Attorney General James Urges DOJ to Regulate Dangerous Ghost Guns

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today joined a coalition of 22 attorneys general in urging the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to finalize regulations that would make clear that ghost guns are firearms under federal law. In a letter to the ATF, the attorneys general argue that by finalizing these regulations, the ATF would dramatically reduce the availability of these untraceable crime guns and would take a significant step in addressing the current gun violence that is plaguing communities across New York and the country.

“Deadly ghost guns exist for only one purpose — to put guns into the hands of those who are legally prohibited from owning a firearm,” said Attorney General James. “In New York, we have taken significant action to crack down on gun violence and have taken nearly 2,000 guns off our streets, but our efforts can only go so far if these untraceable weapons are not effectively regulated. Ghost guns are just as dangerous as traditional firearms, yet our laws don’t reflect that reality. For the safety of our communities, it’s past time we change that.”

The proposed rule, Definition of ‘Frame or Receiver’ and Identification of Firearms, updates the ATF’s interpretations of “firearm” and “frame or receiver” as used in the Gun Control Act of 1968 to clarify weapon kits and incomplete weapon parts, both of which can be easily converted into functioning guns, are covered by the Act. The ATF’s current regulations allow for the sale of weapon parts kits and certain weapon parts with no federal oversight, a loophole that certain manufacturers and gun dealers have eagerly exploited.

The group argued that the ATF’s current interpretation of these definitions under the Gun Control Act does not properly enforce the Act, therefore contributing to violence in New York. Law enforcement intelligence makes clear that ghost guns are fast becoming the weapon of choice for many groups responsible for neighborhood violence. This is because current regulations allow felons, violent criminals, and others who cannot legally purchase a firearm to buy ghost guns.

This failure to accurately regulate firearms has provided an opportunity for gun dealers to sell unregulated, dangerous firearms, which is reflected by a growing number of shootings in cities across New York and the nation.

In order to maintain the integrity of the Gun Control Act, the ATF must revise its regulations so that they encompass modern gun designs. The group also offered the ATF several suggestions to clarify the proposed rule and prevent future abuses by gun manufacturers.

Today’s letter is the latest action Attorney General James has taken to crack down on gun violence in New York. To date, Attorney General James has taken nearly 2,000 firearms, including dozens of ghost guns, out of communities through gun buyback events and takedowns of violent drug rings since taking office in 2019. Attorney General James has also made the removal of ghost guns a priority.

In July 2018, a multistate coalition of attorneys general filed a lawsuit to stop the Trump Administration from an abrupt reversal of past Obama-era efforts to stop the dissemination of dangerous 3D-printed gun files on the internet that would violate firearm export laws and pose a serious threat to national security and public safety. A federal judge ruled against the Trump Administration, but despite its loss, the former administration tried again to allow unlimited public distribution of these files.

In January 2020, Attorney General James and a coalition of attorneys general led another lawsuit against the Trump Administration, asserting that the former administration’s efforts to allow for the release of files again was unlawful. In March 2020, another federal judge granted a request for a preliminary injunction, blocking the Trump Administration from allowing 3D-printed gun files to be released on the internet.

In April 2020, Attorney General James and a multistate coalition of attorneys general called on the Trump Administration’s U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of State to enforce federal laws and stop the dissemination of dangerous 3D-printed gun files on the internet.

In September 2019, Attorney General James sent cease and desist letters to the companies behind a number of websites selling incomplete weaponry pieces to New Yorkers that could be easily assembled into illegal assault weapons. In July 2020, Attorney General James announced that all the companies behind the sale of these firearms or firearms components had complied with her cease and desist letters and ended the sale of these weapons to New Yorkers.

In February 2021, Attorney General James led a coalition of 21 attorneys general from around the nation in filing an amicus brief in the case Grewal v. Defense Distributed before the U.S. Supreme Court, where the coalition fought a lawsuit that seeks to stop states from enforcing their laws against a company disseminating dangerous 3D-printed gun files on the internet.

“Closing this ‘ghost gun’ loophole is a vital step to restricting the unregulated flow of these dangerous and deadly weapons,” said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Violent crime and shootings are on the rise across New York and the last thing we need is more untraceable ‘ghost guns’ making the situation worse, which is why I am pleased to support Attorney General James and her push to get the ATF to finalize regulations to make it clear that ghost guns are firearms under federal law, taking a vital step towards curbing the gun violence epidemic across the country.”

“Untraceable ghost guns are the new weapon of choice for criminals, so it comes as no surprise that a growing number of state attorneys general and local law enforcement are urging the federal government to take action,” said John Feinblatt, president, Everytown for Gun Safety. “Everytown is proud to join Attorney General James and others in calling for something that should be completely uncontroversial: confirming that ghost guns must be treated like any other type of firearm.”

“Unserialized, untraceable ghost guns that don't require background checks are one of the fastest growing threats to public safety,” said Shannon Watts, founder, Moms Demand Action. “Thankfully, the Biden-Harris Administration has proposed strong regulations to end the proliferation of these dangerous firearms and we're proud to see such broad, widespread support from Attorney General James and all those who care about our public safety in support of finalizing and implementing this rule.”

“The gaps in our gun safety laws are far too wide and let far too much gun violence and danger pass through to harm our young people,” said Alexis Confer, executive director, March For Our Lives. “We can’t afford to allow untraceable, untrackable ghost guns to proliferate in our communities where they can hurt and kill people, without ever knowing where they came from so we can prevent further harm. We applaud Attorney General James for advocating to close this loophole, and we join them in calling for ghost guns to be classified exactly as they are: deadly firearms.”

“With the surge of gun violence and untraceable ghost gun sales across the country, it is time for the ATF to finalize federal regulations and close the ghost guns loophole,” said Rebecca Fischer, executive director, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. “We applaud our New York Attorney General Letitia James and the entire coalition of attorneys general for submitting their comment to the ATF urging clarification and enforcement. We need this kind of leadership and action to save lives and end the scourge of gun violence.” 

“For too long, ghost guns have been used to undermine gun safety laws,” said Adzi Vokhiwa, federal affairs director, Giffords. “The Biden Administration’s proposed rule will close the loopholes that have allowed traffickers and people who are prohibited from possessing firearms to obtain these weapons. We applaud Attorney General James and the other attorneys general for their Comment explaining the importance of this rule, and thank them for their efforts to make it law.”

“Our state attorneys general are essential in the national effort to prevent gun violence and are uniquely positioned to assess, implement, and defend common-sense gun laws,” said Kris Brown, president, Brady. “These leaders recognize the pressing need to properly regulate the parts and kits used to assemble ghost guns and stop the proliferation of these untraceable firearms in our communities. Brady is grateful to Attorney General James for her leadership and to all of these attorneys general for speaking up about this important issue.” 

“Ghost guns are becoming more and more common at crime scenes and pose a serious threat to communities seeking freedom from gun violence,” said Josh Horwitz, executive director, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “Ghost guns undermine virtually all gun violence prevention laws and make tracing impossible. The federal government must act to keep these weapons out of our communities. Today’s comment from Attorney General James adds an important and knowledgeable voice to the growing calls for government action.”

Joining Attorney General James in sending today’s letter to Attorney General Garland are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.