Abolish the ATF – that’s Rep. Matt Gaetz’s (R-FL) response to the agency’s new rule on pistol stabilizing braces. The Florida lawmaker introduced the Abolish the ATF Act Tuesday, Jan. 17, without so much as a single co-sponsor. Still, he says there’s broad support for the idea. Will the rest of the House GOP stand with him? Passing the bill only for it to die in the Democrat-controlled Senate won’t thin out the alphabet soup agencies any – but it would certainly send a message.
Moving the Goal Post – Again
The ATF issued a “clarification” of the rule on pistol braces Friday, Jan. 13 – and in doing so, they effectively changed the law without even a single vote in Congress. As Liberty Nation Legal Affairs Editor Scott D. Cosenza, Esq. put it, “they have pulled the rug out from under millions of Americans who own them. If these people don’t act to register or destroy their property or ‘surrender’ their firearms within 120 days, they will be considered federal felons.”
At the heart of the issue are the definitions of pistol, rifle, and short barreled rifle (SBR). Pistols have barrels less than 16 inches in length and don’t have certain features like buttstocks or vertical foregrips. Rifles have longer barrels and buttstocks – and, in some cases, vertical foregrips. SBRs are what you end up with when you add defining rifle features to a firearm with a pistol-length barrel. For entirely political reasons, both rifles and pistols are legal without special forms, registration, and fees, but SBRs are not.
Thanks to the new rule, a stabilizing brace now makes what was a pistol a week ago a short barreled rifle today, forcing once legally armed Americans to register (and pay for) or forfeit their property or live as a criminal, subject to felony prosecution if caught. And this isn’t the first time the ATF has pulled the rug out from under folks, as Cosenza put it. The executive agency – which ostensibly has no law-making power – has changed the rules to outlaw previously allowed items before. And agents have had no qualms about raiding companies and private residences to recover the newly labeled illegal items.
A Bill, Short and Simple
As LN explained in 2020, the ATF “is not, nor has it ever been, a legislative body; it’s a law enforcement agency under the Executive Branch.” And protecting freedom isn’t what the agency is or has ever been about. The Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms – no executive agency needed. Indeed, the very existence of the ATF – and the National Firearms Act and Gun Control Act, for that matter – are in direct conflict with the Second Amendment, and exist only to regulate a right declared uninfringeable so long ago.
For Rep. Gaetz, the latest rule change was the last straw. “The continued existence of the ATF is increasingly unwarranted based on the actions they’re taking to convert otherwise law-abiding people into felons,” he told Fox News. To that end, Mr. Gaetz has introduced a bill to abolish the agency entirely. No frills, all business. It reads, in its entirety:
“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
Section 1. Short Title.
This Act may be cited as the ‘Abolish the ATF Act’.
SEC. 2. ABOLISHMENT OF THE BUREAU OF ALCOHOL, TOBACCO, FIREARMS, AND EXPLOSIVES.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives is hereby abolished.”
They don’t get much simpler and more direct than that.
Abolish the ATF – Easier Said Than Done
As previously mentioned, the Abolish the ATF Act – which has been referred to the Judiciary Committee – currently boasts zero co-sponsors. Gaetz claims there’s “broad support,” however, among Republicans to target the ATF. “I believe that you are likely to see ATF bureaucrats hauled before the Judiciary Committee to explain themselves in the coming weeks and months,” said Gaetz, who sits on that committee himself. “Because we’re hearing this very loudly from our constituents, and the reason I filed this bill is, frankly, I think that the ATF should have to justify their existence at all.”
He is certainly correct that there is some support for abolishing the ATF among the common folk. But does he enjoy the same support from fellow lawmakers, without whom he simply can’t get this bill passed? Even if the GOP stands united behind this proposal, however, it won’t spell the end of the agency. A Democrat-led Senate can bury the bill easily enough.
Even with the act being dead on arrival in the Senate, if Gaetz can rally the full House GOP in support of his bill, that same majority also has the power to launch investigations. Republicans could drag the appointed bureaucrats who call the shots at the ATF into the limelight and the forefront of the national discussion over the next couple of years. That alone won’t end the agency, but it would force the administration to defend itself to the public. And it would certainly send a message.
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