Court Battles

Democratic AGs defend Biden crackdown on ‘ghost guns’

This Nov. 27, 2019, file photo shows "ghost guns" on display at the headquarters of the San Francisco Police Department in San Francisco
Haven Daley/Associated Press

A group of Democratic attorneys general are backing a Biden administration effort to crack down on so-called ghost guns, untraceable homemade firearms that account for an increasing share of those seized by law enforcement.

In court papers Friday, 20 blue state attorneys general urged a federal judge to reject a legal challenge to new restrictions on gun part kits that currently allow guns without serial numbers to be assembled in as little as 30 minutes — and without requiring background check.

“Without meaningful federal oversight, unserialized guns have regularly fallen into the hands of prohibited persons, with often deadly results,” the attorneys general from Washington, D.C.; California; New York and other states told a federal judge in Texas in an amicus brief.

According to Justice Department data, nearly 20,000 suspected ghost guns were recovered last year by law enforcement in criminal investigations, a more than tenfold increase from 2016. Over that six-year timeframe, nearly 700 homicide or attempted homicide investigations have involved ghost guns.

To stem the proliferation of these weapons, the Biden administration issued a rule that expanded the definition of firearms to include homemade guns and gun part kits. As a result of the new rule, which is set to take effect next month, commercial gun kit manufacturers must be licensed, include serial numbers with each kit and conduct a background check prior to a sale.

The move aims to deliver on a pledge that then-candidate Joe Biden made on the campaign trail to curtail ghost guns, which the president has argued are far too easy to access.

“Anyone can order it in the mail, anyone,” Biden said at White House ceremony in April announcing the new rule. “Folks, a felon, a terrorist, a domestic abuser, can go from a gun kit to a gun in as little as 30 minutes.”

The administration’s move prompted a legal challenge from a Texas-based gun parts manufacturer, Division 80, which filed a federal lawsuit in May. The challengers say the rule lacks an adequate legal justification and threatens to put them and other manufacturers out of business or in legal jeopardy. They are represented by a law firm headed by John Ashcroft, who served as U.S. attorney general under George W. Bush.

A number of states have passed laws that ban ghost gun or impose additional requirements on manufacturers. But the blue state attorneys general in their amicus brief argued that without federal oversight, states laws can easily be skirted.

“Though individual states have worked diligently to protect their citizens from gun violence and address this emerging threat, there is a natural limit to states’ abilities to combat a nationwide problem that crosses state borders,” they wrote. “Absent federal enforcement, ghost guns have continued to proliferate, including in the very states that have been trying to keep them out.”

Tags ghost guns Gun control gun deaths Gun reform gun violence Joe Biden John Ashcroft

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