OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced support of a Proposed Rule by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) that would clarify the agency’s definition of what qualifies as a firearm. In a comment letter to the ATF, the Attorney General lauded the agency for its reversal of a prior determination that so-called “80 percent” frames and receivers, which are commonly used to assemble untraceable ghost guns, are not firearms under the Gun Control Act (GCA). Last year, the California Department of Justice (DOJ) and Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence led a coalition in filing a lawsuit demanding the ATF change its interpretation of the GCA and classify these frames and receivers as firearms subject to federal firearm statutes and regulations.
“We applaud the Biden Administration for taking steps to enforce commonsense gun regulation at the federal level,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Right now, do-it-yourself ghost gun kits allow anyone with a credit card and an internet connection to purchase and build a fully operable, untraceable weapon in minutes with little to no restriction. In California, we know this is a problem which is why we regulate ghost guns the same way we do other firearms. However, our borders are not impenetrable which means kits bought elsewhere can be brought into our state. The ATF’s Proposed Rule will bring federal law up to speed with California law, and make it clear that unfinished frames and receivers are firearms, and will be regulated as such.”
"Ghost guns exist only to undermine strong gun safety laws,” said Adzi Vokhiwa, Federal Affairs Director, Giffords. “The Biden Administration’s proposed rule will close the loopholes that have allowed these weapons to proliferate, especially among people who are prohibited from possessing guns. We commend Attorney General Bonta for supporting this important rule, and thank him for his strong leadership in the face of this rising threat."
The ATF’s previous interpretation of the GCA has led to the proliferation of ghost guns in California and throughout the country. According to the ATF, as of 2019, 30% of all firearms recovered in California were not serialized. In addition, Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence found that in Los Angeles from 2015 to 2019, the number of ghost guns recovered increased by 144%. Alarmingly, in San Francisco, while no ghost guns were recovered in 2015, ghost gun recoveries increased by 1,517% between 2016 to 2019.
Ghost gun kits, which commonly contain unfinished frames and receivers, can be sold by unlicensed sellers and later made into untraceable firearms at home. They contain the components of a nearly complete firearm that can be assembled into a fully functional weapon in as little as 15 minutes. Under the ATF’s current interpretation of the GCA, buyers of these kits do not have to undergo a background check before purchasing unfinished frames and receivers, and the resulting firearm is ultimately untraceable because in most states they are not required to have a serial number.
The serialization requirements of the Proposed Rule will help bring federal law in line with California’s own existing law, which mandates that anyone who manufactures or assembles lawful firearms in the state apply to DOJ for a unique serial number for each of their self-made firearms.
In today’s letter, Attorney General Bonta applauded the Biden Administration for the Proposed Rule. However, he also urged the ATF to consider an improvement to the Rule. As it stands, the Proposed Rule will only extend the requirement to serialize Privately Made Firearms (PMFs) – in many cases, ghost guns – to licensees, which will exclude firearms currently owned by non-licensees. In California, the law requires all owners to serialize their PMFs. In his letter, the Attorney General asked the agency to extend the same requirements at the federal level in order to address the possibility of a subset of ghost guns not being serialized and therefore remaining untraceable by law enforcement.
A copy of the letter is available here.