Supreme Court Justice Temporarily Allows New Rules Against Ghost Guns

October 10, 2023 by Tom Ramstack
Supreme Court Justice Temporarily Allows New Rules Against Ghost Guns
Ghost gun kits for Glock 17 (9 mm) displayed at a gun show. (Photo via Bradyunited.org)

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is moving ahead with new regulations on ghost guns after a short-term court victory Friday in a dispute over government authority on firearm ownership.

A federal judge in Texas tried to block the regulation by issuing an injunction Sept. 14 based on Second Amendment gun ownership rights.

On Friday, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito overruled the judge. He issued an order that gives ghost gun manufacturers until Wednesday to provide a better explanation of why they should not have their guns regulated in the same way as all others.

Ghost guns refer to firearms that can be purchased online in unassembled components and then assembled at home into working guns. The kits can be purchased by anyone, including minors and felons who otherwise would be prohibited by law.

They lack serial numbers and do not require background checks or registration, which makes them hard for police to trace to an owner.

Recent surveys show gun violence is surging in the United States, some of it from ghost guns.

Gun violence surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death in 2020 for children and teenagers. About 19% of U.S. adults report that a family member was killed by a gun, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey in April.

The Biden administration responded by organizing a White House office on gun violence last month to implement strategies that cut down on the violence.

One strategy the administration has been pushing for more than a year would require the same kind of serialization, background checks and registration now required for guns sold through traditional manufacturers. The strategy was incorporated into a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives rule that took effect in August 2022.

It revised the definition of a firearm under the Gun Control Act to include the kinds of frames and other components sold in ghost gun kits. The sellers are required to be licensed, add serial numbers to major components and to keep records of all sales.

Gun rights groups such as the Second Amendment Foundation Inc., Polymer80 Inc. and Not An LLC, sued to block the rule days after it took effect. They were joined by ghost gun makers Defense Distributed and Blackhawk Manufacturing Group Inc.

In addition to invoking Second Amendment rights, Defense Distributed and Blackhawk argued they would be driven out of business if the ATF rule was enforced against them.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor issued an injunction allowing the online distributors to continue selling ghost guns without complying with the ATF rule. The injunction was upheld by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Alito’s two-sentence order last week stayed the lower court decisions. A stay refers to a court-ordered temporary reprieve from further litigation. The stay expires Oct. 16.

Alito issued the order after U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar accused the lower courts of violating a Supreme Court decision in August that allowed the ATF to enforce its new ghost gun restrictions while the issue was pending in lawsuits.

“In doing so, the lower courts openly relied on arguments that this court had necessarily rejected,” Prelogar wrote in a Supreme Court filing.

“This is the rare application where this court has already applied the relevant legal standard in the very same case and determined the government should obtain emergency relief,” she wrote. “The court’s answer should be the same as it was two months ago.”

She also revived Biden administration arguments against ghost guns by writing, “Absent relief from this court, therefore, untraceable ghost guns will remain widely available to anyone with a computer and a credit card — no background check required.”

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