New federal rule will regulate 'ghost guns' police say are used in violent crimes

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Police across the country cited upticks in the number of so-called 'ghost guns' used in violent crimes.

On Monday the Biden administration announced the adoption of a new final federal rule that will classify so-called "ghost guns" as firearms.

According to the anti-gun violence organization Brady:

Ghost guns are unserialized and untraceable firearms that can be bought online and assembled at home. They are often sold through "ghost gun kits," which include all of the parts and often the equipment necessary to build these weapons at home. These kits are widely available and can be purchased by anyone, including prohibited purchasers, domestic abusers, and gun traffickers — without a background check.

Currently, gun components such as frames and receivers are allowed to be sold without being subject to federal gun regulations. In recent years, police departments have cited a massive increase in the number of ghost guns that have been confiscated in connection with criminal investigations.

The federal rule will for the first time since the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968 change the federal definition of what counts as a "firearm" to include the ghost gun parts, which can be purchased online or printed on a 3D printer.

The White House said the new rule will require retailers who sell ghost guns kits to be federally licensed and to conduct background checks on buyers before sales are completed, as is currently done for gun purchases.

In a USA Today op-ed published on Monday, Attorney General Merrick Garland wrote, "These changes will make it harder for criminals and other prohibited persons to get their hands on untraceable guns. They will help ensure that law enforcement officers can get the information they need to solve crimes."

According to a White House statement issued on Monday, police departments throughout the country reported the seizure of 20,000 ghost guns to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in 2021, 10 times the number of guns they reported in 2016.

The Los Angeles Police Department reported that it recovered 1,921 ghost guns in 2021, more than double the 813 guns they confiscated in 2020. Similarly, police in New York City said they confiscated 375 ghost guns in 2021, while Philadelphia police said they took in 571 of the guns.

The New York Post reported that "law enforcement sources" had said they believed a ghost gun was involved in a shooting on Friday that killed a 16-year-old girl from the Bronx.

Police in Houston, Texas, said that a suspect involved in a January shoot-out with police officers there had guns with parts printed on a 3D printer, which was found in his home after the standoff. Three officers were shot during the confrontation, and the suspect has been charged with three counts of attempted capital murder.

Police said that a 16-year-old used a gun assembled from a kit in a shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California, in August 2019 that killed two students and wounded three others.

Mia Tretta, one of the students who was shot, has sued the online company that sold the parts. The suit alleges that the father of the shooter, who was prohibited from purchasing firearms, bought the kit to make the gun and was not subject to restrictions or a background check.

Tretta, now a volunteer leader with the gun violence prevention group Students Demand Action, praised the Biden administration's rule.

"Finalizing this rule is a critical step to making sure no one else has to go through what my family has had to go through. I'm thankful to the Administration for its leadership in this space," she noted in a statement.

In February, the Biden administration launched the Ghost Gun Enforcement Initiative, which will train prosecutors to address ghost gun usage and will designate ATF "ghost gun coordinators" in its field divisions.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.