Continuing New Jersey’s fight against the proliferation of dangerous, unregistered firearms known as “ghost guns,” Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today announced that the State has joined an amicus brief challenging a decision by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to exclude ghost guns from federal firearm safety regulations.
Ghost guns are partially assembled firearms sold with the parts needed to create a fully operational gun. Completed ghost guns lack serial numbers, which makes it harder for law enforcement to trace the weapons to their owners and solve gun-related crimes.
The amicus brief filed by 18 States and the District of Columbia supports the plaintiffs in Syracuse v. ATF, a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, and argues that ghost guns endanger their residents and impede law enforcement’s ability to investigate and prosecute criminal activity.
Ghost guns are prohibited in New Jersey and Attorney General Grewal has pursued criminal and civil enforcement actions to stop illegal activity involving ghost guns, including filing the nation’s first lawsuit by a State against a seller of ghost guns.
“Under Governor Murphy, New Jersey has become a national leader in combatting gun violence, including the dangers posed by ghost guns,” said Attorney General Grewal. “But too many of these untraceable weapons are still sold and transported across state lines because of a loophole created by ATF. It’s time for ATF to close the loophole and start treating ghost guns like other firearms – as federal law already requires.”
The federal Gun Control Act, enacted in the wake of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, requires “firearms” to include serial numbers and purchasers of those weapons to pass a background check, among other requirements. From the 1980s through the early 2000s, ATF classified the core components of handguns and rifles—frames and receivers—as “firearms” subject to federal regulation if the components could be quickly and easily converted into functioning guns.
In 2015, however, ATF reversed course without explaining its change in position. As a result, ghost guns have begun to proliferate – untraceable and sold without background checks.
The plaintiffs in Syracuse v. ATF—a group of cities and advocacy organizations—challenge the 2015 policy change.
In support of their challenge, the amicus brief filed today by the attorneys general argues that ghost guns clearly fall within the statute’s definition of “firearms” and threaten public safety. They also contend that ATF’s policy has resulted in consumers being misled by ghost gun dealers, who have pointed to ATF’s policy to claim that ghost guns are legal when they are in fact illegal under numerous states’ laws.
Deputy Attorney General John Passante of the Special Litigation Section in the Division of Law’s Affirmative Civil Enforcement Practice Group handled the amicus brief on behalf of the State.