Federal ‘ghost gun’ regulations go into effect after judges reject challenges

AR-15 style rifles are displayed for sale at Firearms Unknown, a gun store in Oceanside, California, U.S., April 12, 2021.
Bing Guan | Reuters

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.   

Sophie Tremblay

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