WASHINGTON – The Justice Department on Friday proposed a rule designed to expand the definition of a firearm and help fill a gap that allows people to purchase so-called ghost weapons. These weapons can be easily assembled from kits but are not subject to federal gun laws.
The proposal was the latest effort by the Biden government to tackle gun death. President Biden last month ordered the Justice Department to find a way within 30 days to curb the proliferation of ghost guns to protect them from criminals who otherwise might not pass a background check or buy a weapon.
“Criminals and others prohibited from possession of a weapon should not be able to exploit a loophole to evade background checks and avoid detection by law enforcement,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement in the the proposal was announced.
“This proposed rule would help keep guns out of the wrong hands and make it easier for law enforcement agencies to track down weapons used to commit violent crimes while protecting the rights of law-abiding Americans,” he said.
Following mass shootings that year in the Atlanta area and Boulder, Colorado, Mr. Biden issued half a dozen law enforcement measures to combat gun violence, including ordering the Department of Justice to stop the proliferation of ghost weapons. Such weapons have no serial numbers and are not tracked by the federal government.
“Criminals buy kits that contain almost all of the components and instructions to complete a firearm in just 30 minutes and use those firearms to commit crimes,” the White House said in a statement at the time. “When these firearms show up at crime scenes, they often cannot be traced back by law enforcement because there is no serial number.”
In a budget hearing this week before a budget subcommittee, Garland told lawmakers it was unclear whether ghost rifles “are themselves defined as firearms.”
The proposed rule, enacted on Friday, would require gun dealers to do background checks before selling kits containing the parts necessary to make a gun, and gun kit manufacturers would be required to provide a serial number for certain parts in gun kits, that are easy to build.
The rule would also require that federally licensed arms dealers add a serial number to any 3D printed guns or other non-serialized firearms they want to sell.
After the Justice Department issued its proposed rule on ghost rifles and posted it on the federal register, the public will have 90 days to propose changes, the ministry said in a statement.
The Justice Department said law enforcement officers had recovered more than 23,000 non-serial numbered firearms from potential crime scenes from 2016 to 2020.
“While these rulings will only solve one aspect of the problem, we have a duty to do our part to protect our families and our neighborhoods from gun violence,” said Garland.
Gun control advocates applauded the move. “Ghost weapons undermine and are marketed and sold for almost every gun law in the country,” said Kris Brown, president of Brady, a gun control advocacy group, in a statement. “The rule proposed today by the Justice Department will have a noticeable impact.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat of California and a staunch gun control advocate, described the new rule as a “sensible” measure that would reduce crime and improve public safety.
“These ghost guns have plagued our streets for too long,” Ms. Feinstein said in a statement. “I am glad that President Biden is fulfilling his promise to ban these weapons and will continue to work with his government to adopt sensible measures to end the gun violence epidemic.”
When Mr. Biden revealed his executive actions, including calling for a proposed rule on ghost weapons, the National Rifle Association vowed to oppose the proposals, calling them “extreme gun control actions” that would force states to confiscate more weapons.