Attorney General Bonta Joins Brief in Support of Federal Rule to Regulate Ghost Guns

Monday, July 11, 2022
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Urges more national action to end the gun violence epidemic 

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today joined the District of Columbia and 19 states in filing an amicus brief supporting an important new federal rule regulating unserialized and untraceable ghost guns. Ghost guns are illegal firearms that are not serialized, which allows unlicensed manufacturers and illegal possessors to bypass standard California requirements such as firearm ownership recording and background checks, rendering them largely untraceable by law enforcement. The rule will help ensure that buyers in any state pass background checks before purchasing easily assembled weapon-part kits used to build ghost guns or partially complete firearm frames or receivers, and that law enforcement officers can trace self-made guns that are later used in a crime. It would also limit gun traffickers’ ability to distribute these dangerous weapons into California.

“When firearms that do not meet California safety standards are built at home by individuals who have not passed a background check and have not had their guns properly serialized, it leaves law enforcement in the dark and hurts public safety,” said Attorney General Bonta. “There have been more mass shootings in the nation than days in the year in 2022. In California, we know our protective measures work, but we need to see such action nationwide. I am in support of stronger federal efforts to curb the gun violence sweeping our country and the killing of thousands of Americans, including children. We refuse to accept that gun deaths are somehow normal when we know that there are effective strategies to stop them. My office will continue to use every legal tool available to end this gun violence epidemic and to keep Californians safe.” 

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.

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. 

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 Final Rule from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) helps curb this problem by serving as a vital backstop to existing state efforts to stem the flow of ghost guns. 

The ATF’s Final Rule regulates ghost guns by clarifying critical definitions in the Gun Control Act. Specifically, the Final 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. In making this sensible clarification, the Final 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 get their hands on these dangerous weapons. 

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 the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin in filing the brief.

A copy of the brief is available here.


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