Federal Court Blocks ATF From Enforcing Pistol Brace Rule Against Certain Gun Rights Activists, Manufacturer

Federal Court Blocks ATF From Enforcing Pistol Brace Rule Against Certain Gun Rights Activists, Manufacturer
Handguns and firearms are displayed during a statewide gun buyback event held by the office of the New York State Attorney General in the Brooklyn borough of New York on April 29, 2023. (Yuki Iwamura/AFP via Getty Images)
Ryan Morgan

A federal judge has granted a new preliminary injunction, constraining enforcement of a new rule that restricts certain firearms with stabilizing braces.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor of Texas’ Northern federal court district granted a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit, Mock v. Garland, brought by a pair of braced pistol owners and supported by the Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC). The injunction prevents the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) from enforcing its stabilizing brace rule against the two pistol brace owners, William T. Mock and Christopher Lewis. The ruling additionally enjoins the ATF from enforcing its stabilizing brace rule against all FPC members, as well as pistol-brace manufacturer Maxim Defense Industries LLC, and its customers.

The gun rights activists have challenged ATF final rule 2021R-08F, which the agency dubbed the “Factoring Criteria for Firearms with Attached ‘Stabilizing Braces.'” The ATF rule, which went into effect this spring, implemented a scoring sheet to determine whether a “braced pistol” should be reclassified as a “short-barreled rifle” (SBR). Such SBRs are subject to more strict regulations under the National Firearms Act (NFA). Those found in possession of unregistered NFA firearms can face fines of up to $10,000, ten years in prison, and a felony conviction that would disqualify them from future firearm ownership.

In their initial complaint, the plaintiffs in Mock v. Garland argued that the ATF’s new stabilizing brace criteria were arbitrary and ran contrary to previous guidance the agency had given about such stabilizing braces.

The plaintiffs further argued that the new rule ran afoul of Congress’s legislative role, and came as a result of President Joe Biden’s push for new gun regulations. The plaintiffs argued that the ATF’s new stabilizing brace rule amounted to legislation by an executive branch agency, in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA).

In granting the injunction, Judge O'Connor assessed that the plaintiffs have a substantial likelihood to succeed on the merits of their lawsuit, and that the plaintiffs face irreparable harm without such an injunction.

“The ATF’s own regulatory analysis concludes that the Final Rule has effectively reclassified 99% of all pistols with stabilizing braces to NFA rifles. Through seminal Final Rule adjudications, the ATF has already reclassified a whole host of specific weapons platforms and commercially available braced firearms to NFA rifles,” Judge O'Connor wrote. “Upon review of this record in conjunction with Plaintiffs’ declarations, there is no doubt that the Final Rule will subject both FPC members to criminal liability for currently possessing each of their braced pistols.”

Judge O'Connor also determined that the ATF’s stabilizing brace rule runs afoul of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in D.C. v. Hellerwhich found that the Second Amendment covers an individual right to bear arms and covers arms that are in “common use.”

“The Court finds that the braced pistols subject to enforcement of the Final Rule are in common use today,” Judge O'Connor wrote.

Mock v. Garland is one of three federal cases in which judges have granted preliminary injunctions to stop the ATF’s enforcement of its stabilizing brace rule. In May, another judge from Texas’ Northern federal court district granted an injunction in Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), et al v. ATF, et al. A judge in Texas’ Southern federal court district also granted an injunction in May, in a case brought by the state of Texas, Gun Owners of America, Gun Owners Foundation and a private citizen named Brady Brown.

Each injunction bars the ATF from enforcing its stabilizing brace rule against the specified plaintiffs in each of the three cases.

NTD News reached out to a Department of Justice lawyer representing the defendants in Mock v. Garland. She did not respond by the time this article was published.