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Democratic senators urge Biden to take executive action on ghost guns

Democratic senators urge Biden to take executive action on ghost guns
© Greg Nash

Four Democratic senators on Tuesday urged President BidenJoe BidenBiden says Beau's assessment of first 100 days would be 'Be who you are' Biden: McCarthy's support of Cheney ouster is 'above my pay grade' Conservative group sues over prioritization of women, minorities for restaurant aid MORE to take executive action curbing the use of so-called "ghost guns" as the administration contemplates its next steps on reforming firearm laws.

The lawmakers, led by Sen. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDemocrats reintroduce legislation to ban 'ghost guns' Juan Williams: A breakthrough on immigration? Biden rebuffs Democrats, keeps refugee admissions at 15,000 MORE (D-N.J.), asked Biden in a letter obtained by The Hill to consider executive action while Congress works on legislation to ban ghost guns, which are untraceable firearms that are usually ordered online and assembled at home.

"We write to ask that you take executive action to keep unserialized and untraceable firearms known as 'ghost guns' off our streets," the senators wrote.

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"Specifically, we request that you immediately direct the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to regulate these firearms under the Gun Control Act and ensure that they are subject to a background check," the senators added. "Additionally, the ATF should collect data on when ghost guns are used in crimes and publicly release that information."

Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinIf you want Julie Su at the DOL, don't point to her resume Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap Lawmakers react to guilty verdict in Chauvin murder trial: 'Our work is far from done' MORE (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Ed MarkeyEd MarkeySenators ask airlines to offer cash refunds for unused flight credits Civilian Climate Corps can help stem rural-urban divide Senate votes to nix Trump rule limiting methane regulation MORE (D-Mass.) also signed onto the letter.

The senators highlighted a loophole in existing gun laws that allows purchasers to buy a "ghost gun" kit for a few hundred dollars, assemble it themselves. The ATF does not regulate these kits as firearms. 

The use of ghost guns contributes to wider gun violence, the senators wrote, but because of the lack of regulation it can be difficult to collect data on ghost guns or investigate crimes involving the weapons.

"According to the Gun Violence Archive, at least 19,233 Americans lost their lives to gun violence in 2020, the highest number in the last two decades," the senator wrote. "We fear the number will only increase without swift action on ghost guns."

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Blumenthal and 14 other senators introduced a bill last May that would have banned ghost guns and required online kit manufacturers provide serial numbers and conduct background checks.

White House officials have in recent weeks met with several anti-gun violence groups to discuss how to move forward on an issue that has divided Congress for years.

Attendees at the meetings cited outlawing ghost guns as one item administration officials were considering, and the White House seemed receptive to using executive action more broadly to address gun violence.

The administration has yet to roll out any specific proposals on gun laws, though it has endorsed The Background Check Expansion Act, which was introduced last week by congressional Democrats and would require unlicensed or private sellers to conduct a background check prior to transferring a firearm.  

Legislation to expand background checks or tighten access to firearms has repeatedly fallen flat in Congress in the wake of mass shootings over the past decade, with renewed pushes languishing after massacres in Newtown, Conn.; Las Vegas; Parkland, Fla.; El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio, among other places.