The Biden administration has dialed up its crackdown on so-called “ghost guns” by issuing guidance that basically expands the definition of what “readily converted” means in a new federal rule and making more do-it-yourself pistol parts subject to restrictions.
In an open letter to firearms dealers (pdf) dated Dec. 27, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) told firearm vendors that nearly-complete handgun frames or receivers—basically the pistol grip and firing mechanism—will be treated the same as fully completed firearms.
Ghost Gun Rule
Firearm vendors who sell near-complete pistol frames and receivers—often as kits that can be relatively easily turned into untraceable homemade guns—were hit with the new rule in August, which required that frames and receivers that could be “readily converted” into fully operational guns are subject to the same regulations as traditional firearms.
The August regulation, dubbed the Ghost Gun Rule, meant that kits containing partially complete frames or receivers plus assembly tools and instructions were subject to licensing, background check, and serialization requirements.
But ambiguity around the definition of the word “readily” in the regulation meant that some vendors continued to sell nearly-complete unserialized frames and receivers as standalone products while additional components needed to finalize their at-home manufacture were offered separately, or by third parties.
Such was the argument made in an October letter (pdf) by a dozen or so Democrat lawmakers to the ATF and Justice Department, which claimed that a number of ghost gun companies were continuing to sell unserialized frames and receivers by interpreting “readily” in a way that amounted to a loophole.
“The final rule, however, is clear and unambiguous: a nearly-complete frame or receiver is a firearm,” the lawmakers wrote.
“The rule does not cover only frames and receivers sold as part of a kit, but also frames and receivers that can be readily completed,” they continued, urging the ATF to issue enforcement guidance that basically expands the definition of what it means for pistol components to be considered as “readily converted” into a functional firearm.
They asked the ATF and the Justice Department to consider a nearly-completed frame or receiver as “readily convertible” not only when it’s sold as part of a kit containing things like jigs, molds, templates, and tools for assembly but also when such auxiliary equipment is available to the general public.
“In particular, we urge the Department and ATF to confirm that how ATF reviews the ‘readily convertible’ nature of a nearly-complete frame or receiver will not be limited to what tools, equipment, and instructions are included in the same sale or distribution of the part sold, but rather premised on the tools, equipment, and instructions that are readily available to the general public, including those easily obtainable online through third parties,” the lawmakers wrote.
ATF agreed and by issuing the new guidance, the agency is making clear that it will now be requiring relevant firearm frames to have serial numbers and to be sold by licensed dealers who carry out background checks just like with fully completed guns.
“Today’s open letter is another important step in implementing the crucial public safety rule regarding privately made firearms, or Ghost Guns,” ATF Director Steven Dettelbach said in a press release. “Ghost Guns can kill like other firearms if they are in the wrong hands, so they are treated as firearms under the law.”
According to explanatory remarks to the Ghost Gun Rule published in the Federal Register, from the beginning of 2016 to the end of 2021, there were around 45,000 homemade ghost guns recovered by law enforcement from potential crime scenes, including 692 homicides or attempted homicides.
Before Regulating ‘Ghost Guns,’ Enforce Existing Laws
Several current and former law enforcement members told The Epoch Times that the proliferation of ghost guns at crime scenes is a problem, but that being insufficiently tough on repeat offenders under current laws is a much bigger problem.
“If we are going to invest energy to fight crime, we should invest energy to get repeat offenders off the street,” Al Maresca, a deputy U.S. marshal in the District of Maryland, told The Epoch Times in an earlier interview.
“Felon in possession of a gun is already illegal, a straw purchase is already illegal—there are all these other laws on the books that we can be focusing our efforts on,” he added.
Roberto Alaniz, a recently retired sergeant from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), told The Epoch Times that focusing on ghost guns is unlikely to make a dent in violent crime.
“For me, it doesn’t matter if the gun is a ‘ghost gun’ or not, it is a gun, and the minute you start to use it to rob or kill, you should get consequences,” Alaniz said, adding that regulating privately made firearms is like getting into a “niche market,” as opposed to targeting the “mainstream market” of gun-related violence.
“We should punish the criminal behaviors, not the tools, to drive down crime,” he said.
Against the Constitution
Meanwhile, some critics of rules restricting homemade guns argue that such regulations go against the Constitution.
“The Constitution does not authorize the federal government to prevent you from making your own firearm. This is a fact that has been recognized for 200+ years,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), one of the critics, said in a post on Twitter.
Dudley Brown, president of the National Association for Gun Rights, also concluded that the action runs afoul of Americans’ rights.
The Biden administration “is making up unconstitutional gun control rules he can’t get through Congress,” Brown said in a statement.
“California already has this ban, and like all gun control, it failed to stop a recent shooting because it only restricts law-abiding gun owners, not criminals,” he said.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) took a similar angle, writing on social media that additional gun laws that restrict the Second Amendment “won’t make our cities safer.”
“We need to punish criminals, not criminalize law-abiding gun owners,” he said.
Cara Ding and Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.