Texas Federal Judge Issues New Injunction Against ATF Pistol Brace Rule

Earlier in 2023, the Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) and Maxim Defense filed a lawsuit — Mock v. Garland — against Attorney General Merrick Garland, the Department of Justice, and the ATF challenging a regulation that the Biden regime previously implemented. 

This regulation reclassified pistols featuring stabilizing devices as short-barreled rifles (SBRs).

However, gun owners were able to pick up a solid win after a federal judge in Texas issued a new preliminary injunction for Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) members and Maxim Defense against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Final Rule (Final Rule 2021R-08F) that dealt with pistol stabilizing devices.

FPC originally brought the lawsuit forward in the Northern District of Texas. The case was subsequently assigned to Judge Reed O’Connor, who has a strong track record on gun rights. 

FPC members, in additions to members of Gun Owners of America (GOA), already have preliminary injunctions against the ATF that prevent it from enforcing the rule. In the case of this injunction, Judge O’Connor took exception with constructive intent, the National Firearms Act (NFA), and the other issues that the courts have already cited. 

Judge O’Connor asserted that the ATF rule likely violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). Judge O’Connor wrote about this at length:

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. 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. The moment the Fifth Circuit’s injunction dissolves, Mock and Lewis will become felons because their braced pistols have become unregistered SBRs under the Final Rule’s reinterpretation of the NFA.

In the ruling, the Judge argued that the plaintiffs would face irreparable harm if an injunction was not issued. Judge O’Connor argued that depriving an individual of a constitutionally protected right always constitute irreparable harm.

The Judge is also of the belief that the rule might violate the Second Amendment. He noted that braced pistols are commonly used and protected by landmark Supreme Court decisions such as the Heller and Bruen decisions. Judge O’Connor explained this at length:

“A weapon is in ‘common use’ rather than ‘dangerous and unusual’ if it is ‘commonly possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes today.’ (holding that the Second Amendment guarantees the right possess and carry weapons ‘typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes’). The relevant inquiry under this standard is the current total number of a particular weapon that is in lawful possession, ownership, and circulation throughout the United States.”

Furthermore. Judge O’Connor asserts that that without an injunction, Maxim Defense would be subject to irreparable harm. The company would have to shut down operations without the pistol-stabilizing braces it sells. 

Judge O’Connor was highly critical of constructive intent as well. Constructive intent is when an individual does not process something but has everything at their disposal that’s needed to make it. The Judge went into detail about constructive intent and the problems it presents in this case: 

But even despite laying out these alternative directives for firearm owners, the ATF shortly thereafter explained that it is still entirely plausible for none of these measures to suffice for compliance. To illustrate, the Final Rule specifies that a firearm owner can still be criminally charged under the NFA for constructively possessing an unregistered SBR if their pistol could be combined with any number of objects that the ATF believes are demonstrative of a firearm’s design for shoulder fire. The set of subjective criteria the ATF lists for potential constructive possession of an NFA rifle comprises open-ended, broadly articulated standards that are left largely undefined or underdeterminate. The ATF has a decades-long history of pressing regulatory enforcement actions based on its own constructive possession theories in other NFA contexts, where the mere ease of creation of a subject firearm has been sufficient to support criminal liability for firearm owners under the NFA.

In the end, Judge O’Connor enjoined the ATF from taking regulatory punitive action against all FPC members, the plaintiffs in the case, Maxim Defense, and the pistol brace maker’s customers. The ATF is expected to appeal the Judge’s decision. 

All things considered, this is a solid victory for gun owners. The court system, at times, can deliver victories for gun owners. These wins should obviously be embraced. However, we can’t afford to get too complacent. We must remember that the fight to fully restore the right to bear arms will be won in multiple avenues — lobbying, electioneering, litigation, etc. 

The more ground that is covered in this fight, the better our chances of scoring major wins against Gun Control Inc.

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