Oregon Joins Coalition Arguing for Federal Regulation of Deadly Ghost Guns

December 17, 2020
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19 Attorneys General Say the Proliferation of Untraceable Firearms Endangers the Public and Impedes Criminal Investigations and Prosecutions

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has joined a coalition of 19 attorneys general urging a federal court to compel the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to properly regulate untraceable, partially-assembled “ghost guns.” In an amicus brief filed in Syracuse v. ATF in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the coalition argues that since 2015, the agency has relied on an improper reading of the Gun Control Act to allow unlicensed online retailers to sell nearly-complete firearm kits that are easily converted into fully-functioning firearms. Because the guns are unregulated and untraceable, they put the public’s safety at risk in the amici states and hamper the ability of law enforcement to investigate and prosecute criminal activity.

“Untraceable, easily-assembled ghost guns make it too easy for people prohibited from having guns to skirt the law,” Attorney General Rosenblum said. “They pose a grave danger to our communities. It’s time to require the federal government to regulate these lethal weapons.”

From the 1980s through the early 2000s, ATF classified the core components of handguns and rifles—frames and receivers—as “firearms” subject to federal regulation if the components could be quickly and easily converted into functioning guns. In 2015, however, the agency reversed course without explanation and issued an interpretive rule stating that these rifle receivers and handgun frames were not considered firearms under the Gun Control Act. The about-face has spawned an unlicensed and unregulated online industry in which these ghost guns, so-called because they have no serial numbers and leave no identifying marks on bullet casings, can be sold to any consumer without a background check.

On August 26, Everytown for Gun Safety and four cities filed a suit against the ATF and the U.S. Department of Justice alleging that the agencies’ interpretation of the Gun Control Act is unlawful. In their amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs’ claims, the AG coalition asserts that:

  • Ghost guns are prohibited by federal law: The Gun Control Act requires “firearms” to include serial numbers and purchasers of those weapons to pass a background check, among other requirements. Specifically, the statute defines “firearm” as “any weapon which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projective by the action of an explosive” or “the frame or receiver of any such weapon.” This clearly describes the nearly assembled guns these companies are selling – unmarked, and with no required background checks.
  • Untraceable weapons threaten public safety: ATF’s unexplained interpretation emboldened the ghost gun industry and allowed it to rapidly expand across the country. Ghost guns were virtually absent from many jurisdictions prior to the adoption of the new interpretation. Now, according to a recent report, there are 80 online sellers of partially unfinished frames and receivers, and the increase in ghost gun sales is readily apparent on the local level.
  • Ghost gun dealers are using the ATF’s rule to mislead consumers: Companies that sell ghost guns have pointed to the ATF’s rule to bolster their claim that they are selling a legal product, disregarding numerous state laws that specifically ban the sale of these firearms.

In filing today’s amicus brief, Attorney General Rosenblum was joined by the attorneys general of the District of Columbia, Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Read the amicus brief

The Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) is led by Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and serves as the state’s law firm.