The U.S. House of Representatives passes House Joint Resolution 44 on June 13th. What does this mean for owners of pistol braces? Is this really that big of a deal?
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We all know the back story with the ATF pistol brace rule by now. Some recent court wins have brought at least temporary protection for members of groups like the Firearms Policy Coalition and Second Amendment Foundation. However, those wins only apply to members of those groups, not the broader gun-owning public.
Outside the courts, lawmakers in D.C. have been looking at the pistol brace issue. Senators and Representatives have sent letters to the ATF regarding the brace rule. Also, there have been hearings with ATF Director Dettelbach where some tough questions were asked, and some incorrect answers were given. Hearings and letters don’t actually change the law though.
What Is a Law, And What Is a Rule?
As a brief recap, the House and Senate pass laws. Those laws are usually enforced and administered by agencies in the Executive branch. However, even the best laws are not always perfectly clear. Congress often gives those agencies the power to create administrative rules. Those rules, when drafted and applied properly, explain how the agency will apply the laws in specific situations. However, agencies are only supposed to make rules within the scope that Congress sets out.
This is a complicated area of law (I do some of this at my day job and it is way more complicated than it looks) and even well-intentioned rules can end up working differently than envisioned. But some regulators are also less concerned about staying within the bounds of the authority granted by Congress. It makes sense, then, that Congress could invalidate such a rule because Congress gave the original authority to the agency to make the rule in the first place.
Can Congress Block An Agency Rule?
Lawmakers do have a method to directly invalidate an agency rule. Under 5 US Code Chapter 8, Congress can invalidate an agency rule. 5 U.S. Code § 802 sets out the exact procedures for that process. It is fairly simple; the House passes a joint resolution stating its disapproval of an agency rule. It then moves to the Senate, and if the Senate also votes to pass the resolution, then the agency rule has “no force or effect.”
What Happens Next?
Now that the H.J. Res 44 is out of the House, what happens next? It moves to the Senate, also known as the place where legislation goes to die. Most of the time, the filibuster is used to block legislation. It takes 60 votes to beat a filibuster, but that will not be necessary with this particular resolution. A simple majority vote is enough. We will have to wait and see if there are enough votes in the Senate to stop the pistol brace rule, though.
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