Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin co-led a coalition of 20 Attorneys General in filing an amicus brief that supports a new federal Final Rule regulating “ghost guns” – weapons without serial numbers that are often made at home from semi-completed frames and receivers, and which can be purchased without background checks. Such weapons are illegal in New Jersey.
Today’s amicus brief was filed in support of the federal government in a pending case in which Bridge City Ordnance, a North-Dakota-based firearms vendor, and other plaintiffs are challenging the new Final Rule by suing the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), as well as the Department of Justice. The lawsuit is pending in the U.S. District Court of North Dakota.
Set to take effect on August 24, the ATF Final Rule will require that buyers pass background checks before purchasing ghost gun kits, and will require that federally licensed arms vendors who sell ghost gun kits affix serial numbers to the weapons.
The rule will better enable law enforcement investigators to trace any privately-made guns used in a crime, and will also limit the ability of gun traffickers to distribute these illegal weapons into New Jersey.
Co-led by Acting Attorney General Platkin and the Attorneys General of both Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia, today’s brief notes that ghost guns have proliferated, as evidenced by the fact that law enforcement officers nationwide recovered approximately 19,000 suspected ghost guns in 2021 – an exponential increase compared with the 1,700 ghost guns recovered three years prior.
Today’s brief also argues that the lack of serial numbers on ghost guns has hindered law enforcement efforts. According to the brief, law enforcement was only able to trace 445 of more than 45,000 suspected ghost guns recovered in the five-year period between 2016 and 2021.
The new ATF Final Rule, today’s brief explains, advances the twin goals of keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and others who should not have them, and assisting law enforcement officers – the bulk of whom work at the state and local level – in both preventing and solving gun crimes.
The brief notes that, despite the plaintiffs’ assertions to the contrary, the new ATF rule does not ban weapons parts kits or partially completed frames or receivers. It simply treats ghost guns the same as conventionally manufactured guns, and still “allows law-abiding citizens to privately assemble guns for personal use if they so wish.”
“Gun violence is an epidemic that plagues communities across the country. In New Jersey, we are committed to combating gun violence with every available resource, but we can’t do it alone,” said Acting Attorney General Platkin. “This federal rule is an important commonsense step. It will reduce the number of lethal, untraceable firearms in circulation, and it will ultimately save lives.”
According to the New Jersey State Police, 139 ghost guns had been recovered by law enforcement in the state this year (as of July). Of those weapons, 23 had been used in shootings.
Recently, Gov. Murphy signed a bill to increase criminal penalties for ghost guns in New Jersey. Absent federal enforcement, however, the dangerous weapons have continued to proliferate.
The ATF Final Rule at issue helps address the problem by serving as a vital backstop to existing state-level efforts to stem the flow of ghost guns.
The Final Rule regulates ghost guns by clarifying critical definitions contained in the federal Gun Control Act. Specifically, the Final Rule makes it clear that weapon parts kits and partially completed frames or receivers—the key building blocks for ghost guns—are “firearms” under the Act if they can readily be converted to function as such.
In making this clarification, the Final Rule helps ensure that ghost gun kits and partially completed frames or receivers are subject to the same serialization and background check requirements as conventionally manufactured guns. The Final Rule helps close a dangerous loophole in federal firearms law that has enabled people to evade existing gun laws and obtain dangerous weapons.
Deputy Attorneys General Chandini Jha and Tim Sheehan, and Section Chief Melissa Medoway of the Special Litigation Section within the Division of Law’s Affirmative Civil Enforcement Practice Group handled this matter on behalf of the State.