Culture, Law

ATF 2021R-08, “Factoring Criteria for Firearms With Attached ‘Stabilizing Braces,’” by Brian G. Mattson

Brian G. Mattson is a public theologian, Senior Scholar of Public Theology for the Center for Cultural Leadership, and adjunct professor at Westminster Theological Seminary. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen, has written several books, and lectures on theology and culture.

I am an American citizen enthusiastic about the Bill of Rights, including the 2nd Amendment. As a citizen I must first register my objection to the rule-making process itself: namely, concerned citizens are at an inherent disadvantage having to provide public comment directly to the governmental agency seeking to make them felons by their proposed rule. This conflict of interest or power disparity will inherently distort the true levels of opposition to the proposed rule, given that a vast number of gun owners and enthusiasts will be reluctant to “signal” themselves as out of compliance with the proposed rule. It is, nevertheless, my civic duty to comment.

I have grave concerns about BATFE’s newly proposed rule (Docket Number ATF 2021R-08) regarding “stabilizing pistol braces.” Allow me to summarize them, and then more fully explain each in turn.

1. AR-15 “pistol” variants clearly fall within the definition of “common use” under District of Columbia v. Heller.

2. AR-15 pistol variants are not “especially dangerous and/or unusual weapons.”

3. ATF’s claims about the public benefit of this rule are simply mistaken.

4. The proposed rule’s “Options for Affected Persons” are ineffective and unduly burdensome on law-abiding citizens.

5. ATF’s proposed rule is prima facie ineffective unless the component itself (the “stabilizing brace”) is regulated as an NFA item, thus making it more difficult to obtain; however, ATF admits that “The GCA and NFA regulate ‘firearms’ and, with limited exceptions, do not regulate individual components.”


(1) District of Columbia v. Heller clearly upheld a citizen’s right to keep and bear firearms in common use. The Bureau’s own background summary reveals that at minimum 3 million “stabilizing braces” are in circulation, and this is almost certainly an underestimation. SB Tactical, the most popular manufacturer of stabilizing braces, claims to have manufactured 3 million braces alone. The addition of other popular manufacturers would significantly revise the number upward.

Moreover, in ATF’s OMB Accounting Statement, they claim that the rule would affect “1.4 million purchasers of AR pistols.” That number is obviously incomplete. It may refer to purchasers of fully built, retail purchases of AR pistols, but leaves out the millions of gun enthusiasts who purchased a stabilizing brace to incorporate into other gun platforms.

The sheer numbers of these weapons leaves no doubt that AR pistol variants are very much in “common use.” Anyone familiar with the firearms industry knows that they are in common use. The very fact that ATF has proposed this rule demonstrates that they know these weapons are in common use. What is uncommon is criminal use. (More on that under [3] below.) For now, under Heller, these weapons are not “unusual” or “rare” in any sense of those terms, and should therefore be free from burdensome governmental infringement.

(2) The Bureau states that the NFA was passed to regulate “gangster” type weapons, which were viewed as “especially dangerous and unusual.” It is not a self-evident fact that AR-15s of any type are “especially dangerous.” What is self-evident is that they are not unusual. The Bureau is well-aware that a typical AR-15 caliber is significantly smaller than most hunting ammunition, a fact that by itself refutes the notion of “especially dangerous.” One might counter that muzzle velocities of AR weapons (often exceeding 3,000 feet per second) renders a weapon “especially dangerous,” but that raises an insoluble problem. ATF is ostensibly concerned about shorter barrel lengths; yet shorter barrel lengths reduce muzzle velocity and effective firing range, thus making them less, not more, dangerous. It is simply not cogent as a matter of logic and law why Congress and Federal agencies wish to make the less dangerous weapon subject to burdensome regulations; it directly contradicts the stated purpose of the NFA, which they admit regulates “especially dangerous and unusual” weapons.

(3) The Bureau’s claims about the public benefit of this proposed rule are mistaken. The OMB Accounting statement asserts that the rule: “Prevents manufacturers and individuals from circumventing the requirements of the NFA.” But the rule does not prohibit the manufacture of pistol stabilizing braces; nor does it subject such braces to NFA regulation. The rule, in other words, does nothing to make the production of AR pistols more difficult. Therefore, it “prevents” nothing; all it does it put ink on some paper. This may, by definition, prevent a law-abiding citizen from utilizing a pistol stabilizing brace; but in the incredibly rare event of a criminal using such a weapon, it is unlikely that a person bent on violence will be deterred by the proposed rule.

Secondly, the OMB statement asserts that the rule “Enhances public safety by reducing the criminal use of such firearms, which are easily concealable from the public and first responders.” Given the observation in the foregoing paragraph, this is simply mistaken. It does nothing to “reduce the criminal use of such firearms.” It is still perfectly legal to buy an AR pistol variant without a stabilizing brace, and perfectly legal to buy a stabilizing brace. Nothing has been proposed that would actually reduce the (newly) criminal activity of putting the two together. Furthermore, the notion that an AR-15 pistol variant is “easily concealable” is ridiculous. It is not. This is why such weapons are rarely used in crime, and the weapon of choice in the vast majority of crimes is a handgun. The Bureau is well-aware of this fact.

The Bureau raises two examples of AR-15 pistol variants being used in “mass shootings.” First, these events are irrelevant unless the Bureau can establish that the pistol brace involved in those shootings somehow made the weapon more dangerous than a handgun or a 16-inch rifle would have been in those circumstances. ATF should not be allowed to simply assert this as a fact. Second, the fact that the Bureau appeals to two incidents is quite revelatory. Recall for a moment the Bureau’s own (certainly low) numbers: 3 million pistol braces; 1.4 million purchasers of AR pistol variants. Millions of people “keep and bear” AR pistol variants and there are two examples of criminal use? This would suggest to me that there is no acute public health crisis to precipitate the intrusive infringement of the proposed rule.

(4) The proposed rule makes law-abiding citizens retroactive felons. There is no “grandfather” arrangement proposed. This is intolerable as a matter of law; no citizen, having engaged in good faith to legally purchase a firearm should be retroactively rendered a felon by fiat. Moreover, the proposed “Options for Affected Persons” has zero chance of success. Leaving aside the paternalistic language (“we want to help you with compliance”) and options seemingly drafted in such a way as to infuriate the populace (e.g., “destroy the firearm”), the Bureau will quickly find itself, should the rule go forward, tasked with actively seeking out millions of citizens who refuse to comply. As the Bureau is likely aware, a scheme in New Jersey to “buy back” standard-capacity magazines netted the state zero magazines. If gun-owning citizens refused to part with their magazines, the likelihood of them parting with their AR-15s is even less.

(5) Finally, the Bureau is clearly frustrated in its task of enforcing the requirements of the NFA, and complains that the firearms industry is “circumventing” the NFA with the use of stabilizing braces. I understand their frustration. However, the problem is not the industry; the problem is the NFA itself and the statutory limitations it places on the ATF. The Bureau admits that the NFA does not give jurisdiction to regulate (most) individual firearm components—they cannot prohibit the manufacture of a stabilizing brace or effectively prohibit someone from utilizing one on their personal weapon. Rather ironically, the proposed rule represents ATF attempting to circumvent their own statutory limitations.

In sum, AR-15 pistol variants are in common use; they are not “especially dangerous or unusual”; there is no acute public health interest in regulating them under the NFA; law-abiding citizens of this country should never be retroactively declared felons by fiat; and as a simple matter of fact, the rule faces very little possibility of actual compliance. It is thus impractical and an example of bad public policy.

I strongly oppose the proposed rule, and encourage the Bureau to lobby Congress to abolish the real source of this longstanding institutional problem: the National Firearms Act of 1934.

Culture, Economics, Law, politics

“Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” Isn’t

Today the CalPers board considered the widely implemented Diversity & Inclusion Report and Framework. CalPers is a massive agency for California employees, retirees and their families and manages the largest pension fund in the United States. I was asked by one of the CalPers members to address the board on this pressing issue.

Here are my prepared remarks:

My name is P. Andrew Sandlin, and I am founder and president of the Center for Cultural Leadership in Coulterville, California. I hold degrees in English, history, political science, and systematic and historical theology. 

I hope you won’t mind a contrarian viewpoint. 

I’ve written about 25 books, and have specialized in an investigation of both Classical and Cultural MarxismCritical TheoryCritical Race Theory, and systemic racism.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and the Diversity & Inclusion Report and Framework (statement linked above) incorporate widely attested Critical Race Theory whose root is Cultural (Western) Marxism. All of us deplore racism, for example, but Critical Race Theory instigates hostility between races at a time when we should be working toward racial harmony and understanding. The same is true of sexual preferentialism and its affirmative action.

Moreover, this program will alienate many hard-working Americans among your constituents, Christians, and others who believe in equality under the law, fair play, free speech, and equal rights. The attempt to create special preferences for special groups is a revitalization of the old classically Marxist idea of class consciousness, today known as identity politics.

CalPERS should recognize the equality of all members and not attempt to privilege some and (unintentionally) deprivilege others.

DEI will undermine the ideals of fairness, objectivity, and fair play and could alienate a sizable portion of your constituency. 

We live in a time when new and dangerous ideologies are overtaking the elite reaches of our society and as they filter down, they are bringing great harm to our common, hard-working citizens and their families. DEI is a prime example of this ideological poison.

Bias is always a danger, but coercive preferentialism is perhaps the worst bias of all. 

I urge you to bypass this proposal and, instead, work toward a truly fair approach toward all. 

We need fresh, innovative thinking, not a rehash of old, discredited Marxism. 

Culture, Law, politics, Theology

The Degeneration into Political Soteriology

“This insurrection is sometimes called ‘conservative counter-revolution,’ but it never is. It claims to be restoring the moral order overturned by Leftists, but it is actually an attempt to reverse the new Leftist (dis)order after assimilating the revolutionary gains — and strategies — of Leftism. It is a variant of revolution whose eyes are hidden to this fact by its opposition to other specific tenets of Leftism. But its orientation to society is revolutionary; it adopts, usually unknowingly, the guiding tenet of Leftism.”

Read the rest of the article here.

Culture, Law, politics, Theology

CCL November 7 Symposium

2020 Vision for a Blurry Year


  • The upsides of a downside year
  • Presidential election as chaos
  • The political ideology of the COVID-19 drama
  • Cultural Marxists in the streets
  • The Supreme Court battle and the assault on Amy Coney Barrett
  • Social justice goes to church — unmasked
  • The wokeness of sports

No screaming insults, no sophomoric one-liners, no cancel culture, no rude interruptions — just reasoned, respectful discussion, warm rapport, and delectable food.

Get full information here.


COVID-19 and Legality: An Interview with Jeffery J. Ventrella

Jeffery J. Ventrella, J.D., Ph.D.

In light of the momentous and unprecedented political responses to the Coronavirus, we asked Jeffery J. Ventrella, J.D., Ph.D., Senior Counsel and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs & Training for the Alliance Defending Freedom, if he’d consent to a Center for Cultural Leadership interview. He kindly agreed, and the interview is below:

PAS: Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Jeff. Can you start by furnishing a summary of the legal landscape in the response of civil government (federal, state, and local) to the Coronavirus crisis? What major decisions are being made, and what have their effects been thus far?

JJV:  Thank you for this important opportunity.  First, we ought not to derive our principles, legal or otherwise, from a crisis or moral quandary.  In this current situation we see a more marked conflict between freedoms duly protected by our legal structure.  Thankfully, the Founders of this republic understood and created enduring structures that both promote human flourishing as well as recognize humanity’s fallen nature, which impedes that flourishing.  Those structures vest authority under God to the States derived from the people, including the “police power.”  States, not the federal system, have the duty to protect and promote the common good, including the health of its own citizens.  Critiquing the President’s action or inaction, is misplaced.  The primary obligation lies the several States. 

The federal system, however controls immigration policy and funding hopefully coordinating with the States and their several efforts.  To date, those efforts – social distancing, restrictions on gatherings, and “shelter in place” directives – are designed to “flatten the curve” of the virus’s spread.  While the data regarding the impact of these efforts on the virus are debatable, we are seeing demonstrable economic impact that in the long run is not sustainable and will precipitate unintended, but potentially dramatic harm.

PAS: Are there Constitutional and other legal grounds for these decisions? Are some valid while others invalid? Some simply questionable? 

JJV: The basis for “shelter in place” gubernatorial executive orders rests solidly in the “police power” reserved to the States.  Now, the rub occurs because such measures may impact, impede, and potentially interfere with other fundamental rights also protected constitutionally, such as speech and the exercise of religion.  That in itself, while inconvenient, is not axiomatically unbiblical nor unlawful.  However, if a measure specifically targets a particular right, such as religious services or gatherings, instead of applying the measure to (say) all public gatherings, it is pernicious and likely unconstitutional. 

Now, despite some social media sloganeering, the fundamental rights of speech and religious exercise are not absolute and thus they can be subject to the police power to some extent even in non-emergent contexts:  one cannot yell “Fire!” in a crowded theatre; one may ardently and religiously believe in child sacrifice or polygamy, but may not – under ordered liberty – exercise those beliefs.

What is currently developing in this emergent context explores the limits of those measures and the clashes they create.  While a general prohibition on gathering of more than 10 people may be valid under the current legal doctrine and circumstances, restricting clergy from one-on-one in person counseling, or visiting dying patients, as some hospitals are reportedly doing – whether of COVID or not – raises deep and troubling constitutional questions.

PAS: We see examples here and there of jurisdictional conflicts between the federal government and state government and between the latter and municipal government. Does this conflict signal a robust federalism?

JJV:  Yes, these sorts of conflicts are actually good because they reinvigorate the functions and structures of government.  Theologically, these tensions remind us of the Christian social doctrines of sphere sovereignty and subsidiarity, both of which triggered great growth, innovation, and flourishing in Christendom and greater Western Civilization. 

Also, the emergent nature of some federal actions – relating to remedial efforts such as equipment production and pharmaceutical development – have slashed regulatory red tape thereby precipitating a liberalization of the market – this may be a silver lining of sorts by showing that society really didn’t need the encumbering and now fetid fetters of an over-regulated Administrate State.

PAS: Governments the world over have enacted legislation or implemented orders giving sweeping civil-rights-curtailing power to their executive branch. Is there a downside to these decisions?

JJV:  Any time an even well-intended but stifling national power is exerted, risk exists.  Why?  Because law – all law – is pedagogical and teaches.  People who rightly submit to a necessary State action can become habitually submissive.  Rather than being citizens who participate in democratic governance, they functionally become subjects who bow on impulse, without testing whether the purpose of the regulatory imposition remains valid, necessary, or immoral.  In contrast, the US Founders understood that consolidating power is deeply problematic because men are not angels, as Madison quipped.

On the other hand, there apparently are signs that in Europe the tethers of the European Union may be weakening. 

PAS: Putting on your cultural theologian hat, do you find the potential for protracted prohibition of churches to meet for public worship a troublesome prospect?

JJV:  If a ban on church qua church assemblies occurs, that is both ungodly and unconstitutional.  A temporary ban on gatherings in view of extant public health considerations may be a valid exercise of police power.  However, to constrict a constitutionally protected right such as religious gatherings, that state action must be narrowly tailored and utilize the least restrictive means – and they must not be permanent, theologically or constitutionally.  

Aside from the legality of protracted bans on assembly, this move precipitates other risks.  First, being face to face as Christians provides the context for optimal joyfulness says the Apostle John and violates the directive to gather.  Second, a “virtual” life as normative tends to reduce the Christian Faith to mere idea, merely mediated digitally. 

PAS: Finally, Jeff, what broad legal advice would you give Christian leaders at this time?

JJV:  The most sound advice can be found at no cost from ADF’s Church Ministry: here leaders can find webinars, resources, and for member churches, free legal counsel to help navigate – while not spreading the virus, we must spread the Word in a biblically faithful way, loving our neighbors, honoring the State, and obeying Christ.  Churches must be both lawful and prudent, honoring the State and obeying God.