”, said Hageman. “Should this rule be implemented, the A.T.F. would instantaneously transform millions of law-abiding citizens into potential criminals, threatening their freedom, property, and lives in the process.”

The rule proposed by the ATF extends the reach of the National Firearms Act to handguns that have barrels less than 16 inches and are equipped with a stabilizing brace.

When the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration wrote the original legislation in 1934, short-barreled rifles were not included. The principal targets of the legislation were handguns and short-barreled shotguns and such items when equipped with silencers.  Because of the confused statements of Minnesota Congressman Harold Knutson,  rifles were added to the list of handguns, revolvers, and shotguns which were to be taxed out of existence if their barrels were less than 16 inches. Knutson was a member of the Ways and Means committee. Knutson requested the barrel length be extended to 18 inches. From the hearing:

Mr. KNUTSON. General, would there be any objection, on page 1, line 4, after the word” shotgun” to add the words” or rifle” having a barrel less than 18 inches? The reason I ask that is I happen to come from a section of the State where deer hunting is a very popular pastime in the fall of the year and, of course, I would not like to pass any legislation to forbid or make it impossible for our people to keep arms that would permit them to hunt deer. 

Attorney General CUMMINGS. Well, as long as it is not mentioned at all, it would not interfere at all.

Mr. KNUTSON. It seems to me that an 18 -inch barrel would make this provision stronger than 16 inches, knowing what I do about firearms.

Attorney General CUMMINGS. Well, there is no objection as far as we are concerned to including rifles after the word” shotguns” if you desire.

Sawed-off shotguns had been demonized by the media of the time. Short-barreled rifles were not considered a problem. Several manufacturers made rifles with less than 18-inch barrels. They were very popular as boy’s rifles.

The NRA and numerous sportsman’s groups made their objections known to Congress in 1934. Pistols were removed from the legislation.  As a consolation prize, FDR passed legislation placing prohibitive taxes and administrative procedures on short-barreled rifles, short-barreled shotguns, silencers, and machine guns.

The prohibition of short-barreled rifles and shotguns makes no sense when everyone agrees the Second Amendment protects handguns. When attached to a handgun, a pistol brace makes it harder to conceal. Handguns are preferred for crime because they are easier to conceal. Shoulder stocks had been accepted accessories for pistols since pistols became available. It wasn’t until 1961, decades after the passage of the National Firearms Act in 1934, that the ATF formally created a rule finding a pistol with a shoulder stock attached was held to be a short-barreled rifle. The ATF quickly removed Mauser and Luger pistols with shoulder stocks from consideration by classifying them outside the NFA as “curios and relics”.

Several court cases are challenging the ATF rule on pistol braces. The rule may be struck down in the courts.

About Dean Weingarten:

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of Constitutional Carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

Dean Weingarten