Law-abiding citizens transformed into criminals overnight (thanks to the ATF)
01/18/2023 // News Editors // Views

After years of flip-flopping, the ATF has issued a rule recharacterizing guns with pistol braces, making millions of currently owned guns subject to federal "short-barrel" rifle registration, together with a $200 tax.  The effect of this rule change is particularly potent in Connecticut, where existing laws banning so-called "assault rifles" are immediately triggered.  Owners there of handguns with pistol braces cannot merely remove the brace if the weapon has a "forward pistol grip" or "second hand grip"; these guns are effectively rendered instantly illegal due to the fickle federal rule change.

(Article by John Klar republished from

Prior to the rule change, Connecticut gun-owners could legally own pistols with braces that possessed features otherwise prohibited by Connecticut's 2013 ban on "assault weapons."  Generally called "others," these in-between guns were classified as illegal handguns (barrel too long), not specifically banned under the state's definition of assault weapons (barrel under 16 inches, exclusive of pistol brace), and yet were long enough (when fitted with the brace, which acts as a butt extension) to evade federal classification as "short-barrel rifles" under the former ATF determination.  The State of Connecticut classified them per federal rules as legally permissible, not as prohibited short-barrel rifles.  With the ATF rule change, Connecticut "others"-gun owners will overnight find themselves in possession of illegal assault weapons.

Connecticut's assault weapon ban punishes illegal possession of an assault weapon as a class D felony subject to up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine...with a mandatory minimum one-year prison term!  This penalty is reduced to a class A misdemeanor with up to one year in prison "if the violator can prove that he or she lawfully possessed the weapon before the ban[.]"  There are an estimated 81,849 pre-ban legal weapon–owners in Connecticut, who retained their otherwise prohibited weapons following that state's ban by registering them.  Last year, Governor Ned Lamont publicly proposed making those guns illegal also.  It is to be presumed he will pounce on the chance to ban the in-between "others."


The anticipated retroactive prohibition by ATF rule change of possession of what was a legal weapon in Connecticut may be alleged to be an "ex post facto" law prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.  This defense won't likely fly.  Presuming the State of Connecticut seeks to incorporate the "others" as illegal assault weapons under its existing statute, it will charge people with crimes not for having owned the guns before the rule change (which would be ex post facto, meaning "from a thing done afterward"), but for the ongoing current offense of possessing the gun presently in violation of existing law.  Connecticut "others"-owners thus would not face prosecution for pre–ATF rule change violations but would have to dispose of or surrender their guns in order to avoid criminal liability for a new offense that springs up with this controversial rule change.

This is the rub — the "others," unlike owners of unregistered and thus illegal pre-ban assault weapons, are registered.  Connecticut implemented a post–Sandy Hook registry of the "others," which it could conceivably begin to investigate and compare with guns surrendered (or bought back, should the state implement such a policy in order to sidestep unconstitutional "taking" violations).  Connecticut would be able to prosecute those possessions as class A misdemeanors; it is hard to imagine that prosecutors could successfully apply the pre–ATF rule change five-year felony penalty.

Connecticut owners of these "others" guns find themselves in a panicked squeeze between the Scylla of federal rulemaking and the Charybdis of a state bent on banning their guns without mercy.  If they register these weapons with the feds and pay the $200 fee, they are not free of the rocky perils of Connecticut criminal statutes that ban them as short-barrels.  And if they simply remove the pistol brace (as many in other states are free to do), they cannot legally possess what remains under Connecticut law because of a non-detachable pistol grip or second-hand grip.

Joe Biden and Ned Lamont will doubtless clink champagne glasses at this predicament.  Law-abiding Connecticut citizens transformed into criminals overnight by the sweep of a bureaucratic pen are not celebrating the loss of their property and liberty.

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