AG Racine Calls on Justice Department to Better Regulate Ghost Guns to Improve Public Safety

Continues OAG’s Efforts to Help Address the Proliferation of Ghost Guns in the District as MPD Recovers Increasing Numbers of Them

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced that he called on the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to finalize federal regulations which would make clear that ghost guns are firearms under federal law and help address the epidemic of gun violence. Such action would help improve public safety by closing a loophole that has enabled the proliferation of “ghost guns” – weapons sold without background checks or serial numbers. 

Over the last four years, the Metropolitan Police Department has recovered a steadily increasing number of ghost guns, from three in 2017 to 263 in 2020, a number that represents 13% of all guns recovered. As the selling and purchasing of ghost guns has increased, AG Racine has worked to hold ghost gun manufacturers accountable by filing a lawsuit against Polymer80 – whose ghost guns represent the vast majority of those recovered in the District – and bringing these issues to the attention of the White House. 

“For too long, manufacturers of ghost guns have been able to exploit existing regulations, prioritizing their profits over the lives of residents. As a result, we’ve seen the number of ghost guns drastically increase in the District,” said AG Racine. “To help combat the gun violence epidemic and make our communities safer, ATF must make clear that ghost guns are subject to the same regulations as any other firearm. At the same time, I’m also working to hold ghost gun manufacturers accountable in the courts for violating District law.”

In May, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) – a division within DOJ – announced a proposed rule to regulate and restrict ghost guns by clarifying the definition of “firearm” and related parts under the Gun Control Act. The proposed rule would make clear that ghost guns are subject to the same restrictions and requirements as other firearms, including serial numbers and background checks. AG Racine led a group of 22 attorneys general in supporting these needed changes, offering minor suggestions to improve the proposed rule, and urging ATF to finalize the rule.

Specifically, the proposed rule would clarify that ghost gun weapon kits and incomplete weapon parts, both of which can be easily converted into functioning guns, are covered by the Gun Control Act. The ATF’s current interpretation of the law allows 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.

This effort builds on AG Racine’s work to hold manufacturers of ghost guns accountable. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) sued Polymer80 – a leading manufacturer of ghost guns in the United States and the company that manufactured the majority of deadly ghost guns recovered in the District – for illegally advertising and selling them to District consumers. OAG was the first attorney general’s office in the country to file such a suit against Polymer80. Earlier this month, AG Racine also joined a White House meeting about holding gun manufacturers accountable.

In their comment letter to ATF, AG Racine and the other attorneys general explained their support for the proposed rule, specifically arguing that:

  • ATF’s current interpretation of “firearm” excludes ghost guns, enabling manufacturers to exploit a loophole in the law. The failure of ATF to regulate products that are designed to and may be readily converted into a functioning weapon allows the manufacture and sale of firearms that avoid the Gun Control Act’s reach. These federal regulatory gaps have effectively sanctioned the meteoric rise of a ghost gun industry that operates without proper oversight. This industry, which includes many unlicensed firearms dealers, exploits loopholes in ATF’s interpretations to sell handgun frames, semi-automatic receivers, and firearm kits that can be easily converted into fully functioning firearms in minutes by purchasers. These weapons are sold without serial numbers, making them untraceable by law enforcement and appealing to those who engage in criminal activity.
  • Under ATF’s current interpretation, individuals are able to skirt background checks before purchasing ghost guns, contributing to increasing gun violence and hurting public safety. Because the industry ensures that its ghost guns and gun parts do not meet definition of “firearm” under ATF’s current interpretation, ghost gun manufacturers sell their guns online, to anyone, without restrictions. For example, 80% Arms, one gun kit retailer, promotes its partially complete receivers as available without “background check or registration.” Other retailers attempt to further insulate their kits from federal regulation by requiring that online purchasers buy the component parts in separate transactions. There is no doubt that individuals whom the Gun Control Act intends to prohibit from accessing firearms should not be able to access ghost guns.
  • The proposed rule would help curb crime as the Gun Control Act intended. When Congress drafted the law, the main purpose was “to curb crime by keeping ‘firearms out of the hands of those not legally entitled to possess them because of age, criminal background, or incompetency.’” This proposed rule serves and implements this congressional mandate.

A copy of AG Racine’s letter is available here.