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Firearm Industry Expert and Veteran Ryan Cleckner gave the lawmakers a Civics 101 lesson during his testimony against ATF overreach.

Ryan Cleckner knows a few things about standing up for what’s right, even when it’s not easy.

The former Special Operations sniper, lawyer, author, former NSSF staff member, firearm safety advocate, industry alumnus and entrepreneur and co-owner of Gun University, a site dedicated to firearm education and regulation compliance, took a turn giving Congress a lesson on how rulemaking by the Executive Branch is chipping away at fundamental rights and usurping the role of the Legislative Branch to represent “We the People.”

Cleckner testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Administrative State, Regulatory Reform and Antitrust. The topic was “Reining in the Administrative State: Reclaiming Congress’s Legislative Power.”

U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) chaired the hearing and explained the importance of Congress reclaiming its role and safeguarding against bureaucracies run amok in his opening statement.

“Today, Americans must routinely follow rules that come from a source other than Congress,” Chairman Massie explained. “In recent years, federal agencies have more-and-more frequently imposed their will on the American people.”

Chairman Massie included the Final Rule on stabilizing pistol braces published by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) as an example of bureaucratic overreach.

“It requires gun owners who use stabilizing braces, not bump stocks Mr. Ranking Member [David Cicilline (D-R.I.)], to register their braced pistols, modify their weapons, or risk potential felony charges.”

Back to Basics

Cleckner gave the lawmakers a Civics 101 lesson, reminding them that government derives its authority from the consent of the governed and those governing are accountable to the People.

“When you consider legislation or hold hearings on matters, it is open to the public,” Cleckner testified, “This transparency is fundamental to our Government. Debates on legislation and hearings such as this one, allow for differing opinions to be heard and considered before legislation is passed. Allowing non-elected and non-representative government bureaucrats in Federal Agencies to exercise power that should be limited to Congress, and to do so behind closed doors without accountability nor transparency, is destructive to America, its citizens, and to Congress.”

Cleckner pointed to the clear examples of rule-making by the Biden administration in which the Department of Justice (DOJ), through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) unilaterally decided that attaching a pistol brace to an AR pistol is a criminal offense, unless the owner registers the firearm under the National Firearms Act (NFA) as a newly-redefined short-barrel rifle (SBR).

Until the recent Final Rule was published, these were considered legal, even by the ATF’s own determination letters.

“This latest rule that the ATF has made, it redefines laws passed by Congress and it criminalizes the possession of firearms with certain accessories that the ATF itself had previously specifically approved,” Cleckner testified. “This rule, by fiat, effectively gives the ATF the power to determine who is a felon by the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen. This is not an appropriate enforcement of the law – it is tyranny.”

ATF Enforces, Not Writes Law

Cleckner explained that it is the responsibility of Congress, which has sole authority, to draft laws. This is especially important when it comes to criminal law. The Executive Branch, which includes the DOJ and ATF, is responsible for executing and administering the law. Nowhere in the Constitution are any of the agencies of the Executive Branch allowed to conjure up criminal law on their own.

Cleckner spelled out the danger for Americans who risk becoming unwitting felons overnight because the ATF flip-flopped on determinations that the pistol brace was legal one day and possession of one without registration is a felony the next.

“The Congressional Research Service estimates between 10 and 40 million of these are out there. Most of these Americans do not know that this rule is happening and even the Americans that do know the rule is happening cannot interpret it because the ATF is using vague and ambiguous language.”

“We’re talking about a piece of plastic that was previously approved by the ATF… and they’re going to be made into felons,” Cleckner added. “This is 18 USC law that ATF is trying to redefine and trying to rewrite and serious crimes, confusing regulations, going back-and-forth, I don’t see how that’s helping anybody.”

Three times in recent years (bump stocks, frames or receivers and now arm braces) ATF has reversed longstanding guidance the industry has relied upon to bring products to market and sell them lawfully to law-abiding Americans only to have ATF change its mind because it was politically expedient. The growth of the Administrative State, the unelected Fourth Branch of government, is a danger to democracy.

Article by Larry Keane


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