Attorney General Bonta: Ghost Guns are Firearms and Need to Be Regulated Under Federal Law

Monday, March 11, 2024
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OAKLAND  California Attorney General Rob Bonta today joined a coalition of 20 attorneys general urging the United States Supreme Court to review a decision from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that held that a rule by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) regulating ghost guns was inconsistent with the federal Gun Control Act of 1968. The coalition filed the brief in support of ATF defending the “Final Rule” in VanDerStok v. Garland that went into effect in January 2023, and recognizes that weapon parts kits and certain partially complete frames and receivers are “firearms” under the Gun Control Act. Under federal law, manufacturers and dealers must keep records of, conduct background checks on, and serialize “firearms” to prevent them from falling into the hands of children or criminals—and to allow the weapons to be traced if they are used to commit crimes. ATF issued the rule to impose those requirements on ghost guns.

“These requirements are crucial in keeping ghost guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals and critical to preventing and solving violent, firearm-related crimes,” said Attorney General Bonta. “In the state of California, we have seen firsthand the effectiveness of our commonsense gun laws and it is imperative that similar laws are implemented nationwide. Each year, an increasing number of unregistered firearms and components find their way into our state from areas with laxer gun control laws. This not only leaves law enforcement in the dark but also puts our communities at risk. It is a heartbreaking reality that children and teenagers in our country are more likely to lose their lives due to guns than any illness or accident. We cannot accept this as the norm which is why I am committed to advocating for regulations by the ATF in order to ensure the well-being and security of all Californians.” 

The lawsuit, filed by individual gun owners and pro-gun groups, seeks to block ATF’s rule that would help law enforcement protect communities from ghost guns, or illegal firearms that lack a serial number. The unserialized weapons 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. This is the fourth time Attorney General Bonta has defended the ATF’s rule, as he joined similar briefs for lawsuits pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakotathe U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas and another in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. 

The rule regulates ghost guns by applying critical definitions in the Gun Control Act. Specifically, the rule makes it clear that weapon parts kits and partially complete frames or receivers — the key building blocks for ghost guns — are “firearms” under the Act if they can be readily converted to function as such or are sold with a compatible jig or template. In applying the definition of “firearms” to ghost guns, 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 close a dangerous loophole in firearms regulation that enabled people to evade existing gun laws and traffic ghost guns into states, like California, that prohibit 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.

A copy of the brief can be found here.



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