District Court grants summary judgment in case challenging ATF arm-brace rulemaking

Today the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas granted summary judgement in favor of the plaintiffs (gun owners) in the case of Mock v. Garland.

As you may remember, this was a suit challenging the ATF regulatory rulemaking that turned tens of thousands of arm-brace equipped pistols into NFA items virtually overnight.

In its ruling, the court pulled no punches when discussing the significant deficiencies in the ATF rulemaking process.

For close to a decade, the ATF concluded that “attaching the brace to a firearm does not alter the classification of the firearm or subject the firearm to NFA control.”  The ATF changed course on this position for the first time in 2023, when it issued the Final Rule reversing the agency’s otherwise long-standing policy. “When an agency changes course, as [the ATF] did here, it must ‘be cognizant that longstanding policies may have engendered serious reliance interests that must be taken into account.’”

“It would be arbitrary and capricious to ignore such matters” But this is exactly what Defendants did when they inexplicably and fundamentally switched their position on stabilizing braces without providing sufficient explanations and notice.

Under the Final Rule, the ATF estimated about 99% of pistols with stabilizing braces would be reclassified as NFA rifles. The ATF contemporaneously issued approximately sixty adjudications pursuant to the Final Rule that reclassified different configurations of firearms with stabilizing braces as NFA rifles. The ATF provided no explanations for how the agency came to these classifications and there is no “meaningful clarity about what constitutes an impermissible stabilizing brace.”

In fact, the Fifth Circuit “[could not] find a single given example of a pistol with a stabilizing brace that would constitute an NFA-exempt braced pistol.” Such “‘unexplained’ and ‘inconsistent’ positions” are arbitrary and capricious.

The Defendants’ disregard for the principles of fair notice and consideration of reliance interests is further exacerbated by its failure to follow the APA’s procedural requirements for public notice and comment. As discussed above, Defendants failed to follow proper notice-and-comment procedures because the Proposed Rule and the Final Rule differed in immense ways.

The entire ruling, which is embedded below, makes for quite enjoyable reading.  And while the ATF will almost certainly appeal this ruling, they will be fighting an uphill battle given the glaring issues the District Court identified.

PS.  I would encourage those who applied for, and subsequently received, one of the free tax stamps issued pursuant to this rule to read this previous article I had written about possible legal pitfalls.

Download (PDF, 274KB)

This entry was posted in 2021R-08F, 2A, Administrative Deference, Administrative Law, AR Pistols, Arm Brace, ATF, ATF Ruling, BATFE, Court Rulings, Federal Court, Fifth Circuit, Regulatory Rulemaking, Stabilizing Brace, Tax Stamp. Bookmark the permalink.