Important Questions the ATF Needs to Answer

posted on May 9, 2022

While new rules concerning firearms created or proposed by the Biden administration, and to be enforced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), have left gun manufacturers, dealers and even law-abiding American gun owners in a state of uncertainty, some U.S. Senators are calling on the ATF to answer some important questions.

At issue are Biden’s April 11 finalization of a new rule that changed a number of core definitions, including what a “firearm” is, along with the administration’s proposed rule on stabilizing braces. On these issues, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) sent a pointed letter to Gary Restaino, ATF’s new acting director, after an inquiry into the very same issues last year was ignored by the agency.

“In June of 2021, I sent ATF a letter expressing concerns about two rules your office proposed that would impose substantial burdens on law-abiding firearm owners: Proposed Rule 2021R–05, Definition of ‘Frame or Receiver and Identification of Firearms, and Proposed Rule 2021R–08, Factoring Criteria for Firearms With Attached ‘Stabilizing Braces,’” Sen. Hawley wrote. “I asked that ATF respond to my letter by providing additional information. Yet almost a year later, ATF still has offered no response.”

Hawley said the agency not responding to his request is completely unacceptable.

In the meantime, one of the rules he inquired about has already been finalized, and now citizens may be negatively affected.

“Americans and their representative in Congress have a right to know what ATF is planning,” he wrote. “The first Proposed Rule, which has now evolved into Final Rule 2021R-05F, will unsettle longstanding expectations for Americans everywhere and take steps toward a national gun registry by requiring gun dealers to maintain gun owner and transaction information forever.”

In the letter, Hawley also questioned a proposed rule that would completely reclassify firearms equipped with a stabilizing brace, a device often owned by disabled Americans, and many others.

“The second, if promulgated, would upend established practices by reclassifying millions of pistols and AR-15-style firearms as ‘short-barreled rifles’—thus subjecting them to the rigid controls of the National Firearms Act and making it a federal felony to possess them without going through a byzantine waiver process,” he wrote. “‘Thousands upon thousands of Americans’ rights are at stake: the Proposed Rule itself anticipates ‘affect[ing] upwards of 1.4 million individuals.’”

Hawley seems to believe the agency’s ignoring his earlier inquiry is a sign that the ATF is trying to avoid oversight while pushing forward with very harsh rules that would burden many Americans.

“Given the stakes involved, ATF’s nearly year-long delay in responding is unacceptable and has all the appearances of an attempt by a bureaucracy to evade democratic oversight,” he wrote.

Sen. Hawley ended the letter with a demand that ATF answer a number of questions about the rule and proposed rule before May 22. Among the more interesting are the following:

“What steps does ATF intend to take to ensure that any new information that may be retained by FFL dealers pursuant to Final Rule 2021R–05F is not subsequently used for the targeting of lawful gun owners by federal authorities or other politically-motivated purposes?”

Also, “What, if any, new measures does ATF anticipate taking to enforce the terms of Proposed Rule 2021R–08 against private gun owners?”

Hawley’s inquiry is an important one, given the Biden administration’s constant politically motivated meddling with current firearms laws and rewriting of rules. If left unchecked, what’s to stop Biden from changing any other definitions he wants during some future rulemaking endeavor in the same manner as his earlier executive actions? Might he decide that he has the power to ban whole classes of firearms—say, AR-15s, which he calls “weapons of war”—and leave it to the courts to sort out later?

One thing’s for certain: Working hard to help get out the vote and elect pro-gun congressmen and U.S. senators this fall will go a long way toward curbing Biden’s power—and his ability to meddle with things he doesn’t have the power to unilaterally change.


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