Federal Court Delivers Blow to ATF’s Ban on ‘Ghost Guns’

Federal Court Delivers Blow to ATF’s Ban on ‘Ghost Guns’
Some of the 3D-printed ghost guns seized in Operation Centaure are displayed during a news conference in Montreal, June 21, 2023. (The Canadian Press/Ryan Remiorz)
Jack Phillips

A federal judge has delivered a blow to the Biden administration’s gun control policy by reversing a federal ban on so-called “ghost guns,” arguing that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) had overstepped its authority.

Texas-based U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor on June 30 ruled that the ATF erred by saying that unfinished gun parts are guns and can therefore be regulated. His ruling found that parts aren’t guns under federal law.

“This case presents the question of whether the federal government may lawfully regulate partially manufactured firearm components, related firearm products, and other tools and materials in keeping with the Gun Control Act of 1968,” wrote O’Connor in his order (pdf). “Because the court concludes that the government cannot regulate those items without violating federal law, the court holds that the government’s recently enacted final rule … is unlawful agency action taken in excess of the ATF’s statutory jurisdiction. On this basis, the court vacates the final rule.”

His order also stated that the ATF is trying to regulate a gun component as a “frame or receiver,” even after the agency determined “the component in question is not a frame or receiver.” Elaborating, he wrote: “It may not. Logic dictates that a part cannot be both not yet a receiver and receiver at the same time. Defendants’ reliance on that logical contradiction is fatal to their argument.”

Pro-firearms groups and websites cheered the ruling, saying that it was an attempt to claw back what they described as attempts by the Biden administration to grab guns via federal rulemaking. The case was brought by the Firearms Policy Coalition, a pro-Second Amendment group.

“We’re thrilled to see the Court agree that ATF’s Frame or Receiver Rule exceeds the agency’s congressionally limited authority,” Cody J. Wisniewski, of the Firearms Policy Coalition, said in a statement. “With this decision, the Court has properly struck down ATF’s Rule and ensured that it cannot enforce that which it never had the authority to publish in the first place.”

Another pro-gun rights group, the Second Amendment Foundation, also hailed the move. “This case is one more example of the Biden administration’s ongoing effort to exceed its authority in an effort to place as many restrictions as possible on the rights of law-abiding gun owners,” the group’s director, Adam Kraut, said in a statement.

The Department of Justice (DOJ), which is likely to appeal the case, has not issued a public comment about the ruling. The Epoch Times has contacted the agency for comment.

Last April, Attorney General Merrick Garland signed the ATF’s final rule that defines a “frame or receiver,” with the agency saying the rule “addresses technological advancements and judicial developments since the regulatory definitions were originally set forth in 1968 and 1971.”

According to the ATF’s summary of the rule, it “identifies only one part of a firearm to be the ‘frame’ or ’receiver' that requires a serial number. It is the part that provides housing or a structure for one specific, primary fire control component of weapons that expel a projectile; or one specific, primary internal sound reduction component of firearm mufflers or silencers.”

Pro-gun control groups such as Everytown Research praised the Biden administration for issuing the order at the time.

“Ghost guns are the fastest-growing gun safety problem facing our country and have emerged as a weapon of choice for violent criminals, gun traffickers, dangerous extremists, and other people legally prohibited from buying firearms,” the group alleged on its website, citing its own research. “Ghost guns are also the thread connecting a recent increase in gunfire on school grounds. Schools in Arizona, New Mexico, Maryland, and Kansas have been devastated by school shootings involving ghost guns---highlighting a scary trend and another important reason to regulate these dangerous weapons.”
Jack Phillips is a breaking news reporter with 15 years experience who started as a local New York City reporter. Having joined The Epoch Times' news team in 2009, Jack was born and raised near Modesto in California's Central Valley. Follow him on X: https://twitter.com/jackphillips5
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