*Updated September 17, 2021
Commenting on the ATF rule change ended on Wednesday, September 8. Nearly 210,000 comments were submitted, and it could take years for the ATF to wade through those before publishing the final rule.


The ATF wants to hear from you. Imagine that!

ATF and its parent agency, the Department of Justice, is in a kerfuffle to clarify when a rifle is “intended to be fired from the shoulder” — an apparently difficult concept to explain. Whatever ATF ultimately decides though, it will make no difference on America’s crime rates. It’s simply a bureaucratic exercise.

Why Is the ATF Proposing a New Rifle Definition?

ATF says it is studying the issue, in part, because of an August 4, 2019, incident. A 24-year-old male shot and killed nine people and injured 17 others near the entrance to a bar in Dayton, Ohio. He fired randomly and was then fatally shot 30 times by responding officers only 32 seconds after he began pulling the trigger.

The ATF’s focus on Dayton is due to the use of an AR-15 lower with a pistol “stabilizing brace.” This, ATF says, turned the AR-15 pistol into a rifle capable of being fired from the shoulder and therefore subject to ATF regulation.

ATF’s Proposed Pistol Brace Rule

Thus, on June 7, 2021, ATF published a “notice of proposed rulemaking:” Factoring Criteria for Firearms with Attached “Stabilizing Braces.”

  • Amend the definition of “rifle” in 27 CFR 478.11 and 479.11, respectively, by adding a sentence at the end of each definition to clarify that the term “rifle” includes any weapon with a rifled barrel and equipped with an attached “stabilizing brace” that has objective design features and characteristics that indicate that the firearm is designed to be fired from the shoulder.
  • Set forth a worksheet “Factoring Criteria for Rifled Barrel Weapons with Accessories commonly referred to as ‘Stabilizing Braces,’” ATF Worksheet 4999, to aid the firearms industry and public in understanding the criteria that ATF considers when evaluating firearm samples that are submitted with an attached “stabilizing brace” or similar component or accessory.

“This proposed rule would 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. Such stabilizing braces are designed to conform to the arm and not as a buttstock.”

ATF’s proposed rule suggests a confusing and somewhat arbitrary three-part “points system.” The goal is to determine if a firearm equipped with a stabilizing brace is a National Firearms Act (NFA) firearm. For example, does the brace look like a “known stock design?” And what are the square inches of rear surface area (with four measurement criteria)? If upon inspection, a firearm receives too many points, it will be classified as a short-barreled rifle.

Reactions to Rifle Definition and Pistol Brace Regulation

According to NRA ILA, the rule is set to subject nearly all configurations of stabilizing-brace-equipped firearms to the taxation and registration requirements as short-barreled rifles. Oddly, ATF has generally recognized that stabilizing braces serve a legitimate function.

The proposed rule, incidentally, is a separate action from the Notice on the Objective Factors for Classifying Weapons with “Stabilizing Braces.” This rule was published on December 18, 2020, and withdrawn two weeks later. However, comments from the withdrawn notice were not considered for the current proposed rule. And commenters will need to submit new comments in connection with this proposed rule. *See the link below for our suggested comment.

Thomas Gallatin of The Patriot Post says ATF’s proposed rule would “make millions of Americans criminals while doing next to nothing to stop actual crime.”

And going further, National Review’s Kevin Williamson says, “There isn’t really any good reason to restrict short-barreled rifles. Shorter barrels usually result in less power and inferior accuracy. They generally are less deadly than their full-sized counterparts. Shorter rifles are easier to conceal but not as easy as a handgun.”

Michael Brendan Dougherty, also of National Review writes, “The personal-defense weapon has a real appeal to gun owners looking for a suitable firearm for home defense or a gun to keep in a truck. The shorter barrel makes it easier to move around the interior of a home or in a car. And the arm brace, often adjustable, makes it easier to fire more accurately. Shooting a pistol accurately in an adrenalized situation is actually pretty tough to do. But if you put that smaller pistol-caliber bullet in a slightly larger gun, and you have a brace that gives you more points of contact, you are likely to fire more accurately.”

Share Your Comments With ATF

ATF wants to hear from you. They care what you think.

“ATF is receiving comments on the proposed rule for 90 days from June 10, 2021, the date the proposed rule was posted in the Federal Register. You may submit comments on or before September 8, 2021, by mail, fax or the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov.”

*For more information on how to comment on the ATF’s proposed rule, see “ATF Pistol Brace Ban Could Be Imminent” from December 2020.

Related

AR-15 Pistols vs. Short-Barreled Rifles
Keeping Your AR-15 Pistol Build Within Legal Limits