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Senate Democrats reject measure to block pistol brace rule

Joint resolution had passed the GOP-led House and faced a veto threat from Biden

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., seen Wednesday at a news conference in the Capitol, said mass shooters have been aided by pistol braces.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., seen Wednesday at a news conference in the Capitol, said mass shooters have been aided by pistol braces. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Democrats voted down a joint resolution Thursday that sought to block a Biden administration rule that toughens regulations on firearms with stabilizing braces.

The 49-50 party-line vote on the Republican-backed measure, which passed the House but faced a veto threat from President Joe Biden, is the latest clash between GOP lawmakers and the administration over efforts to address gun violence and mass shootings.

Regulators took action on brace-equipped firearms after the devices were used in multiple mass shootings. Democrats say the regulation is needed to prevent more deaths and the rule helps protect the public from dangerous weapons that are more concealable than long guns.

Republicans contend the regulation violates Second Amendment rights and would expose unknowing gun owners to criminal liability. They also argue the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has given conflicting messages in the past on the topic.

Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana tore into the rule during a debate Thursday and even showed off a pistol brace on the Senate floor to make his point, saying the device was created to help people who are disabled. The pistol brace rule is simply a way to subject pistols to more “smothering” regulations, he said.

“A regulatory agency like the ATF does not have the power under our Constitution to decide major questions like banning pistol braces unless Congress says it’s OK,” Kennedy said.

Republican Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas said the rule “represents the largest gun grab in American history.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York scolded Republicans for supporting the joint resolution, saying the pistol brace accessory modifies an AK-style pistol so it functions like a short-barreled rifle. Assailants in mass shootings have been aided by a pistol brace, he said.

“Today’s Republican push to ease access to deadly pistol braces is an insult to countless families who have lost loved ones because of these enhanced weapons,” Schumer said in a floor speech. “This proposal is a shameful, shameful step backward in America’s fight against gun violence.”

Schumer said it is “utterly confounding” that Republicans would support the measure and said Americans are tired of “hard-right politicians” working to take the nation backward in the fight against gun violence.

The rule from the ATF requires gun owners to register pistols with stabilizing braces that turn them into short-barreled rifles. Other options for gun owners include surrendering the firearm or taking off the stabilizing brace from the firearm.

House Republicans voted to block the rule in a 219-210 vote last week. Two Democrats voted for the measure and two Republicans voted against it.

The White House, in a statement of administration policy, said mass shooters have used brace-equipped firearms, such as in a 2019 shooting in Dayton, Ohio.

“This Administration has no higher priority than keeping the American people safe, which is jeopardized with a vote in support of a resolution that makes it easier for mass shooters to obtain these deadly weapons,” the statement said.