With a Republican in the White House and Senate majority, many U.S. gun owners feel like we are in “safe” times for 2020 in terms of gun bans. According Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL), that confidence may be naïve. According to Gaetz, a new ban is in the works behind closed doors.
Gaetz has been a staunch defender of the Second Amendment since his days in the Florida House of Representatives. He has quickly grown to prominence in Congress as a strong voice for gun owners. On his June 16, 2020, “Hot Takes” podcast, Gaetz announced that the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (BATFE, also known as “ATF”) was secretly implementing a ban that would affect hundreds of thousands of U.S. gun owners.
Gaetz outlines the secret-ban proposal in a letter to BATFE Acting Director Regina Lombardo, co-signed by six other members of Congress. “We understand that ATF is currently considering restricting one arm brace model,” Congressman Gaetz writes along with six other members of Congress. “We strongly urge ATF to cease taking any actions and reconsider or rescind any secret determinations which call into question the legality of firearms owned by millions of law-abiding Americans.”
The proposed ban applies to certain pistol braces, which had been previously blessed by BATFE as lawful accessories. Though the waters have been muddied a bit over the past decade by a series of letters issued by BATFE, it is generally accepted that pistols with arm braces attached are not considered short-barreled rifles (SBRs), which would subject them to registration under the National Firearms Act (NFA). According to Gaetz’s letter, BATFE has begun enforcement of a standard that declares brace-equipped pistols with a length-of-pull of more than 13.5 inches are SBRs. The letter states that BATFE is “currently considering restricting one arm brace model owned by more than 700,000 Americans, despite it being no different in function from the more than ten arm brace designs already approved by ATF.” And now the scary part: “Were ATF allowed to proceed with issuing this determination letter or others, close to one-million law-abiding Americans could be made felons overnight.”
As we warned readers in the April 2019 issue of G&A, President Trump’s December 2018 “bump stock” ban set a dangerous precedent for administrative gun bans. That administrative rule made “bump stocks” into machine guns overnight. If you own a “bump stock” now, you’re committing a felony that could land you in federal prison. That wasn’t the first time that such a ban was applied to legally owned firearms or accessories by executive fiat, though. In March 1994, the “Striker 12,” “Streetsweeper” and SPAS-12 shotguns were declared “Destructive Devices” by the BATFE, requiring registration or surrender. Anytime that legally owned property becomes contraband without legislative action or fair-and-open debate, the spirit of our republic is being violated.
Congressman Gaetz shares our concern on bans implemented without the sunshine of public debate. “ATF is making it very difficult for people to have arm braces. They’re changing standards and changing rules.” Gaetz continues, “And I am particularly frustrated when our government, at the administrative and executive level, goes beyond their grant of authority in our Constitution and in our Federal Statutes. Nothing gives anyone at ATF the ability to constrain the use of arm braces.”
Arm-brace users might already be unknowingly breaking the law. Gaetz letter demands that BATFE clarify what criteria is used to determine whether a firearm is designed and intended to be fired from the shoulder. The letter also asks BATFE’s acting director what publications are available for Americans to determine whether their firearm might be affected by such a ban. Finally, the inquiry asks how often BATFE has evaluated arm braces for criminal prosecutions.
Time will tell how this issue will play out, but the message is clear: If this can happen during President Trump’s administration, what might BATFE do under a President Biden administration?