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Cities, With Support From Everytown, Sue to Compel Trump Administration to Address Growing Threat From ‘Ghost Guns’


Lawsuit Alleges that ATF’s Dangerous and Erroneous Interpretation Of Critical Gun Safety Law Allows Explosive Growth of Unregulated Firearms that are Increasingly Being used to Commit Gun Violence and other Crimes

Suit Seeks To Overturn and Correct ATF’s Current Misinterpretation of Gun Control Act and Confirm That Serial Numbers, Background Checks Are Required for the Core Components of Ghost Guns

NEW YORK — The cities of Syracuse, NY, San Jose, CA, Chicago, IL, and Columbia, SC filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York today seeking a court order compelling the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to address the growing public safety threat posed by ghost guns. Everytown for Gun Safety is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit. According to published reports and Everytown research, ghost guns are a rapidly growing problem nationwide. Recently, 60 Minutes reported that at least 38 states have seen criminal cases involving ghost guns.

The federal Gun Control Act already provides the framework for regulating the core components of ghost guns–the frame of a pistol and the receiver of a rifle — but, as alleged in the lawsuit, ATF has refused to apply and enforce the clear terms of this federal law, opting instead to give online sellers the green-light and leaving these core components completely unregulated. In light of the growing number of ghost guns turning up at crime scenes — as well as the ATF’s mission to reduce the risk to public safety by firearms trafficking and the criminal possession and use of firearms — today’s lawsuit asks the court to:

  • Set aside and declare unlawful ATF’s erroneous rule and determinations that the core components of ghost guns do not qualify as “firearms” under federal law, and; 
  • Confirm that these core ghost gun components are “firearms” under federal law and are therefore subject to the foundational federal regulatory requirements of having a serial number and a background check with every firearm sale.

Everytown Law represents the four cities in the lawsuit. The law firm Cooley LLP is co-counsel with Everytown Law for plaintiffs Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund and Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund.

“ATF’s failures mean it is far too easy for anyone with a credit card and a computer to get their hands on an untraceable gun with no serial number without ever having to leave their home,” said Eric Tirschwell, managing director for Everytown Law, the litigation arm of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. “Despite the unique threat posed by ghost guns, our lawsuit today alleges that the ATF is violating federal law and refusing to take action to protect the public. This case is about keeping guns out of the hands of individuals with dangerous histories, and ensuring that those who use guns to commit crimes can be held accountable.”

“Like cities across the nation, Syracuse is suffering from the proliferation of ghost guns. Through the end of July, our City has experienced a 30% increase in recovered ghost guns,” said Mayor Ben Walsh of Syracuse, NY. “In December of last year, a six-year-old boy in Syracuse was seriously injured by gunfire from one of these untraceable weapons. The Syracuse Police Department is working hard to address the threat locally. The ATF is in a position to address the flow of ghost guns upstream. Every day that it doesn’t is another day these guns continue to wash into American cities, leaving local communities less safe.”

By avoiding background checks and omitting serial numbers, ghost guns have rapidly become the weapon of choice for traffickers, abusers, and extremists,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo of San Jose, CA. “Our communities suffer from too many acts of senseless gun violence. We don’t have the luxury of waiting for ATF and the federal government to live up to their responsibilities, uphold the law, and protect our citizens; we must compel them to do so in the court of law.” 

“As I’ve said many times, if the federal government really wants to help cities like Chicago address our gun violence crisis, there are several things they can do, like universal background checks and closing simple loopholes. This lawsuit underscores our ongoing efforts to stop gun violence,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago, IL. “It’s simple – individuals with dangerous histories shouldn’t be able to order lethal weapons on the internet with a few quick clicks.”
“Untraceable guns are flowing into America’s neighborhoods and we need the ATF to stand with our families and communities, not to give their stamp of approval to this unconscionable behavior,” said Mayor Steve Benjamin of Columbia, S.C. “It shouldn’t take a lawsuit to stop ghost guns from hitting the streets of our cities, but if this is what it takes, we will stand with American families in this fight, all of the way.”

“I shouldn’t have the scar of a .45 caliber bullet on my stomach, and I shouldn’t know what it’s like to lose my best friend while standing in the quad of my high school,” said Mia Tretta, a 15-year-old student who was wounded in the shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California, which was carried out with a ghost gun. “Something has to change. I don’t have the power to make this change yet, but there are government officials who do.”

A ghost gun is a do-it-yourself, homemade gun made from easy-to-get, building blocks that are unregulated under the ATF’s current interpretation of federal law. These guns are finished by an individual, not a federally licensed manufacturer or importer. Ghost guns are one of the fastest-growing gun safety problems facing our country. 

The ATF’s current interpretation of federal law — which the lawsuit seeks to have set aside as unlawful — allows people who can’t legally own a firearm to easily buy the parts for a ghost gun. In only a few hours, these self-made weapons become fully functioning, untraceable firearms. A person can buy the parts and assemble a ghost gun without even receiving a background check

Research by Everytown shows ghost guns are becoming a weapon of choice for people with felony convictions, gun traffickers, and other people legally prohibited from owning guns. 

Read more here.