Public Interest

Appeals Court Dismisses Republican Challenge to ‘Ghost Gun’ Rule in the US
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The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in St. Louis, has dismissed an attempt by a coalition of Republican-led states and gun rights advocates to block the enforcement of a recently implemented regulation by the Biden administration. This regulation, aimed at curbing the proliferation of privately manufactured firearms known as “ghost guns,” has been a point of contention since its inception.

The court ruled against 16 state attorneys general, all Republicans, along with various gun rights organizations. These parties had sought to demonstrate that they would suffer irreparable harm if the regulation were to remain in force. The 8th Circuit concluded that this harm had not been substantiated adequately.

The disputed regulation, effective as of August 2022, was issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Its primary objective is to address the growing issue of homemade firearms that evade conventional tracing methods, thereby complicating law enforcement efforts. This is a response to the exponential rise in the availability of DIY firearm kits, purchasable online or in stores without requiring background checks.


See also: Supreme Court Majority Upholds ‘Ghost Gun’ Kit Regulations for Mandatory Background Checks

To confront this issue, the regulation introduces revised definitions for key terms like “firearm,” “frame,” and “receiver” as outlined in the Gun Control Act of 1968. By doing so, it seeks to encompass the emerging category of ghost guns.

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Data from the U.S. Department of Justice reveals a staggering increase in the submission of ghost guns by law enforcement agencies for tracing purposes. In 2021, over 19,000 such weapons were submitted for tracing—a dramatic surge of more than 1000% compared to 2017. Unfortunately, these tracing efforts proved largely futile due to the absence of serial numbers on ghost guns.

Multiple lawsuits were initiated to challenge the regulation, including one filed in North Dakota by a coalition of state attorneys general, an individual who assembles firearms from online materials, a firearms vendor, and the advocacy group Gun Owners of America. These legal actions contended that procedural requirements for rulemaking were disregarded and that the regulation overstepped the bounds of the Gun Control Act, infringing upon the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to bear arms.

Despite these challenges, a federal judge declined to issue a preliminary injunction, a decision that was recently affirmed by a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit. The panel, consisting of judges appointed by Republican presidents, concurred that the plaintiffs had not sufficiently demonstrated how the regulation’s enforcement would impede their constitutionally protected activities.

Erich Pratt, a senior vice president at Gun Owners of America, expressed determination to appeal the decision. He asserted that the fight for Second Amendment rights would persist despite this setback. On the other hand, the Department of Justice opted not to provide a comment on the matter.

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This legal ruling marks a notable milestone, as it represents the first instance in which a U.S. appeals court has decided after hearing arguments about this contentious regulation. In a parallel development, a federal judge in Texas nullified the regulation nationwide in July. However, this decision was temporarily suspended by the U.S. Supreme Court a few weeks ago, pending the administration’s appeal.

As the legal battle unfolds, the fate of the “ghost gun” regulation remains uncertain. The differing decisions from various judicial levels underscore the complexity and importance of addressing evolving firearm-related challenges while navigating constitutional rights.

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