As expected, the Department of Justice has published its proposed new rules for 80% lowers and frames, what politicians have derisively dubbed “ghost guns” in order to demonize home-built firearms. The proposed rules, released in a typical Friday afternoon Washington, D.C. news dump, would in effect kill most of the 80% lower business, requiring serialization of the parts and NICS background checks for those who buy them.
As earlier leaks of the proposal revealed, the rule would significantly broaden the definition of a firearm. Under the new rules, any part that can be “readily completed” into a receiver will now be treated as a receiver and regulated as a functional firearm, complete with serialization and background check requirement.
According to the ATF’s summary, a . . .
…[W]hen a partially complete frame or receiver parts kit has reached a stage in manufacture where it may readily be completed, assembled, converted, or restored to a functional state, it is a “frame or receiver” that must be marked.
Weapon parts kits with partially complete frames or receivers and containing the necessary parts such that they may readily be completed, assembled, converted, or restored to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive are “firearms” for which each frame or receiver of the weapon would need to be marked.
What makes a part or kit at the “readily completed” stage? That’s a good question and one that the ATF won’t be anxious to answer. Keeping that unclear leaves the agency able to make up the standard as it goes and enforce the new standards in its typically vague and opaque way.
In a Rose Garden speech on gun control last month, President BidenHarris announced that he wanted “ghost guns” regulated under the Gun Control Act of 1968. The ATF’s proposed new rules would do exactly that.
While we’re still sifting through the details of what the ATF is proposing, it appears their new definition of a receiver will also address the prosecutorial problems they’ve had resulting from the fact that neither an AR upper or lower (or many pistol frames, for that matter) strictly fit the legal definition of a firearm.
From the ATF’s summary . . .
Under the proposed rule, a “frame or receiver” is any externally visible housing or holding structure for one or more fire control components. A “fire control component” is one necessary for the firearm to initiate, complete, or continue the firing sequence, including, but not limited to, any of the following: hammer, bolt, bolt carrier, breechblock, cylinder, trigger mechanism, firing pin, striker, or slide rails.
Any firearm part falling within the new definition that is identified with a serial number must be presumed, absent an official determination by ATF or other reliable evidence to the contrary, to be a frame or receiver.
Here’s the DOJ’s press release . . .
The Department of Justice today issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that would update the definitions of “firearm” and related parts for the first time since 1968. The proposed rule would modernize the definition of “frame or receiver” and help close a regulatory loophole associated with the un-serialized privately made firearms that are increasingly being recovered at crime scenes across the country. These unmarked firearms, known as “ghost guns,” are often assembled from kits that are sold without background checks, making them easily acquired by criminals who otherwise would not be permitted to possess a firearm.
“We are committed to taking commonsense steps to address the epidemic of gun violence that takes the lives of too many people in our communities,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “Criminals and others barred from owning a gun should not be able to exploit a loophole to evade background checks and to escape detection by law enforcement. This proposed rule would help keep guns out of the wrong hands and make it easier for law enforcement to trace guns used to commit violent crimes, while protecting the rights of law-abiding Americans. Although this rulemaking will solve only one aspect of the problem, we have an obligation to do our part to keep our families and our neighborhoods safe from gun violence.”
As the proposed rule explains, from 2016 to 2020, more than 23,000 un-serialized firearms were reported to have been recovered by law enforcement from potential crime scenes — including in connection with 325 homicides or attempted homicides. The proposed rule, once implemented, would help address the proliferation of these un-serialized firearms in three ways:
- To help keep guns from being sold to convicted felons and other prohibited purchasers, the rule would make clear that retailers must run background checks before selling kits that contain the parts necessary for someone to readily make a gun at home.
- To help law enforcement trace guns used in a crime, the rule would require that manufacturers include a serial number on the firearm “frame or receiver” in easy-to-build firearm kits.
- To help reduce the number of “ghost guns” on our streets, the rule would set out requirements for federally licensed firearms dealers to have a serial number added to 3D printed guns or other un-serialized firearms they take into inventory.
Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, the public will have 90 days to submit comments. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking can be viewed here.
To learn more about the rulemaking process, please see the attached.
In response, Lawrence G. Keane, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation had this to say about that . . .
We will carefully look at the proposed rule and will gather input from our members. The details will matter. We are fully aware of the impact that this proposed rule could have on the firearm industry and gun owners in general. We are interested to know if the proposed rule is consistent with what we saw in the leaked draft documents or if it has changed and what those changes might be. NSSF will file comments concerning the rule.
As the DOJ’s release states, the public will now have 90 days to comment on the new regulations, after which time they will totally disregard all of that input and implement the new rules anyway.