A sweeping proposed new rule by federal gun regulators received over a quarter-million public comments in a 90 day period. 

On May 21, the Justice Department published a rulemaking in the Federal Register for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to change the definition of “Frame or Receiver." Once the smoke cleared 90 days later, 291,249 comments had been posted. By comparison, a 2018 regulatory ban on bump stocks, reclassifying the accessories as illegal machine guns, drew 193,297 comments. 

Taking opposite sides on the current Frame or Receiver rulemaking were pro-Second Amendment and anti-gun organizations, both of which had mounted campaigns to push comments to the Federal Register. 

"In part, the Justice Department is seeking to destroy law-abiding Americans’ ability to make their own firearms for personal use by restricting access to popular items hobbyists and gun rights enthusiasts use to exercise this right. Americans’ have enjoyed the right to make firearms for personal use since before the Revolution," observed the NRA, who posted a 25-page comment against the rule. 

Similarly, the pro-gun Firearms Policy Coalition posted a 17-page comment against the rule. 

Meanwhile, Brady, Everytown, and Giffords waged comment-generating campaigns with suggested cut-and-paste advocacy in favor of the rule change. 

States Weigh In 

States with attorneys general that made comments on the ATF frame rule
Attorneys general from some 41 states and the District of Columbia took an official side on the issue. (Chart: Chris Eger/Guns.com)

In support of the rule, and in effect siding with tougher gun control efforts, was a coalition of 21 states and D.C. led by Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul. 

“Ghost guns make our communities less safe. The ghost gun loophole makes it easier for people who are prohibited from possessing a firearm to get one, and it can make it more difficult to solve crimes,” said Kaul. “The federal government should move forward with the proposed rule closing that loophole.”

Opposing the rule, characterizing it as an unneeded complication of federal gun laws that the ATF didn't have the authority to make, were 20 states led by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

“ATF’s job is to enforce the laws written by Congress, not interpret or rewrite them because of political pressure,” said Brnovich. "I will continue to vigorously protect the Second Amendment."

What's Next

After ATF considers public feedback and makes any changes because of the comments, providing the agency still wants to proceed, it will publish a final version of the rule to the Federal Register as a final rule, describing and responding to the comments received. That final rule includes a date for when the change becomes both effective and enforceable, generally 60 to 90 days in the future.

It remains to be seen exactly how that will play out, but any rule pressed into effect is likely to be the target of multiple federal lawsuits as well as potential congressional oversight.

The 2018 bump stock ban has been challenged in the courts by multiple pro-gun groups as well as manufacturers and owners of the devices shortly after it went into effect. Earlier this year, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the legality of the bump stock reclassification saying that the ATF – which is part of the executive branch of government – enforces laws rather than makes them, with that authority reserved for the people acting through their elected representatives in Congress.

"Congress could amend the statute tomorrow to criminalize bump-stock ownership, if it so wished," said Judge Alice M. Batchelder for the majority in that case. "But as judges, we cannot amend [the statute]. And neither can ATF. This is because the separation of powers requires that any legislation pass through the legislature, no matter how well-intentioned or widely supported the policy might be."

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