The Supreme Court Revives Biden Administration’s Regulation of “Ghost Guns”
The Supreme Court has recently brought attention to the issue of “ghost guns,” which are firearms that can be assembled from kits. The Biden administration has sought to regulate these homemade guns due to their increasing popularity, particularly among criminals who cannot buy traditional guns. The regulation, implemented by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), expands the definition of a firearm and requires manufacturers and sellers to obtain licenses, mark their products with serial numbers, and conduct background checks.
What are Ghost Guns?
Unlike traditional firearms, ghost guns are sold in parts and can be assembled by unlicensed buyers at home. Prior to the Biden administration’s regulations, background checks were not required to obtain the components of a ghost gun. These guns are typically sold online as D.I.Y. kits, often referred to as “80 percent receivers,” meaning they are 80 percent complete and buyers must assemble the final 20 percent themselves. One key feature of ghost guns is the absence of serial numbers, which makes it difficult for law enforcement agencies to trace the gun’s origin.
Assembling a Ghost Gun
Assembling a ghost gun is relatively easy and inexpensive. According to a report by Everytown for Gun Safety, an AR-15 build kit can cost as little as $345. The kits come with instructions or YouTube tutorials, and usually require only a drill for assembly. Some kits also include a “jig” to make assembly easier. These guns can be completed quickly, with some sites claiming it takes less than 15 minutes. YouTube instructional videos on building ghost guns have accumulated millions of views.
The History of Ghost Guns
Ghost guns have been available since the 1990s, but their popularity surged around 2009 when firearm sellers in California began offering unfinished receivers to bypass assault weapons laws. The issue gained national attention in 2013 when a gunman used a ghost gun in a shooting near Santa Monica College. Sales of ghost guns increased further in 2016, as kits became available to recreate the Glock 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol.
Prevalence of Ghost Guns
Prior to the recent regulations, it was difficult to determine the exact number of ghost guns in circulation due to the absence of serial numbers and background checks. However, data suggests that ghost guns are becoming increasingly prevalent, especially in states like California with strict firearm laws. Law enforcement officials in California reported that 25 to 50 percent of firearms recovered at crime scenes between 2020 and 2021 were ghost guns. In 2018, the Justice Department seized 19,300 homemade guns, a significant increase compared to previous years.
Link to Mass Shootings
Ghost guns have been linked to some mass shootings, such as incidents in a California high school in 2019 and in Northern California in 2017. However, analysts argue that ghost guns are not disproportionately connected to mass shootings. Instead, their impact is more significant in day-to-day gun violence, especially in communities of color across the country.
Effectiveness of the Regulation
The Biden administration’s regulation of ghost guns has faced limitations. Executive action can only achieve so much, and critics argue that the regulation has not effectively curbed the sale of key parts used for ghost guns. To address this, the administration has directed vendors to label partially finished handguns with serial numbers and require background checks for these parts. Democrats are pushing for stronger enforcement of the rule, but officials warn that this could lead to more legal challenges. The gun lobby opposes the regulation and conservative legal groups have already filed lawsuits against it, alleging violations of existing firearms laws and Second Amendment rights.
Contributor: Adam Liptak