Ghost weapons have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, with law enforcement saying they are increasingly being used in crimes. At a Rose Garden ceremony in April that included gun kits as props, the president Biden called ghost guns “the weapon of choice for many criminals.”
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Between 2016 and 2021, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives received more than 45,000 reports of “privately manufactured firearms » recovered by authorities during criminal investigations, the Department of Justice said.
The increase during this period has been dramatic, according to federal data. The department reported more than 19,300 such firearms recovered by law enforcement in 2021, nearly five times the number in 2018.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said in A declaration in April that the new phantom gun rule “will make it harder for criminals and other prohibited persons to obtain untraceable firearms, 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.
Opponents of the rule have denounced it as an unconstitutional override. A federal lawsuit filed in North Dakota by plaintiffs including a gun store in the state; a group of Republican attorneys general; and Gun Owners of America, a gun lobby group, said the rule “violates the principles of federalism” and “will wreak havoc on large segments of the gun community.”
On Tuesday, Chief Justice Peter D. Welte of the District of North Dakota denied their requests for a preliminary or permanent injunction, writing that the Biden administration had acted within its authority in enunciating the rule. Welte, appointed in 2019 by President Donald Trump, wrote that the new measure “was and remains constitutional under the Second Amendment.”
“Undoubtedly, this case presents divisive issues that all parties care deeply about and that are of national interest and importance, as evidenced by the participation of nearly every state in this country in this action,” he said. he writes in a 27-page order. . “Nevertheless, the role and responsibility of the court remains the same: to apply the law to the facts (not the arguments or the politics) of each case.”
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The new rule changes the definition of a “firearm frame or receiver” in federal regulations, expanding it to “include a kit of weapon parts” that can be quickly assembled. The Justice Department said the rule does not prohibit anyone from having a privately made firearm.
But in lawsuits challenging the rule, opponents have assaulted it as too broad and said it will have a catastrophic effect on businesses and workers.
In a separate case from Texas, the measure was challenged by Division 80, a company that distributes receiver blanks, which are also used by people looking to build firearms themselves.
The Biden administration’s rule violates the 80s Division’s constitutional rights and “will destroy all 80s Division activity,” the company said. in a federal lawsuit that calls for the rule to be blocked or delayed.
The Justice Department has opposed any injunction in the case, saying the rule was properly issued and is constitutional. Shortly after Welte’s order was released on Tuesday, federal authorities filed a filing in the Texas case highlighting North Dakota’s decision.
In the North Dakota case, the court case challenging the new federal rule said it would subject gun owners “to ever more pervasive, unlawful, and unconstitutional violations of their right to own and bear arms.”
Gun dealers, he said, “will be conscripted into federal service to maintain illegal records of privately manufactured firearms on behalf of the federal government – records that are not required by any federal law. “.
The rule, according to the lawsuit, could cost companies tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. “Second Amendment protected activity will come to a halt, many businesses will falter or go out of business, and jobs will be lost.”
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A spokesman for Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R), who in July had announcement that he was co-leading a 17-state group joining the North Dakota case, said Brnovich’s office “will continue to defend the 2nd Amendment against overly burdensome regulations.”
“The right to own and bear arms includes the ability to obtain firearms, as well as parts and ammunition,” spokeswoman Brittni Thomason said in a statement. Lawyers for the other plaintiffs in that case did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Justice Department had argued in court filings that the new rule was necessary “to provide clarity to the public and the gun industry on the proper application of federal law.”
In the North Dakota case, the department wrote that advances in technology made it easier to create kits and parts that “enable unlicensed individuals to build firearms quickly and easily” – usually without serial numbers, which which makes it difficult for law enforcement officials to trace the weapons if they are used in the crimes.
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The department argued that the rule was “a valid exercise of the authority the ATF was expressly granted by Congress” and pushed back against the idea that the rule created “an illegal national gun registry”. Instead, the department wrote in court documents, the rule only extended the retention period for certain records already on file.
The Department of Justice said the rule does not prohibit the companies from selling the products, but rather ensures that they “must comply with the same regulatory framework that all federally licensed firearms dealers must comply with”.
Granting the requested injunction, the department said in the North Dakota case, “would significantly harm the government’s law enforcement and public safety interests.”
In his Tuesday order, Welte wrote, “The rather speculative risk of harm to plaintiffs, on the one hand, does not outweigh the harm to the ATF’s interests in law enforcement and public safety, on the other hand.”
Authorities representing a group of cities — including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia — also weighed in to support federal rule in the North Dakota case.
They wrote in a filing that their cities had seen “dramatic increases” in the number of ghost guns used in criminal activity. The new rule, they said, was “absolutely necessary to stop the dangerous proliferation of phantom weapons and to promote public safety.” A group of states wrote in a separate filing that the rule would help them update their own gun laws.