Attorney General Bonta Files Amicus Brief in the Fifth Circuit, Continues Defense of ATF's Nationwide Rule to Protect Public From Ghost Guns

Wednesday, December 28, 2022
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OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today joined a coalition of 19 attorneys general in an amicus brief continuing the defense of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives' (ATF) rule that helps to protect the public from dangerous and untraceable ghost guns. Today's amicus brief, filed in the Fifth Circuit, supports ATF's appeal of a Texas district court decision granting a preliminary injunction in VanDerStok v. Garland and partially halting enforcement of ATF's Final Rule while litigation remains ongoing. The lawsuit, filed by individual gun owners and pro-gun groups, challenges the commonsense ATF rule that would help law enforcement protect communities from ghost guns. Ghost guns are unserialized weapons that allow unlicensed manufacturers and illegal possessors to bypass state laws, including California's requirements on firearm ownership recording and background checks, rendering them largely untraceable by law enforcement. The 19 attorneys general assert that the ATF rule is an important step to combating the rising tide of deadly illegal firearms being trafficked across state borders and endangering their communities.

“It takes as little as 15 minutes to build an untraceable ghost gun with the power to leave a trail of pain and devastation — that is why safeguards like ATF's nationwide, commonsense rule are so important,” said Attorney General Bonta. “California has been a leader in regulating ghost guns, but without similar regulations in all 50 states, ghost guns can still find their way into our state. ATF's nationwide rule will help crack down on the flow of illegal ghost guns across state borders and help us keep our communities safe. My office will continue to stand up for commonsense laws that protect Californians from senseless gun violence."

The ATF rule helps ensure that buyers in any state pass background checks before purchasing easily assembled weapon-part kits used to build ghost guns and helps law enforcement officers trace self-made guns that are later used in a crime. It also limits gun traffickers’ ability to distribute these dangerous weapons into California. Law enforcement agencies throughout California have expressed their concern for the growing trend of unregistered and untraceable ghost guns. The number of illegal ghost guns seized by law enforcement agencies throughout California has continued to rise drastically year after year. In 2015, California law enforcement agencies seized a total of 26 ghost guns. By 2021, that number has increased to 12,388.

Untraceable ghost guns have been used in multiple tragedies in California. In March 2022, a shooter who was banned from possessing guns killed his three children, a chaperone, and himself using a ghost gun at a church in Sacramento. In 2019, two Saugus High School students were killed and three were injured by a 16-year-old student using a ghost gun assembled from a kit. In November 2017, five people were killed and eight injured at multiple locations, including an elementary school, in Rancho Tehama Reserve. The shooter used homemade ghost guns and unregistered firearms. In June 2013, a shooter killed five people on and around the Santa Monica College campus using an AR-15-style ghost gun rifle.

Absent federal enforcement, these dangerous weapons have continued to proliferate, including in states that have tried to regulate ghost guns themselves, such as California. The ATF rule helps curb this problem by serving as a vital backstop to existing state efforts to stem the flow of ghost guns.

The rule regulates ghost guns by clarifying critical definitions in the Gun Control Act. Specifically, the rule makes it clear that weapon parts kits sold with partially complete frames or receivers — the key building blocks for ghost guns — are “firearms” under the Act. In making this sensible clarification, the rule helps ensure that these kits and partially complete frames or receivers are subject to the same serialization and background check requirements as conventionally manufactured guns. This helps narrow a dangerous loophole in firearms regulation that enabled people to evade existing gun laws and get their hands on these dangerous weapons.

The brief filed today argues that the rule falls within the Gun Control Act and was designed to fill in the gaps in state-by-state enforcement. The coalition further asserts that the rule complements state laws to regulate weapon parts kits and partially completed receivers.

This is the fifth time Attorney General Bonta has defended the ATF’s Final Rule. Earlier this year, he joined a brief in this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. He has also joined similar briefs for lawsuits pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, as well as another in the Fifth Circuit earlier this month.

California continues its efforts to advance laws and policies that save lives and prevent gun deaths. In 2021, California saw a 37% lower gun death rate than the national average. According to the CDC, California’s gun death rate was the 44th lowest in the nation, with 8.5 gun deaths per 100,000 people – compared to 13.7 deaths per 100,000 nationally, 28.6 in Mississippi, 20.7 in Oklahoma, and 14.2 in Texas. California’s gun death rate for children is also lower than other states, and is 58% lower than the national average.

Attorney General Bonta stands with partners to continue preventing gun violence strategically and aggressively by:

Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington.

A copy of the brief can be found here

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