Attorney General Merrick Garland and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) director Steve Dettelbach announced new rules on Friday that would subject handgun-stabilizing suspenders to additional rules, including higher taxes, longer wait times and registration.
Gun control advocates argue that stabilizing braces — which can be attached to pistols — effectively turn a pistol into a short-barreled rifle, which is heavily regulated under the National Firearms Act (NFA). The regulation will come into force as soon as it is published in the Federal Register.
The proposal received new life in 2021 after shooters in Boulder, Colorado, and in Dayton, Ohio, used pistols with stabilizing braces. At the time, Garland presented several proposals aimed at curbing gun violence, including increasing the limit on gun mounts.
“Nearly a century ago, Congress established that short-barreled rifles must be subject to stricter legal requirements,” Garland said Friday during a call with reporters to outline the new rule. “The political decision-makers then understood what we still know today. Short-barreled rifles are a deadly combination: they’re easier to conceal than rifles, but they’re more powerful and deadly than pistols.”
The rule, he said, “clarifies that firearm manufacturers, dealers and individuals cannot circumvent vital public safety protections enacted by Congress simply by adding accessories to pistols that turn them into short-barreled rifles.”
The DOJ’s announcement sparked an immediate backlash from some Republicans, including West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. Morrisey argued in a statement that the “outrageous” rule makes it “harder for seniors and people with disabilities to defend themselves,” adding that his office was “evaluating our legal options.”
According to the Justice Department, manufacturers, dealers and individual gun owners have 120 days to register all existing short-barreled rifles that fall under the scheme tax-free. They can also remove the stabilizing brace or turn over covered short-barreled rifles to the ATF, the department said.
“This rule increases public safety … and helps ensure compliance with the firearms laws that Congress passed nearly a century ago,” Dettelbach said at the call. The rule makes it clear, Dettelbach said, that “when pistols are fitted with certain stabilizing struts, those pistols are converted to rifles” and should be treated as short-barreled rifles under the law.
Restrictions on stabilizing braces were hotly debated after being proposed by the ATF in 2020, when the bureau proposed a new rule that would regulate pistol stays under the NFA. The 2020 proposal sparked a violent backlash from groups like the National Rifle Association.
Republican lawmakers also opposed the proposal, sending a letter to then-Attorney General William Barr saying the proposed regulation “is alarming and endangers law-abiding gun owners across the country.” The ATF withdrew the proposed rule after the letter was published.
“These requirements are important public safety measures because they regulate the transfer of these dangerous weapons and help prevent them from falling into the wrong hands,” the Justice Department said at the time. “The proposed rule would clarify when these attached accessories convert pistols into weapons that fall under these enhanced regulations.”
This story has been updated with additional details.