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Developing: ATF Officials Meeting Today With Gun Manufacturers in ‘Signal the Biden Administration May Tackle’ Ghost Guns Problem, WSJ Reports

March 26, 2021

As President Joe Biden considers executive action on gun violence, including to curb the growing threat from untraceable ghost guns, the Wall Street Journal is reporting this morning that officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) will discuss the sale of unregulated parts bought online that can easily be used to build operable firearms today in a meeting with firearms manufacturers.

The meeting is “a signal the Biden administration may tackle the proliferation of weapons known as ghost guns,” the Journal’s Zusha Elinson reports:

“The discussion between officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and firearms manufacturers is expected to focus on a possible expansion of the definition of what counts as a firearm, according to people briefed on the plans. Such a move could subject ghost guns to the same regulations as other firearms.”

Read the full story here.

The story quotes Lawrence Keane, general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, as saying “we have not seen credible evidence and statistics demonstrating that this is a significant issue.” But ATF has estimated some some 10,000 ghost guns were recovered across the country in 2019. In Los Angeles alone, police recovered more than 700 ghost guns in 2020, and cities across the country have seen a two- or threefold increase in ghost gun recovies in recent years.

News of today’s meeting comes amid growing calls for action. Earlier this week, 18 attorneys general urged the administration to act on the threat posed by ghost guns; Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), 12 Senate Democrats led by Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the leaders of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force led by Representative Mike Thompson (D-CA), the House Judiciary Committee, and leading law enforcement organizations, including International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the National Police Foundation, are among those who have also highlighted the seriousness of this issue and need for action.

Everytown has released a roadmap providing an overview of what President Biden and his administration can do via executive action to save lives from gun violence. There are dozens of proposed executive actions in this roadmap that the administration can and should take, but eliminating the market for ghost guns is among three key actions that would be a great place to start.As today’s Wall Street Journal story references, the ATF faces an ongoing Everytown for Gun Safety lawsuit over its failure to expand its definition of firearms to include unfinished receivers, the building blocks of ghost guns:

“Everytown for Gun Safety petitioned the ATF in 2019 to expand its definition to include unfinished receivers. When the agency didn’t act, Everytown sued it.

‘The increasing numbers of ghost guns being recovered with criminal investigations is clearly one of the fastest-growing threats to public safety,” said Eric Tirschwell, managing director at Everytown’s legal arm. “This is a problem that ATF can fix.’

Ms. Langwell, the ATF spokeswoman, declined to comment on the litigation. In court filings, the ATF said that it sent a draft response to Everytown’s petition to the Justice Department for review where it currently sits.”

The lawsuit — brought on behalf of Everytown as well as Syracuse, NY; San Jose, CA; Chicago, IL; and Columbia, SC, with the assistance of the law firm Cooley, LLP — specifically challenges three letters that ATF issued to the ghost gun manufacturer Polymer80 in 2015 and 2017, which the company was using on its website to claim its gun kits were legal and did not require serial numbers or background checks.  The lawsuit also seeks to compel ATF to respond to Everytown’s Petition for Rulemaking, which urges ATF to promulgate a new rule that would make clear that ghost gun kits and nearly finished frames and receivers that can quickly and easily be assembled into operable weapons are firearms under federal law, and are therefore subject to federal requirements relating to serial numbers and background checks.

Ghost guns are made by an individual, not a federally licensed manufacturer or importer. Ghost guns are the fastest-growing gun safety problem facing our country.

In December 2020, the Wall Street Journal reported that ATF raided the premises of Polymer80, an industry-leading ghost gun manufacturer responsible for a flood of ghost guns that is being used to commit crimes in rapidly increasing numbers in cities across America. The raid came just weeks before ATF was scheduled to answer an Everytown Law lawsuit seeking to overturn ATF’s prior flawed approach to ghost guns and compel the agency to act to regulate them.

Everytown Law first urged ATF to address the growing menace of unregulated ghost guns in a petition for rulemaking filed back in December 2019, and followed that up with its lawsuit against ATF filed in August 2020.  

In court papers filed in the suit, Everytown Law has highlighted that:

  • According to papers ATF filed in federal court, law enforcement recovered approximately 10,000 ghost guns in connection with criminal investigations in 2019 alone;
  • Ghost guns are being recovered in cities across the country in exponentially increasing numbers, with Polymer80 ghost guns being by far the most common ghost gun make that law enforcement is recovering in multiple cities;
  • Polymer80 ghost guns constituted 90% of all ghost guns recovered in recent years in Syracuse, New York, and over 80% of ghost guns recovered recently in Washington, D.C.;
  • Polymer80 ghost guns have been used in at least five shootings in Chicago, IL; 
  • Ghost guns have been recovered in nine homicide investigations in San Jose, CA, and San Jose police have recovered at least 12 firearms made from Polymer80 kits.

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