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  • Jonathan Emord

Pressto Change-O, the ATF Turns Gun Owners into Felons

One of the common, insidious ways by which the regulatory state deprives Americans of constitutional rights is by whittling away at those rights piecemeal through the promulgation of regulations designed to serve an amorphous “public interest” political end at the expense of constitutional limits on power designed to protect individual liberties. That is the case with a recent rule adopted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to compel law-abiding gun owners to register and be subject to transfer taxes for firearms that have pistol braces.

On January 13, 2023, ATF did a volte face, arbitrarily and capriciously changing the definition of “rifle” in the regulations to include any firearm “designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder.” See ATF Final Rule. The rule will enable ATF on a case-by-case basis to decide whether a firearm is subject to the registration, reporting, transfer and tax requirements of the National Firearms Act. Instantaneously, the rule makes millions of gun owners technical felons for not registering.

In 2012, Alex Bosco invented the pistol brace. The brace is an attachment to the rear end of a firearm that anchors it in the arm. It enables the gun owner to shoot with one hand. Bosco invented the pistol brace for disabled veterans with the particular end in view of enabling them to shoot an AR-15 pistol. ATF earlier determined that pistol braces were not the same as shoulder stocks. Shoulder stocks are heavily regulated.

Now, casting aside its regulatory history and fundamentally changing congressional law without an act of Congress (indicative of an unconstitutional major questions doctrine violation), ATF has ruled that every owner of a firearm containing a pistol brace, a preponderance of which are disabled gun owners, will have to identify him or herself on the national firearms registration and transfer record, obtain approval from the Attorney General before transferring the firearm to anyone else, and pay transfer taxes.

This is yet another assault on the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment protects the individual right to bear arms. That right is among the unalienable rights of mankind, pre-existing government and specifically recognized in the Constitution as protected from government. Through innumerable efforts over the last several decades, Democrat leaders (and now this Administration’s ATF) have worked tirelessly to chip away at the Second Amendment. After every mass shooting, the President and Democrat leaders immediately call for a ban on firearms, labeling them with the politically-charged term “assault weapons,” always including among such weapons the most popular one used in self-defense across the nation, the AR-15.

These efforts arise from a fundamental rejection of the Second Amendment and a crass attempt to change the supreme law of the land through means other than the Article V amendment process required by the Constitution. In short, these efforts are dishonest and reprehensible efforts to circumvent the Constitution and invade the rights of the people.

Of course, the real cause of violent crime is the propensity of some to violate the law, and the true solution to crime is to arrest, prosecute, and convict with reliable assurance everyone guilty of violent crime. Instead, Soros-backed prosecutors across the United States, with the full endorsement of Democrat Party leaders, adhere to an anti-incarceration, nihilistic and anarchistic agenda, resulting in the very violence they mistakenly ascribe to the gun, rather than the individual malefactor.

Our Constitution demands that all be presumed innocent until convicted of crime based on a trial before an impartial jury in an independent court of law. We may not presume, as the odious Red Flag laws do, that someone may commit a crime in future based on our prejudices about their intentions. That is how law is dispatched in communist countries. It makes the individual a victim of the arbitrary will of authorities rather than to the orderly administration of the law whereby probable cause must be shown of an imminent criminal act before a person may be arrested and charged.

Undeterred, Democrat leaders proceed with group think categorizing all gun owners as potential criminals on the basis that they possess means to commit crimes. But, of course, we all possess means to commit crimes whether we own a gun or not. There are countless means to commit crimes: automobiles, kitchen knives, ropes, weighted objects, and stones. None of those is by its very nature an instrument of criminality unless and until it is directed to that end by a person. We therefore demand proof of criminal intent. In short, firearms are not inherently criminal. They are benign instruments of self-defense when used by the law-abiding, and they ensure protection of the innocent against criminals who threaten life. Consequently, as with all instruments of potential violence, a presumption of innocence exists in the first instance. But more so, in the case of a firearm, because the Bill of Rights recognizes the specific right to own it and use it in self-defense.

Were Democrat leaders honest, which they are not, they would admit that the Second Amendment prohibits them from denying Second Amendment rights through piecemeal acts of usurpation. They would turn their energy not to adopting regulations that whittle away at gun rights, but to a quest to amend the Constitution to achieve that end. The public could then debate the merits of the matter and would, upon sound reflection, conclude that the Second Amendment protection for individual Americans to defend themselves is essential to keep us all free and not subject to the tyranny of those who commit crimes of violence.

It is precisely because the public so strongly appreciates that the right of self-defense is an individual right that Democrat leaders have chosen the route of eroding that right through incremental regulatory action. We should heed the words of George Washington who in his Farewell Address spoke to future generations of the risks associated with giving the unconstitutional authority to usurp to those who profess a desire to achieve “good” ends. Washington said: “If in the opinion of the People, the distribution or modification of the Constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.”

This article was also published on January 29, 2022, on PJ Media

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