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Ghost Guns and Gun Regulation

Updated: April 12, 2022

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced (April 11, 2022) that it finalized a rule regulating so-called "ghost guns," which are firearms typically made by an individual from kits or which can be 3-D printed, which lack serial numbers for tracing, and which can evade metal detection. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) issued a proposed rule on this matter last year (May 2021).

The announcement provided data showing that privately-made firearms (PMFs) recovered by law enforcement rose from a total of 1,758 in 2016 to 19,344 in 2021, more than 45,200 such weapons recovered over a 6-year period with nearly 700 PMFs tied to a homicide or attempted homicide.

The final rule, with requirements that go into effect in 4 months, includes the following key requirements:

  • Clarifies that retailers must run background checks before selling a kit that contains the parts necessary for someone to make a gun;

  • Modernizes the definition of “frame” or “receiver,” clarifying what must be marked with a serial number – including in easy-to-build firearm kits. Ghost guns (and other guns) had the potential to evade prior Federal serializing requirements with a “split” receiver (more than one), versus a single receiver upon which previous rules were established.

  • Establishes requirements for federally licensed firearms dealers and gunsmiths to have a serial number added to 3D printed guns or other unserialized firearms they take into inventory.

  • Requires federal firearms licensees, including gun retailers, to retain records for the length of time they are licensed, thereby expanding records retention beyond the prior requirement of 20 years. The 20 year rule made it difficult for investigators to trace gun ownership of older guns used in crimes.

Outside of Ghost Guns, a separate gun rulemaking process (June 2021) remains pending within ATF regarding the definition of "stabilizing braces." Short-barreled rifles, which use such braces, are considered unusual and dangerous but not subject to the same regulation as a “rifle” which is intended to be shot from a person's shoulder. It is not clear when a rule will be finalized.


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