Washington: President Joe Biden announced the finalisation of new federal rules restricting so-called “ghost guns” which allow purchasers to assemble potentially untraceable weapons from kits.
“The gun lobby tried to tie up the regulators and paperwork for a long, long time,” Biden said Monday afternoon at a Rose Garden event announcing the rule.
The president called the new policy “just basic common sense,” adding, “It’s gonna make a difference, I promise you.”
Biden also called once again on Congress to pass universal background checks and to ban assault weapons. He spoke alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco.
Biden announced at the same event that he’s nominating Steve Dettelbach, a former U.S. attorney in Ohio, as the next director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The White House was unable to rally enough votes to confirm his previous pick for the job, David Chipman.
The moves come as the administration has faced criticism over a rise in gun violence during the coronavirus pandemic. There were more than 45,000 gun-related deaths in the U.S. in 2020 - the last full year for which data is available - according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The White House hopes that Dettelbach, who was unanimously confirmed to his job leading federal prosecutions in the Northern District of Ohio, will fare better than Chipman, a former ATF agent whose nomination was opposed by Republicans as well as Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats.
Chipman was the latest in a series of failed nominees to lead the bureau, which has had only one Senate-confirmed director in its history. Gun control activists have said a Senate-confirmed leader could help implement stronger regulations on firearms.
Generally, firearms manufactured by licensed companies are required to have serial numbers — usually displayed on the frame of the gun — that allow officials to trace the gun back to the manufacturer, the firearms dealer and original purchaser.
Ghost guns, however, are made of parts and are then assembled together. The critical component in building an untraceable gun is what is known as the lower receiver. Some are sold in do-it-yourself kits and the receivers are typically made from metal or polymer.
An unfinished receiver — sometimes referred to as an “80-per cent receiver’’ — can be legally bought online with no serial numbers or other markings on it, no license required. Under the current rules, the federal government does not consider unfinished lower receivers to be firearms.
WHAT DOES THE RULE DO?
It changes the definition of a firearm and will require federal firearms dealers to add serial numbers to ghost guns that come their way.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has, for years, said that unfinished lower receivers don’t meet the legal definition of a firearm. And there is nothing illegal about building your own firearm.
It’s legal to make your own firearm if it’s for your personal use and you don’t intend to sell it. But if you open a business selling guns, you need a federal firearms license.
Under the new rule, the definition of a firearm would change to include unfinished parts, like the frame of a handgun or the receiver of a long gun. The rule also would require those parts to be licensed and include serial numbers. Dealers would also need to run background checks before a sale — just like they do with other commercially made firearms.
The requirement applies regardless of how the firearm was made, meaning it includes ghost guns made from individual parts, kits, or by 3D-printers.
It also will compel federally licensed dealers and gunsmiths who take in firearms without serial numbers to add serial numbers. That means, for example, if someone sells a ghost gun to a pawn broker - or other licensed dealer - the dealer must put a serial number on it before selling the gun to someone else.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
The Justice Department said the rule goes into effect 120 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register. But it’s likely the rule will be be met with heavy resistance from gun groups and draw litigation in the coming weeks. Even reaching the point of introducing a rule has taken more than a year. Biden announced plans to impose tighter regulations on ghost guns in April 2021.
Gun Owners of America vowed that it would immediately fight the rule and that it would sue the ATF ``to halt the implementation of this rule.’’
Opponents criticized Chipman for his work with gun control advocacy groups, including Everytown for Gun Safety. The organization, which advocates for universal background checks and gun-safety measures, is backed by Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent company Bloomberg LP.
The new ghost gun rules will seek to make purchases of kits that allow Americans to construct their own firearms more similar to the existing procedures for buying a traditionally-manufactured gun. Sellers of gun kits will be required to run background checks, and the kits must be marked with a serial number to make them easier to trace.
Gun retailers will be required to retain records as long as they maintain a license, which means continually operating stores can no longer dispose of records after 20 years.
“This rule will make it harder for criminals and other prohibited persons to obtain untraceable guns, will help ensure that law enforcement officers can retrieve the information they need to solve crimes, and will help reduce the number of untraceable firearms flooding our communities,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.