The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has delayed a local field office's attempt to resurrect an Obama-era rule that threatens to turn millions of legal gun owners into criminals.
On Wednesday, the agency informed New Hampshire gun company Q LLC that it will not enforce a cease-and-desist order issued by its Boston branch. The Department of Justice is now reviewing the field office's decision to label an AR-15 featuring a specialized arm brace illegal.
"The purpose of this suspension is to allow the United States Department of Justice to further review the applicability of the National Firearms Act to the manufacture and transfer of the model 'Honey Badger Pistol' firearm," ATF chief counsel Joel Roessner said in a letter. The move gave the gun company and owners of such weapons—which have been legal since 2012—a 60-day reprieve.
Gun-rights activists have been pressing the White House to rein in the agency since the Boston order became public. The controversy emerged three months before Election Day and could alienate a key Republican ally in the 2020 election. The National Rifle Association, which has pledged to spend millions on President Donald Trump's reelection, said the suspension does not go far enough.
"The ATF’s letter is a weak attempt to placate gun owners and does not resolve this issue," NRA spokeswoman Amy Hunter told the Washington Free Beacon. "The NRA will continue to fight to get a speedy and fair resolution from DOJ on this important matter."
Some gun-rights activists are now threatening to sue the federal government if the proposed ban is not completely revoked. Adam Kraut, director of legal strategy at the Firearms Policy Coalition, accused "rogue elements" at the ATF of trying to implement an "anti-gun owner agenda." He asked President Trump to fire or reassign the agents and lawyers involved in the cease-and-desist letter.
"I strongly suggest the reassignment of all offending rogue officers, attorneys, agents, and/or employees to areas of the Agency where they may not run wild with personal or prior administration’s agendas," Kraut said in a letter sent to the White House and Justice Department.
The ATF, its Boston field division, and the White House did not respond to requests for comment.
The ATF determined in 2012 that specialized arm braces could legally be used in place of standard shoulder stocks. There are now millions of gun owners who own such weapons, many of which have received direct approval from the ATF. Despite that 2012 ruling, Boston agents said Q LLC's braced AR-15 ran afoul of federal law.
Adam Johnson, CEO of Q LLC, called the agency's actions "irresponsible." He said his company is not sure it can continue to make the popular AR-15 due to the vague nature of the suspension letter. He called on the agency to lay out a definitive ruling and set objective standards on the legality of such weapons.
"Playing politics at the expense of small businesses is unbecoming of a proper regulatory agency and ignoring the underlying evaluation in this letter is simply irresponsible," he said.
The department review is scheduled to end on Dec. 7, 2020.