In a nationwide resistance, an overwhelming majority of gun owners targeted by President Joe Biden have opted to reject the administration’s far-reaching regulations on one of the most popular and freely owned firearms ever manufactured. Only a small minority—estimated to be between 0.6 percent and one percent—of AR-15-style pistol owners have complied with the May 31 deadline imposed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to register their firearms. Those who fail to do so face severe consequences as a violation of U.S.C. 586, including the potential of a 10-year prison sentence, a $10,000 fine, or both. In the rule, the ATF also graciously points out that lying to an agency of the federal government may also be a violation of 18 U.S.C. 1001, which is punishable by a fine or imprisonment up to five years, or both.
This author is not and cannot give legal advice, if you have questions about regulations and compliance please contact a legal expert and/or a licensed firearms dealer for guidance.
AR pistols are AR-15-style firearms, without a traditional stock, and have a shorter barrel and overall length than a standard rifle. In 2012, Alex Bosco invented the pistol brace to assist a disabled veteran shoot an AR-15 more accurately. He later formed a company, SB Tactical, and partnered with SIG Sauer to market them. Pistol braces for disabled shooters, such as a forearm brace, that conform to the arm and do not act as a buttstock that can be shouldered like a rifle are not affected by this rule.
While the ATF had previously indicated that AR-15-style pistols equipped with arm braces were legal, the Biden administration chose to regulate them anyway. In an April House Judiciary Committee hearing, Republican Chairman Jim Jordan said to ATF Director Steven Dettelbach:
You told them one thing 10 years ago and now you’re telling them something else.
Jordan went on to tell the agency that they were making owners of the pistol brace devices into felons overnight. As the June 1 deadline has since passed, millions of braces are required to be detached, registered, or destroyed. According to ATF spokesman Erik Longnecker, as of June 1, 2023, the ATF has received 255,162 applications for tax-free registration. However, even if we consider the median number of guns in circulation, John Lott Jr., president of the Crime Prevention Research Center says:
You are still talking about 29 million people who are technically committing felonies at this point.
The new regulations require owners to pay a $200 tax and submit fingerprints. In an attempt to encourage registration, the ATF temporarily waived the tax until May 31. However, the majority of owners have chosen to take their chances, hoping that the courts will overturn the ATF and Biden’s decision, just as they did with the ban on “bump stocks” during the Trump era.
The ATF gave gun owners other compliance options, including attaching a 16-inch or longer barrel, permanently removing and disposing of, or altering the stabilizing brace so that it cannot be reattached. Alternatively, owners were offered the option to turn the firearm over to the ATF or destroy it without compensation. This display of resistance marks the largest pro-gun protest in history, surpassing the compliance rates seen in previous instances, such as the registration of AR-15-style rifles and pistols in New York (four percent) and Connecticut (13 percent). It even eclipses the strikingly high non-compliance rate of 98 percent among Connecticut gun owners who refused to register their firearm magazines.
The resistance to gun registration shouldn’t be surprising, as Stephen Gutowski, founder of the authoritative gun blog The Reload, explains:
The low compliance rate shouldn’t come as a surprise. Americans have traditionally been very resistant to the idea of registering their firearms, especially those they already own.
Justin Anderson, the marketing director of Hyatt Guns in North Carolina, sheds light on another aspect of the resistance movement, saying:
There is also a large group of the gun-owning public that are of the ‘Come and Take Them’ philosophy, which, in the end, puts the Justice Department in a bit of a pickle. I wonder now how they are going to enforce it. Confiscating guns from now formerly law-abiding citizens is not a good look.
Several courts have issued injunctions, effectively halting the enforcement, at least for plaintiffs in the successful suits. It is likely that the legal challenges will land in the Supreme Court. Gutowski says:
While those injunctions don’t cover all owners, they do signal the ban is likely to falter under constitutional scrutiny. Owners seem to be betting the ban will end up getting tossed.
Congress is also stepping into the fray, with a House vote scheduled to block the ATF’s rule on Monday. Erich Pratt, the senior vice president of Gun Owners of America (GOA), an organization involved in one of the successful injunctions, expresses confidence in their reading of the Second Amendment. Pratt said:
Americans cherish their Second Amendment rights, so it’s not surprising that very few gun owners registered their pistols with the ATF. Americans know that registration is the first step to confiscation — hence the reason gun owners have a history of refusing to comply with unconstitutional mandates.
Pratt also stated that American gun owners simply do not trust the ATF, given its track record, saying:
Given the propensity for ATF leadership to lie or reverse their official positions, American gun owners simply don’t trust the agency with information about the guns they own.
The widespread non-compliance among gun owners in response to Biden’s firearm regulations is a historically significant act of protest. With the majority of owners refusing to register their AR-15-style pistols, the movement has gained momentum, potentially leading to Second Amendment legal battles in the Supreme Court.