NEW YORK – Yesterday, in a critical victory for gun safety in the courts, the United States Supreme Court once again ruled to keep in effect the Biden Administration’s life-saving ghost gun rule while the normal appellate process plays out, vindicating the Supreme Court’s own previous order keeping the Rule in place while appeals continue. The Court’s order requires two ghost gun distributors to comply with the rule, overturning a dangerous ruling from the Fifth Circuit exempting the distributors from compliance. This decision from the Supreme Court means that the Biden Administration’s rule remains in effect against all companies selling ghost gun kits while the appellate process continues.
“The gun industry refuses to innovate to make guns safer, but is all-too-happy to innovate around the laws here to keep Americans safe,” said Nick Suplina, Senior Vice President for Law and Policy at Everytown for Gun Safety. “By rejecting the Fifth Circuit’s dangerous ruling, the Supreme Court has delivered yet another setback to the gun lobby who have been fighting tooth and nail to prevent common-sense regulation of these deadly, untraceable ghost guns.”
“Ghost guns are a clear and growing threat to public safety and yesterday’s swift and unanimous rebuke of the Fifth Circuit makes clear that the Supreme Court will not tolerate lower court judges flouting its decisions in aid of the gun lobby’s extremist agenda,” said Eric Tirschwell, Executive Director of Everytown Law.
The rule, which was finalized in April last year and took effect last August, confirms that ghost guns are to be treated like the deadly firearms they are. ATF’s rule updated and clarified key definitions, including “firearm,” “frame,” and “receiver” to ensure that kits and components that are easily assembled into untraceable ghost guns are subject to the same regulations as firearms.
Following an extreme decision by a federal judge in the Northern District of Texas to block the ATF’s rule, the Fifth Circuit, without any meaningful explanation, declined to put the lower court’s order on hold, prompting the Supreme Court to intervene. In August, the Supreme Court decided to overrule the Texas court’s decision, allowing the rule to stay in effect. Flouting the Supreme Court’s order, the same federal judge in the Northern District of Texas again blocked ATF from enforcing the rule against two ghost gun distributors. The Fifth Circuit then affirmed the decision to block ATF enforcement against the two distributors. In requesting the Supreme Court to step in, the U.S. Solicitor General characterized the lower courts’ decisions as “extraordinary and unprecedented.”
The Washington Post recently reported on how American teenagers can, with ease, acquire the parts for ghost guns, often leading to deadly outcomes. Everytown Law recently filed a suit in Virginia on behalf of the estates of two 17-year-old Virginians who were shot and killed by an 18-year-old classmate using an unserialized, self-assembled ghost gun purchased from ghost gun seller 80P Builder.
ATF estimates that more than 45,000 ghost guns have been recovered by law enforcement between 2016 and 2021, and local law enforcement agencies are seeing staggering increases in rates of recovery — rising as much as 100 percent in the last three years in places like San Diego and Los Angeles. Other communities have seen significant ghost gun recoveries, with sharp increases in the past year. In 2022, ATF recovered 25,785 ghost guns in domestic seizures, as well as 2,453 through international operations. So far in 2023, the Department has recovered more than 10,000 privately made firearms (PMF’s) domestically and 1,000 internationally. According to the LAPD, the department recovered 1,921 ghost guns in 2021, more than double the 813 ghost guns recovered in 2020. In Philadelphia, the police reported recovering 571 ghost guns, compared to 95 in 2019 and 250 in 2020. Ghost guns have also been weapons of choice for militant right-wing extremists and people who otherwise would not be able to pass a background check. In recent months, the country has also seen an increase of gun fire on school grounds with ghost guns and recoveries of ghost guns on campuses. Schools in Arizona, New Mexico, Maryland, and Kansas have been devastated with these instances of gun fire on school grounds – highlighting a scary trend and another important reason to regulate these guns.
Everytown has compiled examples of ghost gun shootings from across the country since 2013, available here. Everytown’s report on ghost guns, featuring testimonials from law enforcement officers, can be found here.