Monday, September 18, 2023

Judge Rejects Preliminary Injunction in Case Against ATF's Stabilizing Brace Regulation

In a recent legal development, North Dakota District Judge Daniel L. Hovland backed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in its regulation of firearms that include pistol-stabilizing devices. The case, brought forth by the Firearms Regulatory Accountability Coalition (FRAC) and two dozen state attorney generals, contested the ATF's final rule on these devices. The case echoed similar arguments from other suits in Texas involving gun rights organizations, which had won preliminary injunctions against the ATF rules.

However, Judge Hovland diverged from the judgments of the Texas Courts. Appointed by George W. Bush, the judge held that the ATF was well within its purview to regulate firearms with such stabilizing devices. He wasn't swayed by a prior ruling from the Fifth Circuit and tended to align with the dissenting judge in that case.

For a preliminary injunction to be granted, the plaintiffs must show a likelihood of succeeding in their claims. Judge Hovland concluded that FRAC and its co-plaintiffs had not met this requirement. While this doesn't mean the case is lost for the plaintiffs, it does indicate they failed to prove they were likely to win.

Judge Hovland dismissed the notion that the ATF's rule infringed on Second Amendment rights, arguing that exceptionally dangerous weapons like short-barreled rifles are not protected under the amendment. He did not consider that there are more such rifles in circulation than stun guns, even though courts have acknowledged that the sheer number of stun guns suggests they are "in common use."

Moreover, Judge Hovland noted that since pistol braces themselves are not firearms, they aren't afforded Second Amendment protections. He likened these to suppressors, saying they are merely accessories—a stance conflicting with the ATF’s own views.

The judge also denied that the ATF had violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). He stated that the agency hadn't altered the definition of a rifle and had the authority to redefine what a rifle is. Furthermore, he found that the rule isn't ambiguous, contrary to what the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals believed. 

In addition, Judge Hovland rejected arguments questioning the cost-benefit analysis of the ATF’s rule and said that the absence of sales numbers after 2019 didn't invalidate the analysis. Finally, he disagreed with the plaintiffs that making the rule retroactive exceeded the ATF's authority, asserting that the interpretive nature of the rule exempts it from certain regulations.

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