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Attorney General Josh Stein Urges Supreme Court to Uphold Federal Ghost Gun Regulations

For Immediate Release:
Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Nazneen Ahmed (919) 716-0060

(RALEIGH) Attorney General Josh Stein today urged the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a federal rule that regulates ghost guns—untraceable weapons often made at home from kits—like other firearms. In an amicus brief filed in Garland v. VanDerStok, Attorney General Stein and a coalition of 24 attorneys general urged the Supreme Court to reverse a lower court decision that overturned the ghost gun rule, arguing that the rule is a common-sense measure to prevent gun violence and help law enforcement solve crimes.

“Ghost guns are guns, and they need to be regulated as such,” said Attorney General Josh Stein. “We can’t allow dangerous people to use a loophole to get their hands on dangerous weapons and put our people in harm’s way.”

States have reported an increase in the number of untraceable, unserialized ghost guns recovered by law enforcement. In North Carolina, there has been a spike of more than 1,700 percent in ghost gun recoveries from 2020 to 2023. Without federal regulation, these dangerous weapons proliferated, even in jurisdictions that attempted to regulate ghost guns themselves.

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 people convicted of felonies, domestic abusers, and children. The ATF clarified that the definition of “firearms” includes kits and parts that can be easily converted to fully-functional firearms. This common-sense clarification does not ban gun kits. Rather, it subjects kits and nearly-complete guns to the same rules as conventionally manufactured guns—including serial number and background check requirements.

The rule was challenged, and the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit struck it down as an impermissible expansion of the GCA—though the court allowed it to remain in effect while an appeal proceeds. That case, Garland v. VanDerStok, will be heard by the Supreme Court during its next term.

Attorney General Stein 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 that the Fifth Circuit’s decision was erroneous. They argue that the rule is necessary to close a dangerous loophole 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 early 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.

Attorney General Stein is joined by the Attorneys General from Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, District of Columbia, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

A copy of the brief is available here.