Ghost Guns — The number of mass shootings in the United States have skyrocketed in the past decade, with most of the perpetrators using assault rifles to unleash terror on the masses. Although the rifles have been the focus of many regulation battles, another type of weapon has emerged as a serious potential threat: ghost guns.
What are ghost guns?
According to Brady United, ghost guns are unserialized and untraceable weapons that can be bought online and assembled. These firearms are usually sold through “ghost gun kits.” They consist of all the necessary parts that still make the weapon functional.
Ghost guns are made of unfinished frames or receivers, operating parts that fall out of regulation. Once assembled, these weapons have the look, feel, and function of a traditional gun. Critics of the firearms have described them as being attractive to people legally prohibited from buying traditional guns.
These types of weapons are dangerous for the following reasons:
- They avoid all gun laws
- Ghost guns are untraceable and unserialized
- Anyone can buy them without going through a background check
The Supreme Court takes action
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court agreed to freeze a lower court order barring the government from regulating ghost guns. The order would allow for the Biden administration’s request to allow regulations to stay in effect as legal challenges play out.
The vote concluded 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts and fellow conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett siding with the court’s three liberals to let the rule take effect. Meanwhile, three justices denied the application:
- Clarence Thomas
- Samuel Alito
- Neil Gorsuch
- Brett Kavanaugh
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives updated its regulations in 2022, defining ghost gun kits as firearms under law, allowing the government to carefully track them.
The rule doesn’t prohibit the sale or possession or block people from buying ghost gun kits. However, it does require compliance with federal laws imposing conditions on the commercial sale of firearms. The conditions include requirements that commercial manufacturers and sellers have to mark products with serial numbers as well as keep records to allow law enforcement to trace the weapons if they are used in crimes.
In late June, Judge Reed O’Connor of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas held that the agency exceeded authority in promoting the rule and blocking it across the country. Meanwhile, a federal appeals court passed over putting two key challenged provisions of the regulation on hold.
Warnings and challenges
During an emergency filing with the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar cautioned that police departments across the United States have dealt with a surge of crimes involving ghost guns in the last several years.
“Congress recognized that limiting the federal firearms laws to functional firearms would invite evasion, and it thus broadly defined ‘firearm’ to include any weapon ‘that will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive,’” Prelogar wrote.
Two Texas residents who own components they plan to manufacture into ghost guns for personal use brought the challenge to the ATF regulations. The rule blocks them from directly buying additional parts. Several retailers of ghost gun kits and a gun rights’ group also challenged the rule.
Lawyers for the people opposing the rule said the lower court judge “correctly held” that the ATF exceeded its authority in agreeing to “extend the definition” of firearms to include parts for ghost guns.
“The Gun Control Act of 1968 reflects a fundamental policy choice by Congress to regulate the commercial market for firearms while leaving the law-abiding citizens of this Country free to exercise their right to make firearms for their own use without overbearing federal regulation,” argued attorney David Thompson in court papers.
Judge Reed O’Connor noted in his order that Congress’ definition of a firearm doesn’t extend to parts or aggregations of weapons parts regardless of whether those parts can be assembled into something that could fire a projectile.
“Even if it is true that such an interpretation creates loopholes that as a policy matter should be avoided, it is not the role of the judiciary to correct them,” wrote O’Connor at the time.