Biden rule reclassifying some pistols as short-barreled rifles draws Texas lawsuit

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton claims the new rule is dangerous and unconstitutional, and he hopes that this lawsuit will ensure that it is never allowed to take effect. (Ben Torres For The Texas Tribune, Ben Torres For The Texas Tribune)

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Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against President Joe Biden on Thursday, claiming that an amended rule from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives violates Americans’ Second Amendment rights. Paxton partnered with Gun Owners of America, a gun rights group, on the lawsuit, which found fault with how the federal firearm agency classifies guns with “stabilizing braces.”

Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice finalized a rule that amended an ATF definition for firearms equipped with stabilizing braces, a rear attachment originally designed for veterans with disabilities. Under the new rule, firearms — including pistols — outfitted with the rearward attachment are classified as rifles or “short-barreled rifles,” which are subject to stricter regulations than guns without these accessories.

With gun reform facing staunch opposition from Republican lawmakers, Biden opted to regulate a firearm accessory as one method of addressing gun violence. The rule adoption provides a look into how Biden’s administration is trying to pass gun reforms to address the scourge of mass shootings that have become a fixture of American society.

During his State of the Union address Tuesday, Biden called for further gun reforms, including a ban on “assault weapons” and enacting red flag laws, which allow judges to temporarily seize firearms from people who are deemed dangerous.

“‘Do something.’ That was the plea of parents who lost their children in Uvalde. I met with every one of them,” Biden said.

Since Jan. 1, there have been 63 mass shootings, in which more than four people were injured or killed, according to Gun Violence Archive. The site, which tracks gun violence, shows that eight of those mass shootings have been in Texas.

Paxton and Gun Owners of America, a nonprofit based in Springfield, Virginia, argue that the amended definition targets lawful gun owners and puts them at risk of criminalization if they do not register their firearms by the deadline put forward by ATF, per regulations for short-barrelled rifles outlined in the 1934 National Firearms Act.

“The Biden administration and the [ATF] want to move the world to ban a firearm that has been used maybe in a handful of occasions across the country since they were invented, as opposed to going out and fighting real crime,” said Sam Paredes, a GOA board member.

He added that ATF doesn’t have the authority to amend the rule. GOA and Paxton requested that the courts block ATF from enforcing the rule until a court decision is reached.

The shooter who killed 10 people in a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado, in 2021 allegedly used a stabilizing brace. A gunman used the same modification in a 2019 shooting in Dayton, Ohio, where he killed nine people and injured more than two dozen others.

Gun manufacturers originally produced stabilizing braces to make firearms more accessible to people with disabilities. Gun control groups argue that the accessory makes firearms more deadly because they can be fired with one hand and are easily concealable.

An ATF spokesperson declined the Tribune’s request for comment, citing the pending litigation.

“This rule does not affect ‘stabilizing braces’ that are objectively designed and intended as a ‘stabilizing brace’ for use by individuals with disabilities, and not for shouldering the weapon as a rifle,” read a page on the ATF website outlining the amended rule. “Such stabilizing braces are designed to conform to the arm and not as a buttstock. However, if the firearm with the ‘stabilizing brace’ is a short-barreled rifle, it needs to be registered no later than May 31, 2023.”

Paxton criticized the new rule, saying it would incriminate gun owners and potentially land them in prison for up to a decade if they don’t follow the registration requirements.

“This is yet another attempt by the Biden administration to create a workaround to the U.S. Constitution and expand gun registration in America,” Paxton said in a press release. “There is absolutely no legal basis for ATF’s haphazard decision to try to change the long-standing classification for stabilizing braces, force registration on Americans, and then throw them in jail for ten years if they don’t quickly comply.“

Paxton claims the new rule is “dangerous and unconstitutional” and said he hopes this lawsuit will ensure that it is “never allowed to take effect.”

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