I honestly never thought it possible. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) published a notice of proposed rulemaking about a week before Christmas. The obvious intent was to reclassify many to most handguns equipped with a pistol stabilizing brace as short-barreled rifles requiring registration under the National Firearms Act (NFA).
The Pistol Brace and the ATF’s Comment Period
Pistol braces allow American gun owners to enjoy better control of their big-boned handguns. These delightful accessories therefore infringe upon the government’s infringement upon an American gun owner’s Constitutional right to configure their firearms however they wish (an intentionally convoluted grammatical construct). Such an imposition upon the government’s capacity to regulate its citizens could not go unchallenged. The ATF offered a two-week open comment period wherein concerned citizens could voice their opinions.
These particular two weeks encompassed both the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. I naturally thought we were all screwed. Personally, I tried to make the best of it, but I held out zero hope of aborting the inevitable.
This deep into the 21st century, our Great Republic is really a democracy in name only. The U.S. government is so labyrinthine and its leadership so intertwined with special interests, big money, and their own personal betterment that the voice of the little guy seems reliably lost in the resulting din. Then this happened.
Apparently, in the first few days of this abbreviated comment period, some 70,000 of us actually voiced our opinions. Pretty much all of those 70,000 voices were resoundingly against this proposed change. A number of lawmakers added their noise to the mix and then the most amazing thing occurred: The ATF actually backed down. I was gobsmacked.
What Could’ve Happened
The original proposal implied that there would be an amnesty wherein pistol brace-equipped guns could be registered as short-barreled rifles without paying the $200 tax. This would have created a simply breathtaking quagmire within the National Firearms Registry and Transfer Record, the behemoth government database given the hopeless task of keeping track of some five million machine guns, short-barreled weapons, destructive devices, and sound suppressors already held within its purview.
Many in our quirky little world were also rightly concerned that this would subject millions of fresh new guns and gun owners to unnecessary registration. It is obviously a slippery slope from registration to confiscation dependent upon the prevailing political winds.
The obvious presupposition is that gun laws and the entire ATF apparatus should enhance public safety. All these myriad rules and the behemoth government agency that enforces them should make the world a better place or they shouldn’t be there at all. In my research, I found exactly one crime committed with a brace-equipped pistol.
The Dayton Shooting
In August 2019, Connor Betts used an Anderson Manufacturing AR-15 pistol equipped with a Shockwave PSB to kill his sister along with eight apparent strangers in Dayton, Ohio. He fired 41 rounds in half-a-minute. Police miraculously arrived within moments and killed Betts like the rabid animal he was. My daughter and I had been in the same place one week earlier.
The media made much hay of the fact that he used an AR pistol with a pistol brace. One headline actually said, “Dayton Shooter Used Gun That May Have Exploited an ATF Loophole.” Like a rampaging mass murderer really gives two flips about barrel lengths, buttstocks, and federal gun laws. Our political opponents have grown terribly adroit at deftly wielding weaponized ignorance.
Betts purchased his pistol legally. The guy didn’t have a criminal record. However, former classmates came out later and said this lunatic kept a “hit list” of people he wanted to kill or rape. Betts’ Twitter feed consistently Retweeted extreme left-wing, anti-police posts. He was an overt supporter of Antifa and used the hashtag #HailSatan. And yet apparently the real issue was that his weapon had a pistol brace. This was pretty obviously a people problem, not a gun problem.
Anyone who speaks fluent AR-15 appreciates that this gun is Legos for grownups. Mixing and matching components to make the firearm into whatever you want is the primary appeal. This crime was undeniably horrific. However, to presume that the pistol brace added anything materially to this maniac’s criminal enterprise is simply magical thinking.
Final Thoughts on the Future of the Pistol Brace
Had these rules been allowed to progress, a certain statistically significant percentage of the four million or so current owners of pistol braces would refuse to bow to the empire and register their guns as SBRs, tax-free or no. Those folks are currently wandering about as peaceful productive citizens today. Had the government enacted these rules, then these bankers, lawyers, welders, school teachers, and construction workers would have automatically become felons. Again, this deep into the 21st century, amidst COVID-19, mandatory shutdowns, rampaging Antifa violence, and uncertainty over the ultimate fate of Baby Yoda, is this really the best time to add another couple million nonviolent felons to the national rolls?
We won this one, for the time being. The ATF backed down and rescinded their proposed rules. However, we live in perilous times. To quote “The Terminator,” the future is not set. There is soon to be a new sheriff in Washington, D.C., and I don’t trust him at all. Once the Biden administration has had opportunity to flesh out the bureaucracy, it would be awfully easy to drag this abominable thing out, dust it off, and run it up the flagpole again.
In 1848 Frederick Douglass opined that the price of freedom was eternal vigilance. Next time, however, we should expect the deck to be stacked against us. Our opponents will never rest.
We law-abiding American gun owners are a fairly put-upon lot. There are countless reams of regulations and an entire federal agency devoted to infringing upon the exercise of the same rights upon that the government is commanded by the Constitution not to infringe. Were it not so egregious, the whole situation might seem comical. Pistol braces aren’t hurting anybody. Would it really be so bad if this one time they actually just left us alone?