United States

Supreme Court To Review Biden Administration's Ghost Gun Rule

The Supreme Court has agreed to review a lower court decision invalidating a Biden administration rule aimed at regulating "ghost guns."

Parts of a ghost gun kit are on display at an event held by U.S. President Joe Biden to announce measures to fight ghost gun crime, at the White House in Washington. Photo: Reuters

The Supreme Court has announced its decision to revisit a lower court ruling that nullified a regulation crafted by the Biden administration to tackle the growing issue of crimes involving "ghost guns." These firearms, unmarked and often assembled from kits available online, have posed a significant challenge for law enforcement.

The rule, instituted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in April 2022, aimed to tighten regulations surrounding the manufacture and sale of ghost guns. Under this regulation, manufacturers and sellers were required to obtain licenses, mark their products with serial numbers, conduct background checks, and maintain purchase records. These measures mirrored those already in place for conventional firearms sold in the United States.

A coalition of gun owners, advocacy groups, and ghost gun distributors contested the ATF's rule, arguing that it overstepped the agency's authority. They specifically challenged the expanded definition of "firearm" and the inclusion of partially completed parts like frames or receivers. In a pivotal ruling, a federal district court in Texas sided with the challengers, deeming the entire regulation invalid.

The Biden administration swiftly appealed this decision, leading to a back-and-forth legal battle. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit temporarily halted the lower court's order but later ruled against key provisions of the ATF rule. This ruling, if upheld, could potentially allow the unrestricted distribution of weapon parts, bypassing background checks and serial number requirements.

The Justice Department, in its plea to the Supreme Court, emphasized the public safety risks posed by unregulated ghost guns. It argued that the 5th Circuit's interpretation of the Gun Control Act would create a loophole, enabling individuals to assemble functional firearms without oversight, thereby undermining efforts to combat violent crime.

Proponents of the ATF's rule contend that it is essential for curbing the proliferation of ghost guns and protecting public safety. They highlight the alarming rise in the number of these untraceable firearms recovered by law enforcement in recent years. Additionally, they stress the ease with which weapon parts kits can be transformed into fully functional firearms, circumventing existing regulations.

On the opposing side, challengers argue that the ATF's rule infringes upon the rights of law-abiding citizens and threatens the viability of a legitimate industry catering to firearm enthusiasts. They insist that any expansion of regulatory authority should be subject to congressional approval, rather than unilateral action by the ATF.

The upcoming Supreme Court review, scheduled for the next term commencing in October, will offer a definitive resolution to this contentious issue. It holds significant implications for the regulation of ghost guns and the broader debate surrounding gun control measures in the United States.