Attorney General Merrick Garland and Steve Dettelbach, the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), announced new regulations Friday that would subject pistol-stabilizing braces to additional regulations, including higher taxes, longer waiting periods and registration.
Gun control proponents argue that stabilizing braces – which can be attached to pistols – effectively transform a pistol into a short-barreled rifle, which are heavily regulated under the National Firearms Act (NFA). The rule will go into effect as soon as it is published in the Federal Register.
The proposal was given new life in 2021 after shooters in Boulder, Colorado, and in Dayton, Ohio, used pistols with stabilizing braces. At the time, Garland unveiled several proposals aimed at curbing gun violence, including reupping the restriction on pistol braces.
“Almost a century ago, Congress determined that short-barreled rifles must be subject to stricter legal requirements,” Garland said Friday during a call with reporters to outline the new rule. “Policy makers understood then what we know is still true today. Short-barreled rifles present a deadly combination: They are easier to conceal than rifles, but they are more powerful and lethal than pistols.”
The rule, he said, “makes clear that firearm manufacturers, dealers and individuals cannot evade the important public safety protections passed by Congress simply by adding accessories to pistols that transform them into short-barreled rifles.”
The DOJ announcement sparked immediate backlash from some Republicans, including West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. Morrisey argued in a statement that the “egregious” rule makes it “harder for senior citizens and people with disabilities to defend themselves,” adding that his office was “evaluating our legal options.”
According to the Justice Department, manufacturers, dealers and individual gun owners have 120 days to register tax-free any existing short-barreled rifles covered by the rule. They can also remove the stabilizing brace or surrender covered short-barreled rifles to the ATF, the department said.
“This rule enhances public safety … and helps ensure compliance with the firearms laws that Congress passed almost a century ago,” Dettelbach said on the call. The rule makes clear, Dettelbach said, that “when pistols are accessorized with certain stabilizing braces, those pistols are converted into rifles” and should be treated as short-barreled rifles under the law.
Restrictions on stabilizing braces have been hotly debated after they were proposed by the ATF in 2020, when the bureau suggested a new rule that would regulate pistol braces under the NFA. The 2020 proposal sparked a major backlash from the groups such as the National Rifle Association.
Republican lawmakers also spoke out against the proposal and sent a letter to then-Attorney General William Barr saying that the proposed regulation was “alarming and jeopardizes law abiding gun owners across the country.” The ATF withdrew the proposed regulation after the letter was released.
“These requirements are important public safety measures because they regulate the transfer of these dangerous weapons and help ensure they do not end up in wrong hands,” the Justice Department said at the time. “The proposed rule would clarify when these attached accessories convert pistols into weapons covered by these heightened regulations.”
This story has been updated with additional details.