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ATF headquarters hq

The Deathstar (By dbking – originally posted to Flickr as _MG_5758, CC BY 2.0)

Yesterday, the ATF withdrew its notice and request for comments on pistol braces. Dan Zimmerman called this “an unqualified victory.” I respectfully beg to differ. I see it as a retrenchment rather than a retreat.

I found the “guidance” a bit odd from the start. Aside from beginning with the assumption that any brace was a buttstock until proven otherwise, it didn’t change anything. It left in place the usual “we know it when we see it” process of judging specific products instead of analyzing pistol stabilizing braces as a general class. I think that is coming.

While I certainly hope Dan is correct and this is a victory, I’ve found the best way to look at ATF decision making is with extreme pessimism. Sadly, I’ve been right more often than I’ve been wrong. Here’s what I think that notice is really saying.

The comment period would have closed on January 4. I think someone realized that finally issuing guidance that could be used by gun owners and manufacturers as a precedent — as opposed the individual determination letters — was a bad idea. Any brace that made it past the ATF could be used in court to argue for the approval of any other similar design.

But then someone in Washington looked at the calendar and realized that if they waited just sixteen more days past January 4, they could go full Biden. Or maybe they only have to wait one more day — January 5, the date of the Georgia Senate run-off elections — which will decide control of the Senate.

Hey guys, why not wait until the inauguration? Then we’ll have the full support of a firmly anti-rights Biden/Harris administration, and maybe both the House and the Senate, too. Then we can just call anything that can be used as a brace a buttstock. No ifs, ands, or buts. 

The ATF didn’t retreat. They simply halted the advance and are digging in, readying their fixed position artillery. We need to do the same.

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