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On Friday, The Department of Justice published a 115-page document detailing a proposed rule change that would redefine what constitutes a firearm. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), the new definition “take[s] into account technological developments and modern terminology in the firearms industry, as well as amendments to the marking and recordkeeping requirements.”
The newly proposed rule would redefine a “ghost gun” or precursor firearm parts as a firearm under federal law.
As of now, a “ghost gun” is defined as any homemade firearm that lacks serial numbers, a definition criticized by gun control advocates because they are difficult to trace. These are often machined from blocks of aluminum, although they can also be made using a 3D printer. Other types include 80% lowers, which are a basic mold of a firearm which require additional machining.
Under current law, a person can manufacture a homemade firearm without serial numbers for their personal use. A serial number, however, is required if the firearm is sold or transferred to another person. This is only applicable for hobbyists, not those who are in the business of manufacturing, buying, and/or selling guns. These homemade firearms are currently regulated under the Gun Control Act of 1968.
The proposed rule change would classify 80% lowers and receivers that could be “readily completed” as a functional firearm, meaning a serial number and background check would be required at the time of purchase:
When a partially complete frame or receiver parts kit reaches a stage in manufacture where it may readily be completed, assembled, converted, or restored to a functional state, it would be considered a firearm “frame or receiver” that must be marked. Further, under the proposed rule, weapon parts kits with partially complete frames or receivers containing the necessary parts such that they may readily be completed, assembled, converted, or restored to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive would be “firearms” for which each frame or receiver of the weapon, as defined under this rule, would need to be marked.
Instead of shipping directly to a purchaser’s home, the incomplete frames and receivers would be serialized and sent to a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) — commonly referred to as a “gun dealer” — where a purchaser would fill out ATF Form 4473 and complete a background check.
According to The Reload, the terminology used in the rules change is vague:
Under the current rule, a gun part can only be regulated as a receiver if it has several key components, including the trigger mechanism and breach. The proposed rule would change that to let the ATF regulate a part as a receiver if it includes just one of those components. It would also add language to the definition allowing the ATF to regulate anything that could be “readily” made into a firearm receiver as though it were a finished receiver.
The proposed rule does not provide a set of objective standards for what constitutes “readily” convertible. Instead, it relies on subjective measures of how long the conversion could take, how difficult it could be, and what tools could be required. The agency pointed to court cases for examples of what readily meant. In one example the agency said a part being completed during “an eight-hour working day in a properly equipped machine shop” qualified as “readily” convertible.
The rule change would also target various platforms including the AR-15, among the most popular firearms sold today.
“Besides establishing a de facto ban on so-called 80 percent frames and receivers in the way they are in circulation today, it could also stand to regulate ‘split/multi-receiver’ and ‘modular firearms’ such as the AR-15 and P320 in ways that could require AR uppers and pistol slide assemblies to be a serialized firearm,” Guns.com reported.
In addition, the rule change would allow FFLs and gunsmiths to “mark firearms for the maker or owner of a privately made firearm (PMF) and may be licensed to engage solely in that business.” They are not, however, authorized to make those modifications for “a licensed importer or licensed manufacturer because those firearms are for sale or distribution.”
Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, the public will have 90 days to submit comments.
Why the rules are changing
The DOJ is cracking down on “ghost guns” because of the number of “un-serialized firearms” that have shown up at crime scenes across the nation. The goal, the agency says, is to “keep guns from being sold to convicted felons and other prohibited purchasers.”
“We are committed to taking commonsense steps to address the epidemic of gun violence that takes the lives of too many people in our communities,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “Criminals and others barred from owning a gun should not be able to exploit a loophole to evade background checks and to escape detection by law enforcement. This proposed rule would help keep guns out of the wrong hands and make it easier for law enforcement to trace guns used to commit violent crimes, while protecting the rights of law-abiding Americans.”
According to the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), the proposed rule change “would give ATF arbitrary authority to classify firearms in a way that could make it difficult or impossible for the firearm industry to operate.”
The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the firearms trade association is concerned about the “details” of the proposal.
“The details will matter,” Lawrence Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the NSSF, said in a statement.
“We are fully aware of the impact that this proposed rule could have on the firearm industry and gun owners in general,” Keane explained. “NSSF will closely examine the proposed rule and seek input from our members on how this proposed rule adversely impacts their businesses, and whether the rule exceeds ATF’s legal authority under the Gun Control Act. NSSF fully expects to file robust public comments with ATF during the 90-day comment period.”
Gun Owners of America (GAO) said the proposed rules change is “asinine.”
“The proposed rules by Biden’s Justice Department seek to add undue burdens on homebuilt firearms. Forcing purchasers of unfinished chunks of metal and plastic to undergo a background check from a broken NICS system is simply asinine,” GAO Senior Vice President Erich Pratt said in a statement. “Just as with other forms of gun control, these regulations will leave honest people with one less method for self-defense but will be completely ignored by criminals.”
Beth Baumann is a Political Reporter and Editor at The Daily Wire. Follow her on Twitter @eb454.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.