Giffords Law Center Commends ATF for Federal Ghost Guns Rule, Which Takes Effect Today
Washington DC — Today, Giffords Law Center, the legal arm of the gun violence prevention organization led by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, commends the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for their rule on ghost guns, which takes effect today. This comes after two federal courts rejected gun lobby attempts to secure injunctions that would have prevented the rule from taking effect.
David Pucino, Deputy Chief Counsel, Giffords Law Center:
“Ghost guns pose an increasingly severe threat to public safety, and one we know how to address: by closing the loophole that has allowed these guns to be sold without any regulation. ATF has done just that with the rule that went into effect today. The rule simply requires that ghost gun kits are regulated like guns. The ghost gun industry responded with weak legal arguments in an attempt to block it from going into effect, but yesterday two separate courts in Texas and North Dakota ruled against them, recognizing that the rule is squarely within the federal government’s authority. This is a very important victory for gun safety, and one that will undoubtedly save countless lives.”
During the presidential transition, Giffords called on the incoming Biden administration to close the federal loophole which allowed untraceable firearms to proliferate. 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 will finally close the loophole that has allowed for the proliferation of untraceable firearms. It will define the parts kits 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.
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.
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