Congressmen Demand Answers From the ATF

posted on March 10, 2023
Gage Skidmore courtesy Flickr

In light of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) recent ventures into making laws instead of just enforcing them, two U.S. Congressmen are calling on ATF Director Steve Dettelbach to answer some questions in front of a committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) are pulling no punches in demanding that Dettelbach and three other ATF officials appear before the House Judiciary Committee, which Jordan chairs. Massie is chairman of the Subcommittee on the Administrative State, Regulatory Reform and Antitrust.

According to the letter to Dettelbach, the congressmen have written to the ATF with multiple requests for information on the agency’s rulemaking process, yet agency officials have not answered Jordan’s inquiries since the ATF recently redefined braced pistols as short-barreled rifles (SBRs) under the National Firearms Act (NFA).

“The ATF’s lack of transparency comes after the agency issued a final rule banning stabilizing pistol braces, and as the agency continues to shut down lawful businesses through the

‘zero-tolerance’ policy for federal firearms dealers (FFLs),” the letter states. “Just last year, the United States Supreme Court held in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency that under the major questions doctrine, ‘given both separation of powers principles and a practical understanding of legislative intent, the agency must point to ‘clear congressional authorization’ for the authority it claims. This ruling raises serious doubts about ATF’s ability to regulate pistol braces absent a clear mandate from Congress.”

The letter invites Dettelbach to testify before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on April 26.

“This hearing will be an opportunity for the Committee to hear directly from you, as the head of the agency, about the decisions that led the ATF to implement these controversial policies,” the letter states. “In addition, this hearing will allow members to learn more about the reversal of years of previous ATF opinions in regulating firearms with stabilizing braces.”

In fact, as the NRA pointed out in a lawsuit challenging the stabilizing brace rule, in the past, the ATF has repeatedly said that braced pistols are not subject to NFA controls.

“Following its 2012 classification, ATF issued at least 17 classification letters opining that different stabilizing brace designs did not convert pistols into short-barreled rifles,” the lawsuit states. Additionally, in 2014, the ATF even ruled that “firing a pistol [equipped with a brace] from the shoulder would not cause the pistol to be reclassified.”

As most readers likely remember, Dettelbach is a longtime gun-control advocate, a fact that raised substantial objections when Biden first nominated him to run the ATF. When running for Ohio attorney general in 2018, Dettelbach endorsed gun bans, restrictions on lawful firearm transfers, and further expansion of prohibitions on who can lawfully possess a firearm.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Senate voted 48-46 to confirm Dettelbach, with two Republican senators—Susan Collins (Maine) and Rob Portman (Ohio)—joining 46 Democrat senators.

This pistol-brace rule has been high on President Joe Biden’s (D) gun-control wish list since he took office. Placing Dettelbach at the helm of the ATF, despite widespread opposition, helped Biden reach his goal, which could potentially turn millions of lawful Americans into instant felons when the grace period ends.

As with most punitive gun-control laws, the new pistol-brace reclassification once again proves that elections have consequences. While Reps. Jordan and Massie and others in Congress try to get to the bottom of the recent action, the NRA and others are fighting this rule in court.


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