Today, President Joseph Biden made two major gun-related announcements: that so-called “ghost guns” will now be restricted by new federal regulations, and his nomination for the new director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Steve Dettelbach.
Biden announced the new “ghost gun” rules from the Rose Garden Monday afternoon alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco. Going forward, any unfinished firearm frame or receiver must be serialized and must be sold and transferred as if it were a completed frame or receiver, or complete firearm.
The new rules will “clarify that the unfinished parts sold in the kits, such as the frame of a handgun or the receiver of a long gun, will qualify as firearms under federal law. Commercial manufacturers of the kits will have to be licensed and must add serial numbers on the kits’ frame or receiver,” according to Biden and USA Today.
The kits and parts can still be bought online, but like firearms, they would have to be shipped to a Federal Firearms License holder (FFL), who will then perform a NICS background check and transfer the part to the purchaser.
“A year ago this week standing here with many of you I instructed the Attorney General to write a regulation that would rein in the proliferation of ghost guns because I was having trouble getting passed in the Congress,” said Biden, admitting he championed the rule change to circumvent the lawmaking process. “I used what we call regulatory authority. A year later. We’re here, we keep that promise.”
“The gun lobby tried to tie up the regulators and paperwork for a long, long time,” he continued. ”The NRA called this rule that I’m about to announce extreme. But let me ask you, is it extreme to protect police officers? Extreme to protect our children? Extreme to keep guns out of the hands of people who couldn’t even pass a background check?
“Look, the idea that someone on a terrorist list could purchase one of these guns is extreme, isn’t extreme [sic], it’s just basic common sense.
“If you buy a couch you have to assemble, it’s still a couch. If you order a package like this one over here (referring to an 80% handgun frame kit on display) that includes the parts you need and the instructions to assemble it into a functioning firearm, you bought a gun. Take a look. This is a gun. It’s not hard to put together — a little drill, a hand drill at home. Doesn’t take very long. Anyone can order it in the mail. Anyone, folks. A felon, a terrorist, a domestic abuser can go from a gun kit to a gun in as little as 30 minutes. Buyers aren’t required to pass background checks. Because guns have no serial numbers, these guns, when they show up at a crime scene, they can’t be traced. Harder to find and prove who used them. Means you can’t connect the gun to the shooter.”
“These guns are weapons of choice for many criminals,” Biden added. “We’re gonna do everything we can to deprive them of that choice. And when we find them, put them in jail for a long, long time. Law enforcement is sounding the alarm. Our communities are paying the price and we’re acting today.”
The new rules will also reportedly “[take] steps to see that serial numbers are added to ghost guns already in circulation,” though the exact process has not been revealed.
The Justice Department will require licensed dealers and gunsmiths taking any unserialized firearm into inventory to add a serial number to that firearm. So if an 80% receiver was built into a firearm and is sold to or through an FFL, then that FFL must add a serial number to it before selling it to a customer. The new rules require FFLs to keep sales records of these components until they shut down their business, at which time they will be transferred to the ATF (as they are currently required to do with firearm sales).
The new regs also cover 3D-printed components. “The requirement will apply regardless of how the firearm was made, whether it’s assembled from individual parts, kits, or by 3D printers.”
Proponents of the new regulations say they must be implemented because “ghost guns” are increasingly being found at crime scenes and in the hands of criminals.
The ATF says about 20,000 suspected ghost guns were recovered by law enforcement during criminal investigations last year, which represents “a ten-fold increase in reported ghost guns compared to 2016” — a statistic Biden mentioned in his address, which was wrapped in a flurry of worn-out anti-gun talking points.
UPDATE – 4/12/22: The Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) released a statement Monday evening addressing the new regulations and raising concerns over the as yet unknown ramifications of the new ATF regulations.
“Biden’s proposed rule to eliminate so-called ‘ghost guns’ would create an entirely new class of highly regulated items by redefining the term ‘firearm’ to include a host of parts, and collections of parts ATF now considers ‘readily’ convertible into functional firearms. This move calls into question the legality of an unknowable number of parts and kits purchased by peaceable people for decades,” the statement said.
“The rule, which raises serious concerns about executive overreach and separation of powers, is yet another assault by the Biden administration on the rights and liberties of everyday gun owners,” the statement continues. “FPC condemns in the strongest terms this attack on the American tradition of home gunmaking and any effort to disarm or criminalize peaceable people.”
During his address, Biden repeated his debunked claim about the Second Amendment restricting the types of firearms people could buy and own when the Bill of Rights was written, and about whether or not a regular person could buy a cannon in the 1770s, followed by a somewhat rambling anecdote that has been heard before about hunting in Delaware and deer not wearing Kevlar as a justification for a magazine ban.
He also outlined a wish list of gun control measures he hopes to enact, including an “assault weapons” ban, a standard-capacity magazine ban, and the implementation of universal background checks.
“I know it’s controversial, but I got it done once — ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines,” Biden said, referring to the Federal Assault Weapons Ban passed in 1994 that he championed as a Senator, which was so effective that it was unceremoniously allowed to expire in 2004.
“And this role is only part of our strategy to go after ghost guns,” Biden said. “In February, the Department of Justice launched a national Ghost Gun Enforcement Initiative and intensified our efforts to bring cases against those who use ghost guns illegally. We’re teaching investigators and prosecutors best practices, how to build these cases, and assigning a coordinator in each of the ATF field divisions to serve as a point person for federal, state, and local law enforcement. Go after ghost guns. If you commit a crime with a ghost gun, expect federal prosecution.”
Opponents of the new regulations say that if “ghost guns” are truly the scourge the White House is painting them to be, then this is not the way to address the problem.
Rep. Thomas Massie and other Second Amendment organizations are already pushing back against the new “ghost gun” rules, calling them unconstitutional.
“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. Also, Article 1, Section 1 (literally the first operative sentence in the Constitution) says Congress makes law, not POTUS!” Rep. Thomas Massie tweeted Sunday.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the firearm industry trade association, issued a statement today after Biden’s announcement. The organization says it’s also in the process of monitoring the submission of the new “ghost gun” regs by the Department of Justice, which is being called the Final Rule.
“To redefine frames and receivers [would] significantly alter the sale and possession of not only personally-made firearms (PFMs) but numerous other types and models as well,” the NSSF statement says. “NSSF will review the Final Rule carefully to see if DOJ listened and took into consideration the industry’s comments that were submitted.”
In a tweet, the prominent gun-rights organization Gun Owners of America (GOA) agreed with Massie saying, “Biden’s proposal to create a comprehensive national gun registry and end the online sale of gun parts without the passage of a new law exemplifies his disregard for the Second Amendment.”
“As proposed, this rule radically alters the manufacturing and compliance processes for manufacturers of traditional firearms, not just the making of incomplete, unfinished parts Congress has not chosen to regulate.” the NSSF said in its statement.
Unfinished firearm frames and receivers are not operational as-is; they require the purchaser to complete additional steps before they can be assembled as part of a working firearm. A jig and at least a drill press are typically required to complete such a build correctly, and, of course, the knowledge to fine-tune and assemble that part into a firearm along with the other necessary components.
If a firearm is found to have been used in a crime and it still has its serial number on it, that serial number can only be traced back, in theory, to the gun’s point of sale. If a gun is lost or stolen after that sale, the serial number likely won’t do much to aid an investigation.
It should also be noted that it is perfectly legal for U.S. citizens, if they have the means and skill, to fabricate a firearm for their own personal use.
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As for Dettelbach, the White House drew attention to his 20-year career as a prosecutor at the DOJ as well as a record of taking on criminal gang activity, domestic extremism, and experience with “data-driven strategies to fight community gun violence.”
He served as a U.S. attorney for the northern district of Ohio during the Obama administration before resigning in 2016.
During an unsuccessful bid for Ohio attorney general in 2018, Dettelbach said he wanted to reinstate an “assault weapon ban” and was a proponent of universal background checks.
The NSSF said in its statement that whoever is in charge of the ATF must be an individual “who will faithfully execute the duties of regulating the firearm industry in accordance with established laws and regulations. Any nominee for this position of public trust, that has direct oversight of how law-abiding Americans are able to exercise their Second Amendment rights, must be a person wedded to the rule of law, and one that will not politicize the ATF to advance a partisan gun control agenda that exceeds what is established in law by the U.S. Congress.”
Biden previously nominated David Chipman to head the ATF. After it was revealed that he had strong connections to anti-gun organizations, the nomination was withdrawn.
The NSSF said it will thoroughly examine Dettelbach’s record, qualifications, and his forthcoming testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“NSSF has significant concerts regarding Dettelbach’s previous public statements supporting bans on Modern Sporting Rifles (MSRs), or AR-15 semiautomatic rifles, universal background checks, which are unworkable without a national firearm registry that is already forbidden by federal law, and extreme-risk protection orders, or so-called ‘red flag’ laws, without protections for Due Process considerations,” the NSSF statement says.
“Dettelbach was also previously endorsed by the gun control group, Everytown for Gun Safety, for his support for policies restricting Second Amendment rights.”
UPDATE 4/12/22: The FPC strongly condemned Dettelbach’s nomination in its statement, calling him an “anti-Second Amendment zealot.”
“Dettelbach has led a career marked by proposals of radical gun-control measures, including semiautomatic firearm bans, the absurd expansion of mythical ‘gun-free zones,’ and universal background checks,” the FPC said in its statement. “Dettelbach’s support comes from anti-rights organizations, and his nomination is nothing short of a stealth attempt by the Biden Administration to appoint someone with the same radical values as David Chipman, but without the extensive public paper trail.”
Exactly when the new “ghost gun” regulations go into effect, and other related details, are expected to be released soon.
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