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Syracuse v. ATF: Challenging the ATF’s Classification of Ghost Guns

Case Information: Syracuse v. ATF, No. 1:20-cv-06885-GHW (S.D.N.Y. Brief filed December 12, 2020)

At Issue: The federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms plays a crucial role in detecting and deterring illegal firearms trafficking by enforcing the Gun Control Act of 1968 (“GCA”), including its requirement that guns and gun components sold by licensed dealers be subject to a background check and imprinted with a unique serial number.  However, the gun industry has found a way to skirt GCA regulations of firearm frames and receivers (the parts of guns that house the firing mechanism) by selling “80% receivers” which are not fully finished. Though they can be completed quickly and easily using ordinary household tools, ATF does not consider 80% frames or receivers to be firearms, and thus does not require them to be serialized, or require people who purchase them to undergo a background check. People who wish to evade background checks or who don’t want records of their firearm purchases can buy 80% kits to build untraceable guns, often called “ghost guns,” which then cannot be traced by law enforcement and pose a grave risk to public safety. Several US cities and Everytown filed suit against the ATF, asking them to include 80% receivers within the definition of “firearm” so that all the regulations that apply to regular firearms apply to 80% receivers. This case is now before a federal district court in the Southern District of New York.

Giffords Law Center’s Brief: We joined Brady in a brief which argues that by failing to interpret the Gun Control Act in a way that considers 80% receivers to be firearms, the ATF is failing to fulfill its role in combating illegal gun trafficking. We argue that the ATF has a legislative mandate to enforce gun laws and that background checks are a critical step in the sale of a gun. We then argue that by failing to regulate ghost guns, the ATF allows ghost gun purchasers to avoid the safeguards in place to prevent firearms trafficking, and allows ghost gun sellers to profit from purchasers’ ability to evade background checks. We argue that the ATF must require 80% receivers to be serialized so that they can be traced during criminal investigations. Finally, we argue that ATF’s failure to regulate 80% receivers especially harms Black and Brown communities that suffer disproportionate rates of gun violence.

 Read the full text of our amicus brief here.