Military Vets Take Biden Administration to Court Over New Gun Restriction

New rule requires owners of pistols who attach 'stabilizing brace' accessories to register the firearm as a 'short-barrel rifle'

A gun store in Utah / Getty Images
January 31, 2023

A group of military veterans is suing the Biden administration over a new gun rule that they say dramatically expands the definition of "rifle" to include certain pistols, putting millions of gun-owning Americans at risk of criminal liability, according to a complaint filed in federal court on Tuesday morning.

The lawsuit is one of the first legal challenges to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms’s new rule, which was also posted on Tuesday, that requires owners of pistols who attach "stabilizing brace" accessories to register the firearm as a "short-barrel rifle" and comply with taxes and regulations of the National Firearms Act. This includes listing the pistol, and the owner’s name and address, in a national database, according to the suit.

The suit asked the court to block the new regulation, arguing that the ATF rule is "arbitrary, capricious," and "invalid."

The complaint noted that the agency has publicly stated for years that stabilizing braces—an accessory that can be attached to a pistol to improve shooting accuracy—do not turn firearms into rifles. Gun rights advocates say the accessories brace the pistol to the forearm and do not allow shooters to fire from the shoulder like a rifle.

Lawyers for the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), which filed the lawsuit on behalf of three military veterans, slammed the rule change as a "bureaucratic fiat," and said it "usurps congressional authority by significantly expanding the definition of 'rifle' under federal law and, with it, imposes potential criminal liability on millions of Americans exercising their Second Amendment rights," according to the complaint.

The rule change is a shift from the ATF’s position on the issue. In 2012, the agency published a classification letter stating that a stabilizing brace "does not convert that weapon to be fired from the shoulder and would not alter the classification of a pistol or other firearm."

The ATF has defended the rule change by pointing to two mass shootings that were committed by individuals who used pistols outfitted with stabilizing braces. The lawsuit countered that the ATF estimates that U.S. consumers own between 3 million and 7 million stabilizing braces and argued that "one could hardly conclude that stabilizing braces are leading to increased crime, or that these crimes would not have occurred but for the stabilizing braces on the pistols."

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Darren A. Britto, a Texan and former Marine who served in Operation Desert Shield; Gabriel A. Tauscher, a Marine veteran from Wisconsin who was wounded in a shooting in Minneapolis last year; and Shawn M. Kroll, a Marine combat veteran from Wisconsin who served in Afghanistan. The men all own pistols with stabilizing braces, which the lawsuit says they use for safety and accuracy.

In a statement on Tuesday, WILL said the plaintiffs "defended our country overseas, and now they are defending our rights here at home."

"The Biden administration has no power to re-classify pistols as rifles, and we will vigorously defend the Second Amendment in federal court," said WILL in a statement.