Attorney General Schwalb Leads Coalition Urging Supreme Court to Uphold Federal Ghost Gun Regulations

24 AGs Argue that Ghost Gun Rule Closes Dangerous Loophole & Protects Public Safety


District of Columbia Attorney General Brian L. Schwalb, Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry, and New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin co-led a group of 24 attorneys general urging the US Supreme Court to uphold a federal rule regulating ghost guns—untraceable weapons often made at home from kits—like other firearms. In an amicus brief filed in Garland v. VanDerStok, the coalition urges the Supreme Court to reverse a court of appeals decision that invalidated the ghost gun rule. The coalition explains that the court of appeals erred in invalidating the rule which is a common-sense clarification of existing law that is necessary to prevent gun violence and help law enforcement solve serious crimes.

“Unlicensed, undetectable ghost guns have been flooding into communities across the District and country at an alarming rate over the past decade," said Attorney General Schwalb. "These untraceable weapons were bypassing existing gun lawslike​ background checksand increasingly became the weapon of choice for those who commit violent crimes. I urge the Supreme Court uphold this commonsense gun safety regulation that simply treats ghost guns like any other firearm.”

In recent years, gun violence has skyrocketed across the country, with gun-related homicides increasing by 45 percent between 2019 and 2021. At the same time, states have reported an exponential increase in the number of untraceable, unserialized ghost guns recovered by law enforcement. In the District of Columbia, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) recovered 25 ghost guns in 2018. Four years later, in 2022, MPD recovered 524 ghost guns. Without federal regulation, these dangerous weapons have proliferated, even in jurisdictions that have attempted to regulate ghost guns themselves, like the District.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) issued a Final Rule to combat this growing problem by clarifying that the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA) applies to the key building blocks of ghost guns, including gun kits and partially complete frames and receivers. The GCA is a longstanding federal law that regulates gun ownership and sales and keeps guns out of the hands of people who should not have them, including individuals convicted of felonies, domestic violence perpetrators, and children. The Final Rule clarifies that the definition of “firearms” includes kits and parts that can be easily converted to fully functional weapons. This common-sense clarification does not ban gun kits. Rather, it subjects kits and nearly complete guns to the same rules governing conventionally manufactured guns—including serial number and background check requirements. 

A group of plaintiffs that includes several firearm manufacturers challenged the rule, and the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit struck it down—though the US Supreme Court allowed the rule to remain in effect while the case proceeds. This appeal, Garland v. VanDerStok, will be heard by the Supreme Court during its next term.

AG Schwalb and the coalition are urging the Supreme Court to uphold the ATF’s ghost gun rule, arguing that striking it down would harm public safety and hinder law enforcement. The attorneys general describe how the rule is consistent with the text, history, and purpose of the GCA and demonstrate why the Fifth Circuit’s decision was erroneous. They explain that the rule is necessary to close a dangerous loophole in federal regulation and stop people who are banned from owning guns from making an end run around existing law—which they were able to do before gun kits were subject to the same regulations as other firearms. Additionally, the coalition shares available evidence that the rule is already improving public safety: multiple jurisdictions have seen a drop in ghost gun recoveries since the rule went into effect in 2023. This includes the District, where ghost gun recoveries fell from 524 in 2022 to 407 in 2023—the first drop in six years.

A copy of the brief is available here

Today’s brief was led by District of Columbia Attorney General Brian Schwalb, New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin, Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry, and joined by the attorneys general from Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and the Northern Mariana Islands. 

OAG’s Work to Stop Gun Violence

This US Supreme Court amicus brief is just the most recent effort by OAG to address the scourge of gun violence in the District. Among other things, OAG prioritizes firearms prosecutions, prosecuting juvenile crimes involving guns and adult misdemeanor firearms offenses in every case in which it has sufficient evidence to do so. OAG also defends the District’s common-sense gun laws against legal challenges and has defended prohibitions on carrying firearms on public transportation and on large-capacity magazines. Additionally, OAG filed and won a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against ghost gun manufacturer Polymer80, which was selling kits that enabled individuals to build untraceable ghost guns in their homes. As a result, Polymer80 was ordered to pay more than $4 million in penalties and to permanently stop selling its frames, receivers, and Buy, Build, Shoot kits to DC consumers. OAG also funds and supports Cure the Streets, a community-based violence-reduction program that employs a public-health approach to disrupt cycles of gun violence. In 2023, the program successfully worked to reduce gun violence in ten DC neighborhoods that have historically seen high rates of gun violence.