Attorney General Mark Herring has joined 19 other attorneys general asking the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to force regulation of so-called “ghost guns” – partially assembled firearms kits that can be completed by consumers without the serial numbers law enforcement uses to track the weapons. Herring and the other attorneys general signed an amicus brief as third parties to Syracuse v. ATF, a lawsuit that says the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) was too lenient in its 2015 interpretation of the Gun Control Act (GCA) of 1968.
Herring’s December statement notes, “ATF’s improper reading of the GCA effectively gave the green light for unlicensed online retailers to sell nearly-complete firearms that can easily be converted into fully-functioning weapons.”
The lawsuit was filed in August by cities Syracuse, New York; San Jose, California; Chicago, Illinois; Columbia, South Carolina; and non-profit Everytown for Gun Safety, according to Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF). The attorneys general are not part of the case, but filing an amicus brief allows them to provide information to the court to help shed light on the case. Other attorneys general signing the brief include those from Maryland, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C.
The case focuses on several common gun parts, including receiver blanks, partially-manufactured frames, and 80 percent frames.
“These ‘ghost guns’ are incredibly hard to trace, which makes them much easier for dangerous individuals to get their hands on,” Herring said. “The ATF’s reckless interpretation of the law and lack of regulation could lead to more untraceable guns on our street, potentially putting Virginians and their families at risk. As attorney general, my number one responsibility is to protect Virginians, which is why I am joining my colleagues in fighting to stop the proliferation of dangerous, untraceable guns into our communities.”
Virginia’s political bodies are controlled by Democrats who have used their power in 2020 to increase gun regulation in Virginia. However, Syracuse v. ATF and Herring’s press release reveal a gap in their power to legislate firearms issues in Virginia. Since the firearms parts are nearly untrackable, politicians have no way to monitor the products in Virginia. Herring argues that leaves a loophole to be exploited by criminals. But the MSLF said the ability to build firearms at home is part of fundamental American freedom and self-sufficiency, not a flaw in regulation.
“Americans have always valued ingenuity and self-sufficiency over the culture of control,” the legal firm said in a case summary. “Americans also have the right to self-manufacture those arms that they deem necessary to defend themselves, their loved ones, and their property.”
“What gun owners view as a virtue, gun-control advocates have come to see as a vice, arguing that the non-regulation of self-made and hand-crafted weapons hampers the apprehension of criminals and opens a “loophole” that gangs will exploit to flood the black market,” MSLF adds.
MSLF filed a motion to intervene on behalf of several firearms parts retailers who would be affected by a change in the regulations. The MSLF says that calling the products “ghost guns” is emotional language meant to gin up fear and opposition to otherwise legal products.
“While these objects vary widely, what they all have in common is that they are not “firearms” as defined by the GCA, nor can they be readily converted into firearms. Instead, just like a raw block of aluminum in the hands of a machinist, individuals can fully manufacture firearms from these non-firearm objects using their own experience, know-how, and machining equipment. Because they are not firearms, the ATF and the federal government lack any authority to regulate them as such,” the MSLF states.
However, Herring’s press release argues, “Ghost guns are prohibited by federal law: The GCA 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.”
“Petitioners in this case are attempting to stop Americans from building and customizing certain types of legal of firearms as they see fit, for personal use, free from government intrusion into that process,” the MSLF states. “They want to force the ATF to regulate raw materials of all kinds – materials that may possibly be used to manufacture a firearm in the future – simply because individuals, through their own knowledge, skill, and ingenuity, can manufacture them into firearms for personal use.”
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