Earlier this week, the Biden Administration announced the “Frame or Receiver” Final Rule concerning increased regulations for ghost guns. When the measure is implemented, it will revise the definition of firearms, allowing for greater traceability of ghost guns and assisting law enforcement officials in investigating and prosecuting individuals who committed crimes using ghost guns.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, law enforcement officials reported about 20,000 ghost gun-related crimes to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in 2021. Yet, prosecuting offenders proved challenging because authorities could not trace the firearms to a specific owner or dealer. When the final rule goes into effect, prosecution of federal weapons crimes may likely increase, as measures will be in place to determine and detect the source of ghost guns used to facilitate offenses.
What Is a Ghost Gun?
Generally, a ghost gun is a firearm without a serial number. Typically, a person privately manufactures these weapons in their home using everyday tools, like a power drill.
Most ghost guns are purchased as kits. The kit contains all the necessary parts to build a functional firearm that discharges ammunition as a traditional gun.
Ghost guns can also be made by purchasing individual parts and assembling them at home or buying plans online and building the weapon using a 3D printer.
Because they are sold in pieces – or not fully assembled – ghost guns do not meet the current definition of a firearm. Therefore, they are not subject to the same regulations. Specifically, there is no requirement for them to have a serial number. Additionally, an individual interested in purchasing a ghost gun does not need to pass a background check before doing so.
The loopholes concerning ghost guns make it so that anyone can purchase and possess a firearm, including those prohibited by law from owning one.
Are Ghost Guns Illegal in the U.S.?
Ghost guns themselves are not illegal. Current federal definitions do not identify them as firearms because they are not fully assembled when they’re sold. Federal restrictions do not prohibit the purchase of ghost gun kits or gun parts.
Once they’re put together, though, ghost guns operate like traditional firearms. They can then be used to commit or further illegal acts. For instance, a person might use a privately made firearm in relation to a federal drug crime, prohibited under 18 USC 924(c) and punishable by anywhere from not less than 5 years in prison to life.
Additionally, ghost guns are a public safety concern. They can put weapons in the hands of individuals who state and/or federal law ban from having firearms. Under 18 USC 922(g), persons convicted of felonies, misdemeanor domestic violence, or who are fugitives from justice, among others, cannot lawfully transport, possess, or receive guns.
Several states have laws that place regulations on ghost guns while not necessarily making them illegal. For instance, California Penal Code § 29010 provides that firearm manufacturers must be licensed if they manufacture 50 or more firearms in the state. According to California Penal Code § 16520(g), the term “firearm” includes weapons with unfinished frames or receivers.
Individuals who purchase and construct firearm kits must apply to the California Department of Justice for a serial number for their gun. They must engrave or affix the serial number to the firearm as required by law (California Penal Code § 29180).
How Does the “Frame or Receiver” Final Rule Effect Ghost Guns?
Ghost guns are easily obtainable and difficult to track. More and more, law enforcement officials are recovering these weapons during criminal investigations. To combat gun-related crimes in the U.S., the Department of Justice established the “Frame or Receiver” Final Rule.
The final rule will not place a ban on ghost guns. Rather, it will update the way firearms are defined. The current definition of a firearm does not include those that can be purchased as a kit and assembled at home. When the final rule takes effect, the definition will be amended to include privately made firearms.
Ghost guns will then be treated like traditional firearms for regulatory purposes to close the loophole allowing dealers and purchasers to sell or acquire guns without serial numbers and without passing a background check.
The “Frame or Receiver” Final Rule will require:
- Ghost gun commercial manufacturers to be licensed
- Ghost gun commercial manufacturers to include serial numbers on the kits’ frame or receiver (the part of the gun that contains the firing mechanism)
- Ghost gun commercial sellers to be licensed and run background checks
The requirements attempt to curb the proliferation of ghost gun-related crimes by making it harder for bad actors to obtain weapons and easier for law enforcement officials to track the sources of privately made firearms.
The “Frame or Receiver” Final Rule comes on the heels of the Department of Justice’s National Ghost Gun Enforcement Initiative, launched in February of 2022. The initiative also seeks to rein in ghost gun-related crime by training prosecutors and giving authorities the resources they need to investigate these offenses.
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