New gun regulations on stabilizing braces targeted in court

Attorney General Merrick Garland, joined by Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta and Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division, speaks at the Department of Justice in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Conservative and gun-rights groups challenged new federal regulations on guns with stabilizing braces in court Tuesday, suing to block a gun-control action touted by President Joe Biden after the accessories were used in two mass shootings.

Two lawsuits were filed in federal court in Texas against the move to treat the guns like short-barreled rifles, a weapon like a sawed-off shotgun that has been heavily regulated since the 1930s.

The cases argue that millions of people have guns with the braces and use them to make firing “more accurate, and therefore safer,” according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of three veterans by the conservative Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.

They said in the lawsuit that the new rule from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives forces owners into “unthinkable choices” of removing the brace, submitting to a national registry or opening themselves up to possible charges.

“The new rule unlawfully usurps Congressional authority by significantly expanding the definition of ‘rifle’ under federal law and, with it, imposes potential criminal liability on millions of Americans exercising their Second Amendment rights,” the lawsuit argues. A decade ago, the ATF found that the braces did not make guns similar to short-barreled rifles.

The group Firearms Policy Coalition also challenged the new rule in another lawsuit filed in Texas.

At least three million guns with stabilizing braces are in circulation in the U.S., according to the ATF. Other estimates place the number much higher, the suit claims. The plaintiffs are asking the court to block enforcement of the rule.

The regulation was one of several steps Biden announced in 2021 after a man using a stabilizing brace killed 10 people at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado. A stabilizing brace was also used in a shooting in Dayton, Ohio, that left nine people dead in 2019.

The agency declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. The rule has drawn pushback from gun-rights groups since its proposal.

Stabilizing braces transform a handgun into a weapon that’s powerful and easy to conceal, Attorney General Merrick Garland said when he announced the rule earlier this month. Originally developed for disabled veterans, the accessories became a loophole exploited by gunmakers to make weapons more deadly, gun-control groups said.