Republican Lawmakers Raise the Alarm as ATF Tries to Alter Basic Definition of 'Firearm'


Republican lawmakers are raising concerns about a rule proposed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that would drastically change how firearms are regulated in the U.S.

According to The Federalist, Attorney General Merrick Garland had signed off on the “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” titled the “Definition of Frame or Receiver and Identification of Firearms.”

While this rule was proposed in May, Thursday was the last day in which public comments on the rule could be given, the outlet reported. According to The Federals, the proposed rule ultimately seeks: to develop a backdoor gun registration, to regulate the transaction of gun parts so that they would require a background check and to prohibit “homemade” or 3D-printed guns.

The outlet reported that the proposed rule would effectively alter the Code of Federal Regulations so that “firearm” to regulate weapons parts kits. It would also change the meaning of “gunsmith” to require gunsmiths are required to mark unlicensed guns. That would essentially make the individual creator of a homemade gun a manufacturer.

Republican U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, who was joined by 26 fellow U.S. representatives in the Second Amendment Caucus, released a comment criticizing the ATF order.

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In the response, Massie wrote that while the ATF claims these changes are meant to clarify the definition of particular terms, the rule changes are, in fact, the opposite of that.

“On the contrary, the NPRM is omnibus gun control legislation clothed as a regulation to implement the existing statute,” the congressman wrote.

Massie wrote that while the ATF is free to make recommendations to Congress, only Congress has the capacity to change current statutes or enact new laws.

The congressman argued that the rule-making proposal does just that and should be promptly withdrawn since it is “outside the authority of bureaucrats to enact new criminal laws or amend statutes passed by Congress in order to regulate items that heretofore have been unregulated.”

Is this an overreach by the Biden Justice Department?

The response lays out several valid points about how the rule seeks to change the law and why it is illegal to do so.

While on the campaign trail, now-President Joe Biden said he wanted to be a “uniter” and do things through Congress, his administration continues to do the opposite, as it routinely ignores the established checks and balances that are supposed to rule the American system of government.

The Republicans’ letter describes how through the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, Congress had already made the decision against utilizing the previous reference of “part or parts” in the definition of a firearm because, as it was noted when the bill was passed, it was “impractical to treat each small part of a firearm as if it were a weapon.”

Massie wrote that now, however, the ATF seeks to do just that and treat each individual part of a firearm as if the components were weapons themselves.

“ATF’s blatant re-addition of deleted words into a statute – words that Congress has expressly and unambiguously removed – is entirely improper,” Massie wrote.

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Second, the new definition of “frame or receiver” in the rule includes not just the “lower receiver,” but the “upper receiver” of rifles such as the popular AR-15, according to the letter.

Never before has the ATF considered an upper receiver of an AR-15 to be a firearm, according to the congressmen’s letter.

“Rather, since the rifle’s creation, the agency has opined that only the lower receiver is considered the ‘frame or receiver’ for this platform,” the congressman wrote.

Another thing the letter points out is the fact that the ATF now considers privately firearms created to be “difficult to trace.”

However, the lawmakers write that: “Throughout the history of this country, privately made firearms have been perfectly legal to manufacture, own, and even transfer. There is no federal law prohibiting any of these activities (other than by those who are prohibited persons, or by those who might become ‘engaged in the business’ without a license). In fact, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announces on its website that ‘a license is not required to make a firearm solely for personal use’.”

There is not much to be added to this situation that the 27 lawmakers who signed the response have not already said. They lay out their argument, and support it with evidence, in a very valid way.

Over the past 150 years, many presidents have extended the power of the executive branch in one way or another. Some more than others.

However, the creation of federal, independent agencies has been behind some of the largest expansions of the federal government. This includes the creation of the Department of Justice, which dates to 1876, and the ATF,  which was part of the Treasury Department when it was created in 1927 but became an arm of the Justice Department in 1930.

Massie et. al. are absolutely right in noting that bureaucrats do not have the authority to create and enact new laws. Under the Constitution, this authority belongs only to Congress. They drive home this point in their letter.

The congressmen write that it is the law that only elected representatives of the legislature are able to “make an act a crime,” but the rule change seeks to rewrite a “statute with criminal penalties.” The letter notes that “ATF has no authority to make this regulatory change.”

Unfortunately, over the years, unelected members of the executive branch have indeed sought to institute their own interpretation of laws through the imposition of regulations. This is just another case of that.

The DOJ and the ATF do not have the authority to change the definition of what constitutes a firearm.

That doesn’t mean the Biden administration won’t try to do just that though.

A National Shooting Sports Foundation spokesman, Mark Oliva, told The Federalist that the House members of the Second Amendment Caucus are right.

“The proposed rule is an attempt to shift the goalposts and enact gun control the Biden administration knows runs counter to the will of Congress, the duly-elected representatives of the People,” Oliva told the outlet.

Also, Aidan Johnston, director of federal affairs for the group Gun Owners of America, said in a statement to The Federalist that the members of Congress who wrote the response are taking “their oaths to uphold the Constitution seriously” by standing up to the ATF.

“Their stand earns applause from gun owners nationwide,” Johnston’s statement said.

Many could not agree more.

These congressmen and women have taken a stand to uphold the Constitution of our country. They rightfully understand that only the legislative branch has the power to create and amend laws.

The proposed rule changes not yet final — such public comments are considered before final versions of rules are drafted, according to a Justice Department “Guide to the Rulemaking Process.”  But given the leftist bent of the Biden administration, it seems like they will move forward. Let us hope that they will be rightfully shut down by a court challenge.

The imposed rules are not only bad and adverse toward law-abiding citizens, but they completely ignore the powers of checks and balances that the Founding Fathers intended for this country. It is high time we rein in the power of the federal government.

While this situation may appear to be one of semantics, it is imperative that the wording of the law is understood for what it is. Changing the definition of “firearm” can only be done through an act of Congress — not through an ever-increasing, polarizing department of the executive branch.

Constitutional law is undoubtedly on gun owners’ side in this case. We can only hope that this rule will ultimately get shutdown and that Americans will see it for what it is:

An unabashed overreach of executive power.

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Jacob Gurney was a Western Journal contributor who started his writing career at his local daily newspaper. He has also written for various online media websites covering politics, sports and video games.
Jacob Gurney was a Western Journal contributor who started his writing career at his local daily newspaper. He has also written for various online media websites covering politics, sports and video games.