Another victory for gun owners as Biden’s ATF pistol rule vacated by federal judge
06/18/2024 // Cassie B. // Views

A judge in a Texas Federal District Court has vacated the controversial “pistol brace rule.”

The rule was enacted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms And Explosives (ATF) in response to an order by President Biden that pistol braces be officially considered stocks. As a result, all pistols equipped with braces fit the definition of short-barreled rifles.

Because all rifles with barrels shorter than 16 inches are regulated by the National Firearms Act of 1934, all gun owners who had these braces installed were required to register them with the ATF and get a $200 tax stamp or face felony charges. The penalty was a fine of up to $250,000 and up to 10 years in prison, which is the same penalty applied to those found to possess unregistered machine guns.

The rule attracted a lot of scrutiny, and numerous gun organizations filed for injunctions to prevent it from being enforced. One case, Mock v. Garland, which was filed by the Firearms Policy Coalition, ended up in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on appeal; the three judges there sent it back down to the District Court level and directed it to be expedited.

Both sides in the case filed for a summary judgment, with the Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) asking for the rule to be struck down entirely and the ATF asking for it to be enforced. Ultimately, it was the plaintiff’s request for a summary judgment that was granted. As a result, the rule has been tossed out.

District Court Judge Reed O'Connor ruled that the pistol brace rule was a violation of the Administrative Procedures Act. Although the ATF took the position that the rule was a logical outgrowth of the proposed rule, the FPC argued that it did not bear any resemblance to it, and the judge sided with the latter.

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The one-page order stated, in part: “Consequently, the Court finds that the Final Rule violated the APA’s procedural requirements because it was not a logical outgrowth of the Proposed Rule. Accordingly, Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED and Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED as to this issue.”

In other words, the district court doesn’t think there’s any dispute here as the law clearly sides with the plaintiffs and the rule cannot be enforced.

Judge calls rule "impermissibly vague"

Moreover, Judge O'Connor agreed with the plaintiffs that the final rules adaptation was both “arbitrary and capricious” as the bureau failed to provide a thorough justification for the change to the rule. He also acknowledged that the ATF failed to consider public comments when creating it.

He also expressed concern that the ATF was unable to explain how pistols equipped with braces classified as short-barreled rifles. As a result, individual gun owners would not have any way of knowing whether their pistol would be considered an unregistered short-barreled rifle until they were hit with felony charges by the ATF. The judge said the rule was “impermissibly vague.”

The judge did not, however, consider whether the rule was constitutional because there was already enough to vacate it under the Administrative Procedures Act.

This may not be the end of the matter, however, as the ATF is likely to appeal to the Fifth Circuit, but they have largely ruled in favor of the Second Amendment in the past. Therefore, it could end up in the Supreme Court, and that would likely take several years to reach a resolution.

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