Biden administration targets ‘phantom guns’ with new federal rule

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On Monday, President Joe Biden again took aim at phantom firearms, the privately made firearms without serial numbers that are increasingly showing up in violent crime, as he struggles to break the deadlock in Washington to deal with gun deaths and mass shootings.

Speaking at the White House, Biden highlighted the Justice Department’s work finalizing new regulations aimed at cracking down on phantom guns and announced the appointment of Steve Dettlebach, who served as a U.S. attorney in Ohio from 2009 to 2016, to lead the Bureau of Alcohol. , tobacco, firearms and explosives.

“Law enforcement is ringing the alarm bells,” Biden said of the ghost guns, briefly holding one up for cameras to see in the Rose Garden. “Our communities are paying the price.”

He promised that the new regulations would save lives.

Still, the gun ad highlights the limits of Biden’s influence in pushing for a sweeping congressional overhaul of the nation’s gun laws in response to both a recent increase in violent crime and in pursuit of mass shootings. Congress has been deadlocked over legislative proposals to reform gun laws for a decade, and executive branch actions have faced headwinds in federal courts — even as the Democratic base was more vocal in calling on Biden to take more substantial action.

Dettlebach’s confirmation will also likely be an uphill battle. Biden had to withdraw the nomination of his top ATF nominee, gun control lawyer David Chipman, after it stalled for months due to opposition from Republicans and some Democrats in the Senate.

Republican and Democratic administrations have failed to secure candidates for the ATF position through a politically charged process since the directorship was confirmed in 2006. Since then, only one candidate, the former U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones, was confirmed. Jones entered the Senate in 2013, but only after a six-month struggle. Jones was acting director when President Barack Obama appointed him in January 2013.

The Biden administration’s gun plan was first reported by Politico.

For nearly a year, the phantom gun rule has been making its way through the federal regulatory process. Gun safety groups and Democrats in Congress have been pushing for months for the Justice Department to end the rule. It is likely to meet strong resistance from armed groups and lead to litigation in the coming weeks.

Rejection of weapon groups

America’s gun owners swore they would immediately fight the rule.

“Just as we opposed the Trump administration’s arbitrary ban on bump stocks, the GOA will also sue Biden’s ATF to end the implementation of this rule,” said Aidan Johnston, group director of federal affairs in a statement. The group believes the rule violates the US Constitution and several federal laws.

But gun safety advocacy groups, like Everytown for Gun Safety, which have pushed the federal government for years to take action against ghost guns, have applauded Biden’s actions and insisted that Dettlebach’s appointment and the rule finalized will help address gun violence.

“Ghost weapons look like a gun, they shoot like a gun and kill like a gun, but so far they haven’t been regulated as a gun,” said John Feinblatt , president of Everytown.

Christian Heyne, vice president of policy at Brady, another gun control group, said Dettlebach was “a blameless public servant who has spent a career using the levers of government to hold negligent or nefarious actors accountable. “.

Statistics from the Department of Justice show nearly 24,000 ghost guns were recovered by law enforcement from crime scenes and reported to the government from 2016 to 2020. It’s hard to say how many are circulating on the streets, in part because in many cases the police do not. Do not contact the government about the weapons as they cannot be found.

The new rule changes the current definition of a firearm under federal law to include unfinished parts, such as the frame of a handgun or the receiver of a long gun. It states that these parts must be licensed and include serial numbers. Manufacturers must also perform background checks before a sale, as they do with other commercially manufactured firearms. The requirement applies regardless of how the firearm was made, which means it includes ghost guns made from individual parts, kits or 3D printers.

Federally licensed firearms dealers must retain key records until their licensed business or activity closes, then transfer the records to the ATF, as they are currently required to do. at the end of the licensed activity. Previously, these dealers were allowed to destroy most records after 20 years, making it harder for law enforcement to trace firearms found at crime scenes.

“A year ago this week, here with many of you, I asked the Attorney General to draft a regulation that would curb the proliferation of phantom weapons because I was having trouble getting anything passed in the Congress,” Biden said.

The rule is effective 120 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register.

Booming black market

For years, federal authorities have been sounding the alarm over the rise of the black market in homemade military-style rifles and semi-automatic handguns. In addition to appearing more frequently at crime scenes, ghost guns are increasingly encountered when federal agents purchase firearms as part of undercover operations from gang members and other criminals. .

Some states, such as California, have enacted laws in recent years to require serial numbers to be stamped on ghost guns.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who attended Monday’s event at the White House, applauded the move and pointed to a sharp increase in the number of ghost weapons discovered by police. Philadelphia police have seen a nearly 500% increase in the number of phantom guns recovered over the past two years, Shapiro said. And just last week, a police officer was shot dead by an 18-year-old ghost armed with a gun, who police say also shot three others.

“This loophole has caused countless lives to our nation,” Shapiro said in an interview. “Today is a crucial step in closing that loophole.”

He said the move would likely help reduce violence and help police and prosecutors carry their cases. The rule is also likely to help reduce the number of people who shouldn’t buy guns before a gun lands in their hand, he said.

“There are two challenges: first, criminals can easily buy them without going through a background check. And second, they’re not serialized and untraceable.

The essential component in the construction of an untraceable pistol is what is known as the lower receiver, a part usually made of metal or polymer. An unfinished receiver – sometimes referred to as an “80% receiver” – can be purchased legally online with no serial number or other markings, no license required.

Police across the country have reported spikes of ghost guns recovered by officers. The New York Police Department, for example, said officers have found 131 firearms without serial numbers since January.

A gunman who killed his wife and four others in northern California in 2017 had been banned from owning firearms, but built his own to circumvent a court order before his rampage. And in 2019, a teenager used a homemade handgun to kill two classmates and injure three others at a school in suburban Los Angeles.

(FRANCE 24 with PA)

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