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GIFFORDS Gun Owners for Safety urges Supreme Court to uphold federal ghost gun rule

Files amicus brief in VanDerStok v. Garland before the Supreme Court

WASHINGTON — Today, GIFFORDS Gun Owners for Safety filed an amicus brief in VanDerStok v. Garland, a case the Supreme Court will hear oral argument for next term. The brief urges the Court to uphold the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives’ (ATF) rule that addresses the rising danger of ghost guns. The rule clarified that the parts used to make ghost guns are legally firearms, which means that they must have serial numbers and can only be sold by licensed sellers after a background check. The amicus brief can be found here.

“Any responsible gun owner knows that you can assemble a gun at home without needing a ghost gun. I’ve done so myself with properly serialized parts,” said GIFFORDS Gun Owners for Safety Senior Ambassador Jonathan Gold. “Ghost guns are dangerous and designed to skirt the system and avoid background checks to increase gun industry profits. We’ve seen the number of ghost guns used in crimes skyrocket over the past several years. The government was right to treat these ghost guns as they are: guns. We urge the Supreme Court to listen to reason and uphold this critical rule.”

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 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.

GIFFORDS has also litigated the issue. Alongside Attorney General Xavier Becerra of California, GIFFORDS Law Center won an important victory against ATF over loopholes in its rule that arbitrarily exempted some ghost gun products. 

GIFFORDS also took the fight to the ghost gun companies themselves. In Philadelphia, GIFFORDS Law Center represented the city alongside the Hausfeld law firm and the City of Philadelphia Law Department to sue largest suppliers of ghost guns in the United States, Polymer80 and JSD Supply. The lawsuit was settled for $1.3 million

Additionally, GIFFORDS Law Center, along with California Attorney General Rob Bonta, San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, and Keker, Van Nest & Peters, LLP, led a lawsuit that was settled this year against Blackhawk Manufacturing Group, Inc., MDX Corporation, and GS Performance, LLC (Glockstore). Each company has agreed to immediately stop selling firearm parts without serial numbers in California and to stop manufacturing such parts in California. Importantly, the retailers have also agreed to stop misleading consumers about the legality of purchasing, possessing, or assembling firearm products without serial numbers in California. The agreement also included a significant monetary settlement: each retailer will pay civil penalties totaling $675,000: $500,000 for Blackhawk, $120,000 for Glockstore, and $55,000 for MDX. 

More on the Ghost Gun 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 closes the loophole that has allowed for the proliferation of untraceable firearms. It defines 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 stops the flood of ghost guns at its source. 


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