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Giffords Celebrates Achievement of Top Federal Priority with Finalization of Ghost Guns Rule

Giffords also applauds the Biden administration for its continued commitment to strong confirmed leadership at ATF.

Washington, DC Giffords, the gun violence prevention organization led by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, applauds the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for taking a decisive step to stem the flow of dangerous ghost guns into communities across the country. Today the White House announced that the Department of Justice is finalizing the rule to amend its definitions of “frame or receiver” and what constitutes a firearm. 

California Attorney General Rob Bonta, as well as Giffords experts, including Executive Director Peter Ambler, Deputy Chief Counsel David Pucino, and Senior Staff Attorney Esther Sanchez-Gomez, will speak on a press call today (Monday, April 11th) at 12pm Eastern. 
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This rule change comes after the Biden administration directed ATF to take this action in 2021 and was announced in conjunction with President Biden’s nomination of Steve Dettelbach as ATF director. The ATF badly needs a new, Senate-confirmed director who will not be beholden to the gun lobby but instead will serve the American people.

Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords:

“The fight to end gun violence is long and hard and full of obstacles, but today we achieved an important victory on our path. For years, ghost guns have posed an increasingly dangerous threat to public safety. While a number of courageous state legislators have taken action, ATF has declined to address this growing problem while operating without confirmed, strong leadership. Today, that is changing, and our kids and communities will be safer as a result. I’m grateful to my friend Joe Biden, the Department of Justice, and ATF for putting the safety of the American people above the interests of the corporate gun lobby.”

Lindsay Nichols, Giffords Federal Policy Director:

“We are heartened to see the ATF close the loophole that has allowed ghost guns to proliferate. These untraceable firearms pose a grave threat to our families and communities, which this rule addresses. This much-needed regulatory change will also help the ATF combat gun trafficking, through which guns are funneled from the legal to the illegal market. Americans have suffered as gun violence has skyrocketed over the past two years, and today the ATF took necessary action toward putting our country on a better path forward.”

David Chipman, Giffords Senior Policy Advisor:

“If you’ve ever built an IKEA bookshelf, you can build a ghost gun—that’s how easy they are to make at home. These do-it-yourself guns are untraceable, allowing individuals who shouldn’t have access to a firearm to obtain one and preventing law enforcement officials from doing their jobs. For years, the gun industry has profited on these homemade weapons and their lack of regulation, at the cost of public safety. Ghost guns have risen in popularity because of their anonymity, and they are wreaking havoc on our communities. We are thrilled to see the ATF take a strong stance to stop the flow of these dangerous weapons onto our streets.”

California Attorney General Rob Bonta:

“Do-it-yourself ghost gun kits allow anyone with a credit card and an internet connection to purchase and build a fully operable, untraceable weapon. Without effective oversight, the availability of ghost guns, unfinished frames, and receivers allows dangerous individuals to access firearms under the radar of law enforcement. They are a clear and present danger to public safety. Here in California, we have been at the forefront of the fight against ghost guns and we are pleased to see this new rule, which will bring federal law up to speed. Together, we can better monitor ghost guns and increase public safety in California and across our nation.”

What Are Ghost Guns?

Ghost guns are firearms that do not have serial numbers because they are made by private individuals rather than licensed manufacturers. Because they do not have serial numbers, these guns cannot be traced by law enforcement, which makes it harder to solve crimes and investigate trafficking patterns. 

Ghost guns are primarily made using partially complete parts. By leaving intentionally unfinished the key part of the firearm–generally called the “frame” for handguns and the “receiver” for long guns–gun companies have previously been able to sell the parts needed to make a ghost gun while claiming they weren’t selling a gun at all. 

As a result, these companies have not conducted background checks and have readily sold ghost gun parts to anyone with the money to buy them, including documented sales to children and people prohibited because of their criminal record. Many of the companies do not even have a license to sell guns.

The Growing Problem of Ghost Guns

In recent years, gun traffickers have become major customers of ghost gun companies. Ghost guns are highly attractive to firearm traffickers precisely because there are no background checks or sale records and the guns themselves are untraceable. Sourcing guns for illegal resale is easier, and the subsequent black market sales are harder to track.

The result has been a surge of ghost guns onto our streets. Police departments across the country have reported explosive increases in the number of ghost guns connected with crimes, with ghost guns constituting up to 41% of guns used in crime, alongside an alarming rise in gun violence.

Giffords Work to Address Ghost Guns

Faced with this rapidly expanding threat to gun safety, Giffords has led the fight against ghost guns. When the threat was still first emerging, Giffords Law Center partnered with pro bono counsel Arnold & Porter to call on the Internet Service Providers that hosted the websites selling these guns to take them down. While some internet companies have made it clear that the sale of gun parts is prohibited under their terms of service, others have continued to host these companies, and in-person ghost guns sales have continued at gun shows.

Giffords has advocated for ghost gun laws at the state level and helped to pass ghost gun laws across the country, including in California, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Washington. Most recently, Giffords helped to pass a ghost gun law through the legislature in Illinois, which has been sent to the governor.

Giffords has also litigated the issue. Alongside Attorney General Xavier Becerra of California and the parents of Dominic Blackwell and Gracie Anne Muehlberger, who were killed by a shooter armed with a ghost gun at Saugus High School in 2019, Giffords sued the ATF, arguing that the loophole exempting ghost gun parts from federal gun laws was arbitrary and capricious, and supported American cities by filing an amicus brief in their own lawsuit against ATF. We are grateful to partner with pro bono counsel at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in the California case.

GIffords also took the fight to the ghost gun companies themselves, filing a lawsuit with San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin against retailers engaged in egregious—and profitable—practices that ultimately harm their consumers and our communities. California Attorney General Rob Bonta joined the effort, in which we partnered with pro bono counsel at Keker, Van Nest & Peters.

New Ghost Guns Rule

During the presidential transition, Giffords called on the incoming Biden administration to close the federal loophole. Within his first months in office, President Biden did just that, announcing that his administration would initiate a rulemaking process to define ghost gun parts as guns. During the public commenting process, Giffords supported the rule directly and drove thousands of supportive public comments.

The rule, which was finalized today, will finally close the loophole that has allowed for the proliferation of untraceable firearms. It will define the unfinished parts used to make ghost guns as firearms, which means that those who sell them will have to be licensed, will have to serialize them and retain records, and will have to conduct a background check before every sale. This critical rule will finally stop the flood of ghost guns at its source. 

Importance of a Senate-Confirmed ATF Director

Also announced today was President Biden’s nomination of Steve Dettelbach as ATF director. For far too long, the gun industry has done everything in their power to dictate the direction of ATF and limit the agency’s effectiveness. That self-interest was on full display when groups like the NRA and NSSF tanked David Chipman’s nomination to serve as ATF director. But the ATF is tasked with regulating the gun industry and protecting public safety—not protecting the gun industry. The ATF badly needs a new, Senate-confirmed director who will not be beholden to the gun lobby but instead will serve the American people, and we commend the Biden administration for nominating a new candidate for director today. 


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