State Attorney General Tish James joined a coalition of 22 across the country in issuing a letter last week to urge the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to finalize regulations that would close a legal loophole that allows felons to have access to ghost guns.
“Deadly ghost guns exist for only one purpose — to put guns into the hands of those who are legally prohibited from owning a firearm,” said James in a statement. “In New York, we have taken significant action to crack down on gun violence and have taken nearly 2,000 guns off our streets, but our efforts can only go so far if these untraceable weapons are not effectively regulated.”
James announced on Aug. 21 that 98 firearms were turned in to law enforcement at a gun buyback event hosted by her office and the Utica Police Department upstate, which included working and nonworking, unloaded handguns, shotguns, rifles, antique guns and an assault rifle. She held a similar initiative in Syracuse in July that saw 342 firearms turned in. In exchange, people who turned over their guns received monetary compensation in the form of prepaid gift cards and Apple iPads.
“Ghost guns are just as dangerous as traditional firearms, yet our laws don’t reflect that reality,” said James. “For the safety of our communities, it’s past time we change that.”
Ghost guns are unserialized and untraceable firearms that can be bought online and assembled at home with a kit, according to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a nonprofit that advocates for gun control. The guns are widely available and can be easily purchased by minors, gun traffickers and other prohibited users like felons or domestic abusers without a background check. The kits are also accessible at gun shows.
The kits include an unfinished receiver for a Glock type handgun and an unfinished frame inside of a jig, which functions to provide a pattern for drilling holes to make it a finished frame, according to the Brady Center.
Weapon kits and incomplete weapon parts, like a frame or receiver, are not overseen by current federal law, according to James.
The letter was in response to the ATF proposing a rule on May 21 that it will provide new definitions for firearm frame or receiver; will amend the definition of firearm to include firearms parts kit; it will amend the definition of gunsmith to clarify that people with that title must be licensed to mark firearms for unlicensed persons; and it will provide definitions for a complete weapon.
The ATF will also provide the definition for a complete muffler or silencer device and privately made firearms. It will also provide a definition of importer’s or manufacturer’s serial number; will provide a deadline for marking firearms manufactured; clarify marking requirements; amend formats for records of manufacture and acquisition and amend the time periods records must be retained at a licensed premises.
House GOP members, however, want the rule to be struck and believe that the ATF “seeks to unilaterally insert a new definition using language from the Federal Firearms Act of 1938,” which was repealed in 1968, according to a letter signed by U.S. Reps. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Gregory Stube (R-Fla.), Tom Tiffany (R-Wisc.), Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.), Scott Fitzgerald (R-Wisc.) and Burgess Owens (R-Utah) on Aug. 10.
“The proposed rule would expand the definition of ‘frame or receiver’ to include any part of a firearm that can house even one mechanism of the firing process,” said the Republican lawmakers.
Overall, the GOP believes that the proposed rule goes well beyond the authority granted to the agency.
“Closing this ‘ghost gun’ loophole is a vital step to restricting the unregulated flow of these dangerous and deadly weapons,” said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). “Violent crime and shootings are on the rise across New York and the last thing we need is more untraceable ‘ghost guns’ making the situation worse.”
Queens DA Melinda Katz, who participated in a different gun buyback initiative in June hosted by James that saw 79 guns overturned, agrees that the loophole needs to be closed.
“Attorney General James is a force in fighting illegal guns in our communities and working with us and other agencies to increase safety,’” said Katz in an email. “The Attorney General’s effort to close the loophole regarding ghost guns is a necessity and we applaud the efforts.”
In 2019, Councilman Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) sponsored a bill that requires the NYPD to report on the number of seizures of ghost guns and 3-D-printed guns. It was passed through the City Council later that year.
“Untraceable and illegal ghost guns are a serious threat to public safety,” said Miller. “Closing the loophole and finally recognizing ghost guns as deadly firearms on a federal level will go a long way in stopping arms traffickers who have gotten more sophisticated over the past several years.”
State Sen. John Liu (D-Bayside), who has co-sponsored legislation to criminalize the sale of ghost guns and require gunsmiths to register and serialize firearms, rifles, shotguns and unfinished frames or receivers they assemble, also supports James’ initiative to close ghost gun loopholes.
“It is urgent for the federal government to undertake measures to fight ghost guns,” said Liu. “While the state legislature passed two bills this year to fight ghost guns, Attorney General Letitia James has been a champion of getting illegal guns off our streets and a great partner to the state legislature in fighting gun violence ... the federal government and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) need to do their part and revise their regulations to close the ghost gun loophole to help keep us all safe.”
The proposed rule is currently under a 90-day comment period.