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The Biden administration is regulating 'ghost guns.' Here's what the rule does
A 9mm pistol build kit with a commercial slide and barrel with a polymer frame is displayed at the White House. Carolyn Kaster/AP hide caption
A 9mm pistol build kit with a commercial slide and barrel with a polymer frame is displayed at the White House.
The Department of Justice said Monday that it had submitted to the Federal Register a final rule designed to curb the proliferation of so-called "ghost guns" — untraceable firearms that don't have serial numbers.
In 2021, about 20,000 suspected ghost guns were recovered by law enforcement in criminal investigations and reported to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The figure marked a tenfold increase from 2016, according to the White House.
With the latest announcement from the Biden administration, here's a look at what's behind the White House's latest steps designed to curb gun crimes.
What's a ghost gun?
Ghost guns are firearms that are privately assembled and untraceable. They can be assembled from "buy build shoot" kits or from other parts or they can be 3D-printed. Unlike other guns, these weapons don't have serial numbers. The Department of Justice's "Frame or Receiver" final rule focuses on these "buy build shoot kits."
Do-It-Yourself 'Ghost Guns' Bypass Background Checks And Firearm Registration
Anyone can purchase these kits, said Alex McCourt, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health who studies firearm policy. You don't need a background check to buy one.
"Until they're put together, they're not considered guns," McCourt said. "And so anybody that is prohibited from purchasing a gun or possessing a gun can get one of these kits."
Those with a history of domestic violence or convictions for other violent offenses can purchase ghost guns. Even children can order and build them, McCourt said.
The White House says the weapons can be assembled from a kit in as little as 30 minutes. But it takes some tools and could take some time, McCourt said. It's not like building with Legos, he added.
What will the final rule change?
The rule won't ban gun kits themselves or strengthen penalties for crimes committed with ghost guns, but it will bring the regulation of ghost guns to be more in line with traditional guns.
"It recognizes that these guns are indistinguishable and should be regulated like traditional guns," McCourt told NPR. "Now, they will need to go through the same process."
Under the rule, the kits will need to be produced by licensed manufacturers . And anyone buying the guns will have to pass a background check.
The rule will also require serial numbers on the gun kit's frame or receiver, which is the primary piece of the firearm that all of the parts are attached to, McCourt said.
As for the ghost guns that are already in circulation, the rule will require that licensed dealers add serial numbers any ghost guns that are a part of their inventory. This applies to all ghost guns — whether produced in a kit, assembled from parts or 3D-printed.
In addition, the rule will require federally licensed gun retailers to hold onto records for the length of time that they're licensed, according to the Department of Justice. Throughout the past decade, the ATF has struggled to trace firearms because the records had already been destroyed.
"These records will continue to belong to, and be maintained by, federal firearms licensees while they are in business," the DOJ said in a release.
How often are these guns used? And where are we seeing them?
While data on ghost guns is limited, McCourt said, the weapons have been cropping up across the country.
Earlier this year, police found a ghost gun at a Maryland high school after a student allegedly shot another student. And in 2019, a 16-year-old used a ghost gun to shoot five students before shooting himself at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, Calif.
In Philadelphia, 571 ghost guns were recovered in 2021. And in Baltimore, police seized 345 ghost guns in 2021 — compared with 12 seized in 2018.
On the West Coast, San Francisco police seized more than 190 ghost guns in 2021, amounting to 20% of all guns seized by the department. And in Los Angeles, 24% of the 8,121 guns seized in 2021 were ghost guns.
Biden picks a former federal prosecutor to lead the ATF as it targets 'ghost guns'
Moving forward, McCourt said that policymakers should take a closer look at 3D-printed ghost guns, which were not the focus of the final rule.
There's a question of whether the latest efforts to fight the proliferation of ghost guns made with kits could lead to increased production of ghost guns made through 3D-printing, McCourt said.
"We've seen that technology moves very quickly and policy tends to move a little bit more slowly," he said. "As these new technologies pop up, policy needs to be able to respond much more quickly than it has."
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FACT SHEET: The Biden Administration Cracks Down on Ghost Guns, Ensures That ATF Has the Leadership it Needs to Enforce Our Gun Laws
Today, President Biden and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco will deliver remarks in the Rose Garden to announce additional steps the Administration is taking to combat gun crime.
Ensuring that ATF has the leadership it needs to enforce our commonsense gun laws and fight gun crime.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is our top federal law enforcement agency responsible for enforcing our commonsense gun laws. Today, the President is nominating Steve Dettelbach to serve as Director of ATF.
Dettelbach is a highly respected former U.S. Attorney and career prosecutor who spent over two decades as a prosecutor at the U.S. Department of Justice. He has received bipartisan praise and support from law enforcement for his work. In 2009, he was unanimously confirmed for his position as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. He has a proven track record of working with federal, state, and local law enforcement to fight violent crime and combat domestic violent extremism and religious violence – including through partnerships with the ATF to prosecute complex cases and take down violent criminal gangs. Dettelbach also worked closely with local law enforcement and community leaders to develop and implement data-driven and neighborhood-based efforts to prevent and fight violent crime. His leadership and his record of innovation in fighting crime and violence make him ready from day one to aggressively and creatively address these pressing issues at the Director of ATF.
Cracking down on ghost guns – the weapon of choice for many violent criminals
Today, the President and Deputy Attorney General will also announce that the U.S. Department of Justice has issued a final rule to rein in the proliferation of “ghost guns” – unserialized, privately-made firearms that law enforcement are increasingly recovering at crime scenes in cities across the country. Last year alone, there were approximately 20,000 suspected ghost guns reported to ATF as having been recovered by law enforcement in criminal investigations – a ten-fold increase from 2016.  Because ghost guns lack the serial numbers marked on other firearms, law enforcement has an exceedingly difficult time tracing a ghost gun found at a crime scene back to an individual purchaser.
This final rule bans the business of manufacturing the most accessible ghost guns, such as unserialized “buy build shoot” kits that individuals can buy online or at a store without a background check and can readily assemble into a working firearm in as little as 30 minutes with equipment they have at home. This rule clarifies that these kits qualify as “firearms” under the Gun Control Act, and that commercial manufacturers of such kits must therefore become licensed and include serial numbers on the kits’ frame or receiver, and commercial sellers of these kits must become federally licensed and run background checks prior to a sale – just like they have to do with other commercially-made firearms.
The final rule will also help turn some ghost guns already in circulation into serialized firearms. Through this rule, the Justice Department is requiring federally licensed dealers and gunsmiths taking any unserialized firearm into inventory to serialize that weapon. For example, if an individual builds a firearm at home and then sells it to a pawn broker or another federally licensed dealer, that dealer must put a serial number on the weapon before selling it to a customer. This requirement will apply regardless of how the firearm was made, meaning it includes ghost guns made from individual parts, kits, or by 3D-printers.
This rule builds on the Biden Administration’s prior executive action to rein in the proliferation of ghost guns. In February 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice launched a National Ghost Gun Enforcement Initiative, which is training a national cadre of prosecutors and disseminating investigation and prosecution tool to help bring cases against those who use ghost guns to commit crimes. As President Biden said during an event at the New York Police Department headquarters, if you use a ghost gun to commit a crime “not only are state and local prosecutors going to come after you, but expect federal charges and federal prosecution as well.”
Additional executive action to reduce gun violence
Today’s final rule includes two additional actions to make our communities safer.
First, the final rule ensures that firearms with split receivers are subject to regulations requiring serial numbers and background checks when purchased from a licensed dealer, manufacturer or importer. Decades ago, ATF issued a regulation defining the “frame or receiver” of a firearm as the part that is regulated by the Gun Control Act – meaning that is the part that triggers federal serialization, background check, and other requirements. At that time, many firearms in the United States were single-framed firearms, like revolvers, that house key components in a single structure. However, we have seen the increasing popularity of firearms using split or multi-part receivers that house key components in multiple structures. Some courts have recently interpreted decades-old regulatory text in a way that, if broadly applied, could mean that as many as 90 percent of firearms in the United States today would not have a frame or receiver subject to federal regulation. The final rule updates the regulatory definitions of “frame” and “receiver” to ensure that firearms using split or multi-part receivers continue to be covered by our common-sense gun laws.
Second, the final rule requires federally licensed firearms dealers to retain key records until they shut down their business or licensed activity. At that time, these dealers must transfer the records to ATF, just as they are currently required to do at the end of licensed activity. Previously, these dealers were permitted to destroy most records after 20 years, making it harder for law enforcement to trace firearms found at crime scenes. According to ATF’s National Tracing Center, on average more than 1,300 firearms a year are untraceable because the federally licensed firearms dealer destroyed the relevant records that were more than 20 years old.
Implementing the President’s comprehensive gun crime reduction strategy
This final rule is part of the President’s comprehensive gun crime reduction strategy. President Biden made more progress on executive actions to reduce gun violence than any other President during their first year in office. You can read more about the Administration’s whole-of-government approach to reduce gun crime here .
President Biden’s fiscal year 2023 budget calls on Congress to deliver the funding needed to implement the President’s comprehensive strategy to reduce gun crime and make our communities safer. These additional resources will fund accountable policing, including by putting more police officers on the beat, and making essential investments in crime prevention and community violence intervention.
Congress needs to do its job by passing this budget and other essential legislation to reduce gun crime, including legislation to require background checks for all gun sales, ensure that no terrorist can buy a weapon in the United States, ban the sale and possession of unserialized firearms — ghost guns, ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and repeal gun manufacturers’ protection from liability.
We'll be in touch with the latest information on how President Biden and his administration are working for the American people, as well as ways you can get involved and help our country build back better.
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The Legal Fight Over Ghost Guns, Explained
As major cities across the US dealt with increases in gun violence in the wake of the pandemic, some local leaders petitioned the federal government for action. President Joe Biden announced new rules in 2022 meant to crack down on so-called ghost guns, prompting legal challenges.
1. What are ghost guns?
They’re unregistered guns typically assembled from a kit, or 3D-printed based on instructions purchased on the internet or at a gun show. Because they lack the serial numbers required to be stamped on complete weapons, it’s impossible to find out where they originated. Under current rules, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) doesn’t consider them firearms, meaning they aren’t subject to the restrictions placed on weapons sales, including the requirement that buyers undergo a background check. But once they’re assembled — a process that can take as little as 15 minutes, according to sellers — ghost guns operate exactly like regular guns.
2. How big of a problem are they?
The Justice Department says more than 23,000 firearms without serial numbers were reported recovered by law enforcement from potential crime scenes from 2016 to 2020. An estimated 2,500 ghost guns have been linked to criminal activity from 2010 to April 2020, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy organization. (The group, which advocates for universal background checks and gun-safety measures, is backed by Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent company Bloomberg LP.) By all accounts, ghost guns represent only a fraction of the estimated 393 million guns owned in the US or of the 7 million guns that were manufactured legally in 2019. But advocates say stopping ghost gun sales is an issue of growing urgency. Of the online sellers of ghost guns operating in 2020, Everytown estimated that almost 70% emerged after 2014.
3. What did Biden do?
On April 11, 2022, he announced new federal rules that would bring the purchasing process for these kits in line with the regulations for purchasing traditional guns, by expanding the definition of a firearm to include unfinished parts, like the frame of a handgun or the receiver of a long gun. That meant sellers would need to run background checks and include serial numbers on the gun kits. The rules took effect in August 2022, and the ATF issued guidance on enforcement in December.
4. What’s happened since then?
In July of this year, a federal judge in Texas, ruling in a case brought by a collection of manufacturers, dealers, individuals and gun-rights groups, struck down the regulation. A kit of weapon parts, he ruled, doesn’t constitute a firearm. The Biden administration appealed that decision. The Supreme Court, in an emergency order on Aug. 8, said the federal government can continue enforcing the regulation for now.
--With assistance from Greg Stohr.
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.
URGENT: SCOTUS Decision Impacts Frames & Receivers | READ MORE
Are "Ghost Guns" Legal or Illegal? — What You Need To Know
5D Tactical - 24th Aug 2022
Legal Disclaimer: While we do our best to keep these policies updated in accordance with local, state and federal laws - we recognize these legal changes happen often and many times without much news coverage or public reporting. As a result, you must do your own research to ensure you are closely monitoring the evolving legal landscape and not relying on the information contained on this site to make your decisions.
We are aware that there are some states which only have a partial ban in which some counties and perhaps not the complete state have banned products we manufacture/sell. Nevertheless, in many cases we have taken the more conservative approach to restrict shipping to whole states altogether. We apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause for our customers.
If you’ve turned on the news in recent times, you’ve probably heard a politician talking about something called a “Ghost Gun”. As scary as these politicians try to make this product seem, it really is a misunderstood concept. Let’s take a look at so-called “ghost guns” and the issues/legalities surrounding them.
What is a "Ghost Gun?"
Basically, a ghost gun refers to a gun without a serial number. These weapons are usually homemade using kits and parts that are readily available from online or in-person dealers. The term “ghost gun” is a term invented by politicians to make these weapons seem scary and evil to the senses of people that may not know exactly what these people are describing. In reality, very few criminals use ghost guns to commit acts of crime. Why? Quite simply, it’s easier to get a gun than manufacture one. A ghost gun is little more than a firearm simply manufactured by a private citizen for their own usage.
Are "Ghost Guns" Illegal?
While it is completely legal for a private citizen to manufacture a firearm as long as they’re legally allowed to own or possess a firearm, there are some state and federal laws to keep in mind when looking into ghost guns. Assuming you’re legally allowed to purchase and possess a firearm where you live, building your own firearm will not be an issue, so long as you make a gun that is something you could buy from your local store over the counter. This means no NFA-items (Full-Auto, Short Barreled Rifles, etc).
Also note that you are still able to build these items if you have your federal paperwork filed to do so and your NFA tax stamp in order for these types of weapons. Laws may vary from state to state, so make sure you look into your local gun laws before building your own firearms.
Recent Biden Legislation Against Ghost Guns
The Biden Administration has recently latched onto the concepts of banning ghost guns through the new National Ghost Gun Enforcement Initiative. Essentially, the Department of Justice will prioritize bringing federal charges against people using and selling/transferring ghost guns. This initiative will train prosecutors specifically to help bring charges against those people that utilize ghost guns in a crime.
Another issue with this legislation is that it would re-classify gun kits and 80% receivers as fully functional firearms, which they most certainly are not. Currently our beloved ATF requires that all receivers be serialized - not including unfinished receivers that are no different than any other part of a weapon you can buy as easily as a candy bar.
The Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden.
What This Means for Gun Builders
What does this mean for us private gunsmiths and hobbyists? This legislation does little more than begin to require gun parts to be registered. Do you want to have to register parts of your guns such as barrels or triggers when you purchase them? Neither do we. Some of us enjoy building guns, which requires a particular level of skill. Not to mention, why would we go down the slippery slope of forcing registration on what are merely gun parts? This new legislation would:
- Redefine several legal terminologies such as frame, receiver or what a firearm is.
- Classify gun parts, such as 80% lower receivers to be registered as completed firearms.
- Require background checks to purchase gun parts.
Are Ghost Guns Illegal in my State?
While purchasing ghost gun kits and parts are unregulated in most states, some states and even cities or entire counties have moved ahead on their own to regulate the sale and purchase of these parts and kits; at times subjecting them to similar scrutiny as actual firearms. New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Virginia, Washington, Connecticut and places in California all all have similar legislation that prohibit the manufacture, sale, possession, transfer and transport of undetectable or untraceable arms, which would cover the description of a "ghost gun".
Why Do We Care About the New Laws Involving "Ghost Guns?"
An 80% lower receiver . Look like a functional weapon? We don't think so either.
So why should we care about new laws regarding so-called ghost guns? As is with any law infringing upon our rights as citizens to keep and bear arms, this legislation is yet another batch of laws that chip away at the 2nd Amendment. The idea that certain gun parts would be registered and treated as if they were actual firearms is detrimental to the freedom to keep and bear arms. When the federal government removes a right they have no reason to give it back to the citizen. Parts of a gun should not be arbitrarily called a functional firearm.
Think about it this way, if one day an 80% lower receiver is classified as a full firearm what is next? A barrel? A trigger? A slide?
Stay Updated With 5D Tactical
Now that we’ve finished reading up on ghost guns, what do you think? Let us know by leaving a comment below. Keep up with current ghost gun legislation by checking out our other blog posts. Make sure to grab your 80% Lower Receivers before the federal government steals that freedom from all Americans!
Ghost Gun Legality by State [Updated February 2023]
Ghost guns, sometimes called “do-it-yourself guns,” can be built at home without the manufacturer’s license. This allows guns and other weapons to be made that are untraceable and without other protections like background checks that accompany the purchase of legal firearms.
Why Are Ghost Guns a Community Problem?
Ghost guns pose two issues. First, the parts used to assemble these guns aren’t considered firearms. So, people can buy them without undergoing a thorough checkup via the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICBCS). This allows people prohibited from possessing or buying guns to easily evade this restriction by purchasing a kit and assembling their guns at home.
Ghost guns have been highly linked to shootings across the country. More than 110 Americans are killed with guns daily! Ghost guns have been responsible for many fatal shootings in the past few years. Some notable examples are:
- In July 2022, an unlicensed individual possessing guns allegedly murdered two people in Pennsylvania using a 9mm homemade gun.
- In November 2019, a teenager shot five of his classmates at Saugus High School using a homemade gun and fatally shot himself.
- In August 2019, a shooter assembled a .223-caliber firearm that he used to murder nine people in 35 seconds in a bar in Dayton, Ohio .
- In 2017, a man built AR-15-style rifles by which he fatally shot his wife at home. The next day he fired at multiple people in different areas, including an elementary school injuring dozens and killing five.
- In 2013, a shooter fired in Santa Monica, California , killing five people and injuring several others using a homemade AR-15 rifle. Sources indicate that the shooter had earlier tried to buy a firearm from a licensed gun dealer but failed a background check. He opted to order parts and assembled one instead.
Ghost guns weren’t required to have serial numbers. Therefore, they’re entirely untraceable if they’re recovered in connection with a crime. This offers little evidentiary value to criminal investigators, making it challenging to develop leads and unmask potential perpetrators. Indeed, ghost guns are the weapon of choice for violence against anti-government extremists and white supremacists.
Federal Laws Concerning Ghost Guns
In August 2022, the Biden administration enacted federal regulations for all ghost gun sellers and dealers. These regulations put Ghose guns in the same legal category as traditional firearms. They further require that dealers and manufacturers of ghost gun building blocks must be federally licensed. The building blocks (the gun’s frame and receivers) must have serial numbers, and purchasers must pass a thorough background check before purchasing these parts. Records of sale must also be kept by sellers.
These regulations did not make ghost guns illegal. People who own ghost guns can still have them provided they aren’t legally barred from owning guns. But any dealer having ghost guns must serialize them.
Eleven states and the District of Columbia already have laws regulating ghost guns, and some of those laws ban possessing ghost guns. Unfortunately, these states cannot cut off the national supply chain for ghost guns. Hopefully, this rule will ultimately do.
In Which States Are Ghost Guns Illegal?
The states that have enacted laws banning ghost gun sale and manufacturing are:
- Rhode Island
Connecticut , Hawaii , Nevada , and the District of Columbia have additionally put restrictions on the manufacture and ownership of ghost guns.
Most recently, several localities and cities have almost set proposals to help regulate ghost guns, including:
- Montgomery County, MD
- San Francisco
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Federal 'ghost gun' regulations go into effect after judges reject challenges
- New Biden administration rules that put homemade firearm kits used to build "ghost guns" in the same legal category as traditional firearms went into effect on Wednesday.
- The regulations require that the main components used to manufacture ghost guns – the frames and receivers – be assigned serial numbers.
- They also require that buyers undergo background checks before purchasing the components and that dealers be federally licensed to sell the kits and keep records of sales.
New Biden administration rules that put homemade firearm kits used to build "ghost guns" in the same legal category as traditional firearms went into effect on Wednesday after federal judges declined requests to pause the change.
The regulations require that the main components used to manufacture ghost guns — the frames and receivers — be assigned serial numbers. They also require that buyers undergo background checks before purchasing the components and that dealers be federally licensed to sell the kits and keep records of sales.
The rules, which the White House announced in April, went into effect despite injunction requests from plaintiffs to stop the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from enforcing them.
On Tuesday, Chief U.S. District Judge Peter Welte in North Dakota denied a request for a preliminary or permanent injunction as a part of a suit filed by a coalition of state Republican attorneys general, gun groups and a gun store owner. The judge determined the Biden rule "was and remains constitutional under the Second Amendment."
In a federal lawsuit filed in Texas, a judge ruled that seller Division 80's prediction that the rule would "destroy" its entire business was not enough to grant the company's request to block the rule with a nationwide injunction.
The National Rifle Association, the country's largest gun-rights group, has criticized the regulations .
In recent years, sales of ghost gun kits have caused concern for all levels of law enforcement. From the federal Justice Department to city police departments, authorities struggled to curb the proliferation of these weapons, which were increasingly being recovered at crime scenes across the country. According to the White House, there were approximately 20,000 suspected ghost gun recoveries reported to ATF last year alone.
"These guns have often been sold as build-your-own kits that contain all or almost all of the parts needed to quickly build an unmarked gun. And anyone could sell or buy these guns without a background check," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement Wednesday.
"That changes today. This rule will make it harder for criminals and other prohibited persons to obtain untraceable guns," he said. "It will help to ensure that law enforcement officers can retrieve the information they need to solve crimes. And it will help reduce the number of untraceable firearms flooding our communities."
In recent weeks, ghost gun retailers were racing to offload their inventory ahead of the deadline , with some online dealers selling out completely.
Besides the new federal rule, several states and territories already restrict or ban ghost guns, including California, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Washington and the District of Columbia.
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What Is a Ghost Gun? What to Know as Biden Announces New Rules in Crackdown
Biden administration aims to treat some privately assembled guns like traditional firearms with new rules.
April 12, 2022 4:11 pm ET
Ghost guns usually refer to homemade firearms that don’t have serial numbers, and can be assembled from parts that were purchased online or made with 3-D printers. They have grown in popularity over the past decade. Law-enforcement officials say some are drawn to their anonymity; all the pieces can be purchased without a background check and they can’t be traced in criminal investigations.
What is Biden’s new ghost gun rule?
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US Supreme Court blocks judge's order allowing 'ghost gun' sales
[1/2] Parts of a ghost gun kit are on display at an event held by U.S. President Joe Biden to announce measures to fight ghost gun crime, at the White House in Washington U.S., April 11, 2022. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo Acquire Licensing Rights
Oct 16 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday barred two Texas-based manufacturers from selling products that can be quickly converted at home into firearms called " ghost guns ," granting a request by President Joe Biden's administration to once again block a federal judge's order that had sided with companies.
The justices lifted Fort Worth-based U.S. Judge Reed O'Connor's Sept. 14 injunction barring enforcement of a 2022 federal regulation - a rule aimed at reining in the privately made firearms - against the two manufacturers, Blackhawk Manufacturing and Defense Distributed.
The rule was issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to target the rapid proliferation of these homemade weapons. It bans "buy build shoot" kits that individuals can get online or at a store without a background check or the usual serial numbers required by the federal government. The kits can be quickly assembled into a working firearm.
The decision marked the second time that the justices acted against an order by O'Connor in the case. In August, they halted the judge's previous decision blocking the regulation, reinstating the rule while an appeal proceeds.
The administration had said O'Connor's decision to grant an injunction favoring ghost gun kit makers despite the prior intervention by the justices "openly flouted" the Supreme Court's authority.
The rule expanded the definition of a firearm under a 1968 federal law called Gun Control Act to include parts and kits that may be readily turned into a gun. It required serial numbers and that manufacturers and sellers be licensed. Sellers under the rule also must run background checks on purchasers prior to a sale.
The administration has said that ghost guns are attractive to criminals and others prohibited from lawfully buying firearms, including minors. There were about 20,000 suspected ghost guns reported in 2021 to the ATF as having been recovered by law enforcement in criminal investigations - a tenfold increase from 2016, according to White House statistics.
The United States, with the world's highest gun ownership rate, remains a nation deeply divided over how to address firearms violence including frequent mass shootings.
Plaintiffs including the parts manufacturers, various gun owners and two gun rights groups - the Firearms Policy Coalition and Second Amendment Foundation - filed suit to block the ghost guns rule in federal court in Texas. They portrayed the policy as a threat to the long history of legal private gunsmithing in the United States.
Rejecting the administration's concerns, O'Connor in July invalidated the rule, finding that the administration exceeded its authority under the Gun Control Act. The congressional definition of a firearm "does not cover weapon parts, or aggregations of weapon parts, regardless of whether the parts may be readily assembled into something that may fire a projectile," the judge concluded.
Biden's administration then asked the justices to halt O'Connor's decision while it appeals to the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Even though the justices on Aug. 8 granted that request, the manufacturers asked O'Connor for an injunction while the appeal plays out, which the judge issued. The 5th Circuit declined to pause that order.
Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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Supreme Court orders makers of gun parts to comply with federal "ghost gun" rules
October 16, 2023 / 5:08 PM / CBS/AP
The Supreme Court on Monday ordered two internet sellers of gun parts to comply with a Biden administration regulation aimed at "ghost guns," firearms that are difficult to trace because they lack serial numbers.
The court had intervened once before, by a 5-4 vote in August , to keep the regulation in effect after it had been invalidated by a lower court. In that order, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined with the three liberal justices to freeze the lower court's ruling. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh said they would deny the request from the Biden administration to revive the rules.
No justice dissented publicly from Monday's brief, unsigned order , which followed a ruling from a federal judge in Texas that exempted the two companies, Blackhawk Manufacturing Group and Defense Distributed, from having to abide by the regulation of ghost gun kits.
Other makers of gun parts also had been seeking similar court orders, the administration told the Supreme Court in a filing.
"Absent relief from this Court, therefore, untraceable ghost guns will remain widely available to anyone with a computer and a credit card — no background check required," Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, the administration's top Supreme Court lawyer, wrote.
The regulation changed the definition of a firearm under federal law to include unfinished parts, like the frame of a handgun or the receiver of a long gun, so they can be tracked more easily. Those parts must be licensed and include serial numbers. Manufacturers must also run background checks before a sale — as they do with other commercially made firearms.
The requirement applies regardless of how the firearm was made, meaning it includes ghost guns made from individual parts or kits or by 3D printers.
The regulation will be in effect while the administration appeals the judge's ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans — and potentially the Supreme Court.
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California's new gun law could curb the use of 'ghost guns.' What are they?
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a bill that will allow people to sue distributors of illegal assault weapons , parts to build them, .50-caliber rifles and guns without serial numbers.
The legislation, signed Friday, is modeled after Texas' controversial anti-abortion law , which allows citizens to sue anyone who provides or assists with abortion services. While California's gun law will be overturned if Texas' abortion law is, advocates say it could help save lives, particularly for victims of crimes committed with "ghost guns."
In April, President Joe Biden announced a series of what he called "basic common sense" federal regulations intended to target untraceable firearms known as ghost guns.
Here's what to know about ghost guns:
Ghost guns: Controversial new California gun control law mimics Texas abortion measure
What is a ghost gun?
- Ghost guns are guns without serial numbers that don't require typical background checks for purchase and are largely untraceable, which makes it difficult to find perpetrators who use them to commit crimes.
How are they made?
- Because of technological advances, some of these guns, also known as privately made firearms, can be made from home with do-it-yourself firearms kits, stand-alone parts, or 3D printers, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives .
How many are there?
- The number of ghost guns found at crime scenes nationwide has increased over the past several years, according to the ATF . More than 23,900 suspected privately made firearms were recovered at crime scenes from 2016 to 2020, including 325 homicides or attempted homicides.
Shinzo Abe assassination: Homemade gun used in assassination of Shinzo Abe; attack highlights flood of 'ghost guns' in U.S.
Why are they dangerous?
- Because of their untraceable nature, ghost guns might attract people who can't purchase guns legally, such as felons or other bad actors, according to Nick Suplina, managing director for law and policy at gun violence group Everytown for Gun Safety.
- "You have untraceable, unserialized firearms that exist completely outside of the regulatory scheme of federal and state law," Suplina told USA TODAY . "People who are prohibited from owning firearms under federal or state law have ready access to make their own untraceable firearms, and that's very dangerous."
How are they federally regulated?
- The series of regulations in April on ghost guns was in the works for almost a year and clarify that the unfinished parts sold in the do-it-yourself kits, like handgun frames or long gun receivers, qualify as firearms under federal law.
- That means commercial manufacturers of the kits must be licensed and must add serial numbers on the parts. Plus, commercial sellers of the kits have to become licensed and will be required to run background checks on potential buyers.
- “These guns are weapons of choice for many criminals," Biden said in April at a Rose Garden ceremony attended by victims and families of gun violence. "We are going to do everything we can to deprive them of that choice and, when we find them, put them in jail for a long, long time.”
Do any states regulate them?
- Yes. Eleven states, including Illinois, California and New York, have regulations on ghost guns in place intended to curb their use, according to Everytown .
Federal regulations: Amid rise of gun violence, Biden unveils 'basic common sense' regulations targeting ghost guns
How does California's law relate to them?
- Because the law allows people to sue distributors of guns without serial numbers, it could help combat ghost guns.
- The new law “will make it easier for victims of ghost gun violence, like me, to help enforce our gun laws,” said Mia Tretta, who was shot in Santa Clarita during a 2019 attack at Saugus High School and is now a volunteer with Students Demand Action.
Contributing: ThAssociated Press
A sweeping gun bill aimed at tightening firearm laws passes in the Massachusetts House
The Massachusetts House has approved a sweeping gun bill aimed at tightening firearm laws, cracking down on unregistered “ghost guns” and strengthening the state’s assault-style weapons ban
BOSTON -- The Massachusetts House approved a sweeping gun bill Wednesday aimed at tightening firearm laws, cracking down on unregistered “ghost guns" and strengthening the state’s assault-style weapons ban.
The bill, which passed on a 120-38 vote, would also prohibit individuals from carrying a gun into a person’s home without their permission and require key gun components to be serialized and registered with the state.
The 125-page bill — a priority for Democratic Massachusetts House Speaker Ronald Mariano — is in part a response to a 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that U.S. citizens have a right to carry firearms in public for self-defense.
The proposal would create new laws that bar firing guns at or near homes and outlaw carrying firearms while intoxicated. It would also prohibit carrying firearms in schools, polling places and government buildings.
The bill expands the state’s ban on assault weapons by prohibiting new purchases of AR-15-style weapons. It would also ban someone from turning a legal firearm into an illegal automatic weapon.
The proposal includes an enhanced system to track firearms used in crimes to help curb the flow of illegal guns into the state. It would also modernize the existing firearm registration system while increasing the availability of firearm data for academic and policy use, lawmakers said.
Massachusetts, which already has tough gun laws, had the lowest rate of gun deaths in the country, at 3.4 deaths per 100,000 people in 2021, compared to Mississippi, which had the highest rate, at 33.9 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the most recent statistics listed on the website for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The state Senate has yet to release its version of a gun bill. It will be up to both Democratic-led chambers to hammer out a single bill to ship to Democratic Gov. Maura Healey’s desk for her signature before it can become law.
Gun owners opposed to the bill say the measures outlined in the legislation do more to target gun owners than to reduce crime.
“All of it goes against us, the lawful people. There's nothing in there that goes after the criminals,” said Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners’ Action League.
Wallace also said the bill is an overreaction to last year's Supreme Court decision.
“This is a tantrum. This is a flat-out tantrum,” he said.
Supporters of the bill say it will help address holes in the state's gun laws, while also responding to the Supreme Court ruling.
One response is a measure in the bill that would prohibit guns in safe spaces such as schools, polling places and the Statehouse, said Jennifer Robinson of the Massachusetts chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
Robinson said the bill also contained what she called commonsense steps.
“We believe that if you’re going to have a license for a gun, you should have live fire training, much like if you’re going to drive a car, we don’t just throw the keys at you and walk away,” she said. She also pointed to a section of the bill that would transfer to the state police the responsibility of inspecting gun dealers.
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What Are California’s Laws About Ghost Gun Possession and Sales
May 1, 2021 Written by Jill Harness and Edited by Peter Liss Last Updated on December 30, 2022
Ghost guns are homemade firearms that are practically untraceable because they have no serial number. These are legal to sell and possess on a federal level because the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) defines “firearms” only as finished firearms, frames, and receivers, so those parts that are sold unfinished are not covered by federal law, even if completing them means simply drilling a few holes and putting the thing together. But in California, a number of state laws specifically cover ghost guns, including those that are 3D printed. This is important because these weapons are becoming increasingly common in California, particularly in San Diego County, where local law enforcement agencies have noticed a 169% increase in ghost guns over the last few years.
What Are California’s Existing Rules on Ghost Guns?
In 2016, California passed its first batch of laws addressing the increasingly common problem of homemade guns without serial numbers, all of which also apply to 3D printed guns. Since 2018, everyone who makes their own firearm is required to apply to the Department of Justice (DOJ) to get a unique serial number for their weapon. The DOJ will only issue new serial numbers to those who have:
- a firearm safety certificate
- completed a firearms background check to confirm they are legally eligible to possess a gun
- proof that they are at least 21 years old
- given a full description of the gun they plan to assemble
Once the person receives the serial number, they are legally required to add the number to the gun within 10 days of completing the firearm. Once the DOJ has the information about the newly created gun and its owner, that person cannot generally sell or transfer possession of the weapon. It’s worth mentioning that possession of an unregistered or improperly registered firearm is a crime punishable by up to 3 years in state prison.
Naturally, all homemade guns are also legally required to follow all state firearms laws, meaning they must incorporate a number of safety features and cannot be a prohibited type such as a machine gun or assault rifle.
New Homemade Guns Laws in 2022
Unfortunately while the state passed the existing laws in 2016, ghost guns continued to be a problem in California. In fact, a good number of people who possess unregistered self-assembled firearms are those who cannot pass state or federal background checks because they have a criminal conviction for a felony or certain violent misdemeanor offenses such as domestic violence that prohibit them from owning a gun for the sake of public safety.
That’s why after the nation continued to experience even more deadly instances of gun violence, California passed even more gun laws to limit the use of ghost guns. While originally slated to take effect in 2025, the legislature even passed a new law to speed up the implementation of these new gun laws so they are set to go into effect on July 1, 2022. Now sellers of unfinished receivers and frames will be subject to a similar gun control policy as the sellers of ammunition, meaning they will need to obtain a license before they can sell more than one unfinished gun part in a 30 day period and employees of these businesses must regularly pass background checks. Sales of ghost gun parts will also no longer be permitted online and instead must be done in-person after a background check. Buyers must be over 21 and the sales must be well documented.
A New Ghost Gun Proposal on Red Flag Laws
California State Assembly Member Cottie Petrie-Norris of Laguna Beach just introduced another new piece of gun control legislation directed at homemade guns, Assembly Bill 1057. Under California’s current red flag laws, family members, friends, employers, teachers and co-workers can report someone as a potential danger to themselves or others and if a judge agrees, the police can then go to that individual’s home and confiscate all guns on the premises. But oddly, the way the current statute is written, the police cannot confiscate ghost guns -that’s where AB 1057 comes in. The bill would remove this loophole from the current law, so police could also confiscate homemade firearms as well.
Does Any of this Matter?
With ghost guns making up 30% of all of California’s confiscated firearms in 2019, it can seem like these changes aren’t actually making much of a difference. In fact, data indicates that most people making their own firearms are not following through with adding serial numbers, which makes sense to some extent because if the people getting these guns are those who already lost their Second Amendment rights in one way or another, they may be more likely to be willing to break other gun laws.
But it’s one thing to ask people making their own weapons to register them and another thing to make it harder for people who are not supposed to have weapons to get them. And while many of these people would just head to neighboring states like Nevada with looser rules about ghost guns, the Biden administration has just passed a number of executive orders that will make rules like those in California apply nationwide. If no one in the country can legally buy or sell ghost guns documented purchases and background checks and everyone in the country is required to add a serial number after constructing one, this could help reign in the problem at least to some extent.
Ultimately, only time will tell whether these measures will do anything to reduce gun violence or if they’re just making gun ownership more difficult. In the meantime, if you or a loved one has been accused of any kind of weapon-related crime , please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation with Peter M. Liss.
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Hobbyists Push Back Against 3D Printer Crackdowns
Laws in New York and California could make it tougher to buy a 3D printer.
As some lawmakers look for ways to reduce gun violence, they’ve shifted their sites to 3D printers, introducing and, in at least one case, passing laws that would restrict their sales. Though the worst thing a 3D printer, even the best 3D printer , can do on its own is burn you, any model can print the parts for so-called “ghost guns,” homemade firearms that have no serial numbers. 3D printer fans and gun rights advocates are both concerned that these laws would cause an undue hassle to hobbyists and students, without making the public safer.
A bill introduced in the New York State Assembly aims to stop the spread of ghost guns by making it necessary for anyone buying a 3D printer to undergo a criminal background check, which could take as long as 15 days. Opponents argue that the proposal would not effectively prevent ghost gun manufacturing, but it would have a chilling effect on kids who use 3D printers to learn and makers who use them for everything from appliance repair to robot building.
“I don't see how it would reduce ghost guns at all,” Clayton “Uncle Jessy” Parker, who runs a popular YouTube channel about 3D printing, said in an interview. “There are already a large number of printers in New York State, including in public schools and public libraries, that are available to print with. There is no function in a 3D printer or software that will know if a part is for a ghost gun or for a kid's toy.”
Firing Back at Ghost Guns
The proposed law would mandate background checks for all 3D printers sold in New York that can produce firearms or related components, like auto sears that convert semi-automatic guns into fully automatic ones, receivers, and similar items.
"Three-dimensional printed guns are growing more prevalent each year,” the bill’s sponsor, state senator Jenifer Rajkumar, wrote in a memo . “There were 100 taken off the streets of New York City in 2019. That number skyrocketed to 637 in 2022. Concurrently, ghost gun shootings have risen 1,000 percent across the nation."
The New York Police Department has experienced a 60% rise in confiscated ghost guns on city streets for two consecutive years. Recently, the NYPD traced certain online ghost gun sales to a "ghost gun printing operation" housed in a daycare center, where 3D printers and firearms were found.
In New York, there are other bills besides this one that deal with 3D-printed guns. Two bills introduced in May aim to treat 3D-printed guns like other restricted weapons, such as machine guns and assault weapons. Both versions of these bills, one in the Senate and one in the Assembly are currently in committee review. However, they don’t restrict 3D printers themselves.
Several states, such as Hawaii, Delaware, and New Jersey, have individually enacted laws prohibiting 3D-printed firearms. However, there are currently no comprehensive federal laws banning ghost guns.
At least one other state is taking aim at 3D printers in the name of gun safety. California lawmakers have recently passed AB 1089, a bill aimed at ghost guns. The measure prohibits "the sale, purchase, possession, or receipt of a three-dimensional printer that has the sole or primary function of manufacturing firearms to or by any person in the state other than a state-licensed firearms manufacturer, as specified.” Considering that any 3D printer can be used to print gun parts, it’s unclear how California’s law will work. Will you be able to buy any 3D printer, as long as it isn't specifically marketed as a gun printer (which few, if any, are)?
The Biden administration has been advocating for an ATF rule introduced last year, which broadened the federal definition of a firearm to encompass its parts. This change would necessitate that gun sellers and individuals engaged in 3D printing firearms or their parts must include serial numbers. Firearms sellers would also be required to keep records of these serial numbers in their inventory permanently to assist in tracking and tracing these components.
Gun control advocates say ghost guns are a serious threat nationwide. Under federal law, individuals are not prohibited from manufacturing a gun for personal use, Josh Sugarmann, the executive director of the Violence Policy Center, said in an interview. However, unlike guns produced by licensed manufacturers, such weapons are not required to be stamped with a serial number.
“The proliferation of ghost guns and other homemade firearms threatens to destroy the very fabric of federal gun laws,” he added. “Gaps in federal law have helped create a huge demand for parts used to build homemade firearms, including those commonly known as ghost guns.”
Tracking the quantity of ghost guns is challenging because they are homemade. From 2016 to 2021, there was a 1000.3% increase in ghost guns collected and reported to the Department of Justice. Everytown for Gun Safety calls ghost guns “the fastest growing gun safety problem in the country.” The gun control group maintains an online database of shootings linked to ghost guns.
Pushback Against Printer Laws
Laws like those proposed in New York and California could also affect hobbyists who use 3D printers. “My biggest concern is kids who want to learn more about STEM, making, creating, and coding and would be potentially prohibited from purchasing a 3D Printer because of this,” Parker said.
Parker also said that the proposed New York law doesn’t do enough to distinguish 3D-printed items for ghost guns from those intended for innocent reasons.
“How is this law going to differentiate from 3D printed ghost gun parts to parts I have printed to fix my broken refrigerator door?” he added. “There is also nothing preventing anyone from purchasing printed parts online from another state and having them shipped to you in New York state. What about 3D-printed Nerf gun parts? I am all for better legislation for firearm sales and background checks of actual firearms, but this just seems like a huge waste of taxpayers' time and money.”
Grant Schmidt, the owner of Shot Tec, a firearms sales and training company, suggested that regulating 3D printers is a fruitless effort.
“3D printers will soon be as ubiquitous as paper printers,” he said in an interview. He added that ghost guns are a return to the traditional practice of local firearms craftsmanship.
“I had my first firearm, a well-engineered potato cannon that shot more than potatoes, confiscated by local police at 14 years old,” Schmidt said. “It was made from plumbing and BBQ hardware store off-the-shelf parts, and that was prior to the internet offering free blueprints and STL files.”
Schmidt’s company has a 3D printer and uses it to make things like holsters.
“But we haven't really used it for actual firearms manufacturing since conventional methods are still faster, easier, and more productive,” he added. “The high majority of so-called ghost guns are, in fact, not 3D printed and are made from gun parts kits or hardware store parts.”
Experts in civil liberties have also expressed concerns about regulations aimed at 3D-printed firearms. They argue that banning these firearms or their design instructions could potentially infringe on the First Amendment because the files are essentially composed of text and code.
“We may desire robust safeguards against the spread of dangerous information, but in doing so, we should be wary of allowing broad regulations to survive strict scrutiny in the name of national security,” wrote attorney Andrew Huang last year in a Harvard law school publication. “Society may instead be better off setting more comfortable precedents by employing intermediate scrutiny for 3D printer code litigation, even if the laws in question are content-based.”
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- USAFRet Preemptive warning....don't stray off topic regarding gun laws. This is only about 3D printers. Reply
USAFRet said: Preemptive warning....don't stray off topic regarding gun laws. This is only about 3D printers.
parkerthon said: Well, to be fair, it’s about gun control laws aimed at 3D printers. I know civil debate on the internet about polarizing issues are impossible to have and tons doesn’t want referee that, but there’s a very real debate on whether gun laws do much of anything. I don’t even own a gun and I see many issues with gun laws being more impactful to innocent citizens than they are to violent people and criminals. Add this to the list.
- bigdragon “3D printers will soon be as ubiquitous as paper printers...” -- Grant Schmidt There. That's the important thing to keep in mind. Paper printers can create fraudulent and counterfeit documents yet we allow them to exist. 3D printers shouldn't be treated any differently. Yes, 3D printers used to print guns can cause deaths, but I argue that paper printers have been used to drive people to death and ruin lives. Punish the crime and the criminal -- not the tool. Reply
The Historical Fidelity said: Yeah I think lawmakers are reaching on this one. I just don’t think “3D printed guns” are nearly prevalent enough to justify restrictions on a citizens right to purchase a 3D printer.
- btmedic04 my question is what is the end goal of this? say the bill against 3d printers passes, does that mean that metal lathes, or drill presses are next? all this will do is stifle children's ability to learn about STEM Reply
- DSzymborski Have already had to delete a bunch of posts. Just to clarify matters, @USAFRet's request to not stray off-topic on gun laws was a request to not stray off-topic on gun laws. Posts are not the only things that can be removed. Reply
- mat347 Because it's the 3d printers that are committing the crimes. SMH! Remember how prohibition went? Placing any sort of restriction on 3d printers will only hurt law-abiding citizens. I don't yet own a 3d printer, but have my sights on a Bambu X1. Having to fill out a background check would steer me to buy from a different state. I have absolutely nothing on my record, and intend on keeping it that way, but what is next, having to give a DNA sample and my first born to buy a set of knives, because they could be used to commit crimes? Who bakes up this absolutely ridiculous legislation? I am very relived that there are people who see this type of malarkey for what it is. I mean, you don't even need a 3d printer to make a gun. CNC machines are becoming common and much more affordable. A decent amount that can be made with a 3d printer (gun wise) can readily be made with a table top CNC machine that uses a cheap Dremel tool, and those can be had for less than $1k. Heck, I bet they are quite a bit faster than a 3d printer at that. Reply
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Supreme court allows biden administration to continue fully enforcing ghost gun regulations.
The Supreme Court on Monday allowed the Biden administration to continue regulating so-called ghost guns – untraceable homemade weapons – as firearms under federal law.
The court’s brief order grants the Justice Department’s request to wipe away a lower court order and allow the regulations to remain in effect while a legal challenge brought by firearm manufacturers continues to play out in the lower courts.
There were no noted dissents to the order.
Ghost guns are kits that a user can buy online to assemble a fully functional firearm. They have no serial numbers, do not require background checks and provide no transfer records for easy traceability. Critics say they are attractive to people who are legally prohibited from buying firearms.
3 arrested, including 2 minors, after ghost guns found in New York City day care
In the Justice Department’s emergency application to the justices, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar pointed out that a district court judge had essentially ignored an order the Supreme Court issued just two months ago.
Back in August, a 5-4 court sided with the Biden administration in a challenge brought by a group of manufacturers and allowed the regulations to remain in effect while legal challenges play out. At the time, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Amy Coney Barrett sided with the liberal justices in the government’s favor.
After the order was issued, however, a district court judge based in Texas stepped in to block the regulations as applied to two manufacturers. The injunction was then largely upheld by the conservative 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals.
In an unusually sharp filing, Prelogar told the justices in an emergency application that the district court and the 5th Circuit “have effectively countermanded this Court’s authoritative determination about the status quo that should prevail during appellate proceedings in this case.”
The court “should not tolerate that affront,” she wrote.
“Although there’s no explanation for today’s ruling, it’s hard to see it as anything other than a repudiation of the lower courts for not correctly reading the tea leaves of the court’s August ruling that froze a similar injunction,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law. “In that sense, it’s just the latest in an increasing line of rulings by the Supreme Court pushing back against district courts in Texas and the 5th Circuit.”
Prelogar called the lower court ruling “a grave threat to public safety because the lack of background checks makes ghost guns uniquely appealing to felons, minors, and other prohibited persons – and because when ghost guns are inevitably used in crime, they are essentially impossible to trace.”
Biden unveils a new White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention
In 2022, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives updated its regulations to define the kits as firearms under the law so that the government could more carefully track them.
The rule does not prohibit the sale or possession of any ghost gun kit, nor does it block an individual from purchasing such a kit. Instead, it requires compliance with federal laws that impose conditions on the commercial sale of firearms. Those conditions include requirements that commercial manufacturers and sellers mark products with serial numbers and keep records to allow law enforcement to trace firearms used in crimes.
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Ghost Guns: What They Are, and Why They Are an Issue Now
One of the actions taken by President Biden to curb gun violence was to crack down on the proliferation of firearms that are assembled from kits and do not have serial numbers.
By Annie Karni
WASHINGTON — Facing Republican opposition to the passage of gun control legislation, President Biden on Thursday announced a set of initial steps he could take on his own to address the epidemic of gun violence.
The most significant proposal was a crackdown on the proliferation of so-called ghost guns, or firearms that are assembled from kits and do not carry serial numbers.
“I want to see these kits treated as firearms under the Gun Control Act,” Mr. Biden said.
Here’s what you need to know about the weapons the Biden administration is targeting and why.
What is a ghost gun?
Traditional firearms are made by licensed companies and then bought from licensed gun dealers. All guns manufactured in the United States, as well as those imported from abroad, are legally required to have serial numbers that are typically displayed on the back of the frame.
In contrast, a ghost gun is manufactured in parts, and can be assembled at the home of an unlicensed buyer. There is no need to pass a background check to obtain the components of a ghost gun. They are sold online as D.I.Y. kits, and typically shipped as “80 percent receivers.” That means the gun is 80 percent complete, and buyers have to assemble the final 20 percent themselves.
The key selling point for many buyers is that ghost guns do not have serial numbers, the critical piece of information that law enforcement agencies use to trace the gun from the manufacturer to the gun dealer to the original buyer. Ghost guns are untraceable and because of how they are sold — as parts that need to be assembled — under current rules, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives does not treat them as it would traditional firearms.
How hard are they to assemble?
It’s easy and relatively inexpensive.
According to a report by Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun violence prevention organization, an AR-15 build kit costs as low as $345.
The sales pitches usually promise little work for the buyer. One online purveyor assured that “building time doesn’t take too long,” adding, “Within an hour or two, you should be breaking it in at the range.”
The kits usually come with directions on how to finish the gun or link to YouTube tutorials. Typically, the only tool needed is a drill and the kits are often sold with the drill bits necessary to complete the frame.
Many ghost guns are also sold with a “jig,” which fits around the frame or receiver and helps turn the project into something like “gun assembly for dummies.” One site said the jig could be used to complete a gun “in under 15 minutes with excellent results.”
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, the top five instructional videos on YouTube for building a ghost gun have drawn more than three million views.
How long have ghost guns been around?
Ghost guns aren’t new, but they are a growing problem. Even though kits to assemble guns have been sold since the 1990s, the market did not really take off until around 2009. At the time, firearm sellers in California began offering unfinished receivers for the AR-15 and AK-47 series of guns, in an attempt to circumvent the state’s assault weapons laws, according to T. Christian Heyne, the vice president for policy at the Brady United Against Gun Violence organization.
The problem of ghost guns did not become well known until 2013, when one was linked to a shooting at Santa Monica College in California, which killed six people, including the gunman.
Sales of ghost guns started to rise substantially around 2016, as people began buying kits to recreate a firearm based on the Glock 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol.
How prevalent are they now?
There is no way to know how many ghost guns are in circulation because they do not have serial numbers and no background check is required to purchase them.
But data shows that their prevalence appears to be growing every year, especially in states like California that have strict gun laws.
According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or A.T.F., law enforcement recovered about 10,000 ghost guns in 2019 . In cities, those numbers are rising at what the authorities say is an alarming rate every year. Proponents of stricter gun laws have been pushing for action on ghost guns to address the growing problem before it becomes a full-blown catastrophe.
In Philadelphia, for instance, 250 ghost guns were recovered in 2020, up from 99 in 2019. In Baltimore, 126 ghost guns were recovered last year, up from 29 in 2019.
“Forty-one percent, so almost half our cases we’re coming across, are these ‘ghost guns,’” Carlos A. Canino, the special agent in charge of the A.T.F. Los Angeles field division, told ABC News last year .
Have they been linked to mass shootings?
Some mass shootings have been linked to ghost guns, like the 2019 shooting at a high school in California, where a 16-year-old killed two students. A ghost gun was also linked to a 2017 rampage in which a gunman killed his wife and four others in Northern California.
But analysts said that ghost guns were not disproportionately linked to mass shootings. The bigger issue is that they are disproportionately affecting day-to-day gun violence in communities of color across the country, gun safety groups said.
Annie Karni is a White House correspondent for The New York Times, currently covering the Biden administration and politics in Washington. She previously covered the White House and Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign for Politico, and spent a decade covering City Hall and local politics for the New York Post and the New York Daily News. More about Annie Karni
Gun Violence in America
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