A Republican-led Congressional Committee called out federal gun regulators over the Biden administration’s moves against law-abiding firearm owners. 

While the media's attention was on the TikTok hearings elsewhere on Capitol Hill, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Energy Policy, and Regulatory Affairs last week examined the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives’ actions on things such as pistol braces and "zero tolerance" policies when it comes to closing gun stores for minor clerical errors. 

Among those called to testify over four hours of public hearings were Amy Swearer, a senior legal fellow with the Heritage Foundation; stabilizing brace inventor Alex Bosco; and attorney Matthew Larosiere, the Adjunct Scholar of Law and Policy for the Second Amendment Foundation. Meanwhile, Democrats on the committee called Rob Wilcox from the billionaire national anti-gun group Everytown to weigh in on the ATF's latest gun control measures. 

 

 

Some of the exchanges were as heated as they were insightful. 

Swearer pointed out that the nation's gun regulators are being used as a tool by the administration, saying, "The reality is that ATF is much like the firearms it regulates. In a vacuum, the agency is neither inherently good nor inherently bad. It depends in large part on who controls it and the ends for which its power is exerted. At its best, ATF and its agents play an integral role in combating gun crime and keeping law-abiding Americans safe from dangerous criminals armed with illegally possessed firearms. At its worst, ATF acts as a fifth column for gun control advocacy groups, using its vast and often unchecked regulatory powers to accomplish through agency rulemaking that which elected officials could not accomplish through the democratic process."
 

 

Meanwhile, Larosiere explained that the agency's often arbitrary actions have had very real consequences for regular gun owners – some of whom stand to lose liberty in addition to treasure and livelihood. 

"My experience has been representing individuals and small businesses who have been caught up in some of the flip-floppery that the ATF has engaged in," said the attorney. "Representing individuals and small businesses who have had their lives shattered, their employees left jobless because of frankly innocent omissions that were characterized as intentional misconduct by the ATF. What I’ve seen ATF doing in these prosecutions is extremely concerning. The threats imposed by ATF’s overreach are not theoretical; they are very real."

Bosco, a Marine veteran who invented the stabilizing brace, an accessory that the ATF has maintained for the past decade was legal, pointed out, "The effects of this change are enormous. According to the ATF, millions of who have followed the ATF’s advice for the past decade have unbeknownst to anyone been committing felony crimes. And ATF almost certainly underestimates the scope of the impact of the rule. The effects of ATF’s rule is to put out of business the industry that ATF itself fostered for 10 years and punish consumers who relied on ATF’s prior decisions." 

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) slammed the ATF for reversing course on braces without Congress’ input after a decade of precedence that gun owners relied on for guidance for following ATF’s regulations. He also pressed Everytown's Rob Wilcox about the timing of the rulemaking on braces and how the group worked with ATF to help mold gun control. 
 

 

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) pressed for more information on the ramifications of the ATF’s final brace rule and why the restriction on short-barreled rifles existed in the first place. Swearer responded, explaining that the SBR rules were part of a 1934 attempt to put a ban on handguns. Despite the fact that the National Firearms Act that year fell short of the prohibition on handguns, the SBR "loophole" language made it into law. 

Donald then asked Bosco, "How many Americans do you think will become felons as a result of this rule?" 

To which Bosco responded, "Anywhere between 10 and 40 million Americans own arm braces at this moment … you will have an effect that comes, I believe May 16th which is the deadline. If someone wasn’t smart enough to look up the federal register, who didn’t know about this rule from one day to the next, would be in possession of an unregistered short-barreled rifle. He would be committing a crime which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison – it’s a felony offense, and a $250,000 fine."
 

 

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who has a bill in Congress to disband the ATF, asked Wilcox about the agency's track record of compiling an illegal gun owner registry in the past. 
 

 

Finally, Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA) introduced a new bill, H.R.1678, which would grandfather any firearm or firearm attachment lawfully manufactured/owned/possessed before the effective date of a new rule or regulation, effectively short-cutting the ATF's brace rule or similar rule changes in the future.

"The Biden administration, with the stroke of a pen, through ATF rule, is forcing Americans into felony possession of illegal firearms," said Higgins. "This legislation maintains the legal possession and ownership of a legal firearm or firearm attachment according to the ruling regime effective when that firearm was possessed. A pretty simple response to the repression we are seeing from the federal government."

Update: 3/28/23 8:51 p.m. -- This post has been updated to reflect that Matthew Larosiere is the Adjunct Scholar of Law and Policy for the Second Amendment Foundation. A previous edition had him listed as the Policy Director for the Firearms Policy Coalition.

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