Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck today announced that New Jersey is leading – with Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia – a multi-state coalition including 22 Attorneys General in support of a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) proposal to strengthen federal regulations governing firearms.
Among other things, DOJ’s proposed rule will ensure that federal requirements for serial numbers on firearms and background checks for firearm purchases will apply to products often marketed as “ghost guns.”
Ghost guns are partially assembled firearms sold with the parts needed to create a fully operational gun, often with the instructions on how to do so.
Because “ghost guns” are incomplete when sold, companies exploiting loopholes in federal regulations do not require purchasers to go through background checks, allowing prohibited persons—including terrorists, fugitives, and felons—to obtain firearms that they otherwise would not be able to purchase.
Completed ghost guns lack serial numbers, making it harder for law enforcement to trace the weapons to their owners and solve gun-related crimes.
Ghost guns are illegal in New Jersey under a law signed by Governor Phil Murphy in 2018. But the lack of federal regulation has allowed ghost guns sold in other states to migrate into New Jersey, where they represent an increasing percentage of firearms recovered by law enforcement.
The proposed rule would close that loophole.
“We’ve made it a priority of my administration to protecting New Jersey’s communities, and the brave men and women of law enforcement, by enacting and enforcing gun laws aimed at keeping untraceable, non-serialized firearms out of the hands of criminals, known terrorists, children and others who have no business possessing them,” said Governor Phil Murphy.
“But states should not be in this fight alone. For some time now, gun retailers across the nation have been exploiting loopholes in federal law to continue selling dangerous, easy-to-assemble gun kits to anyone with the ability to pay for them – and without a background check.
The proposed federal rule we’re supporting today aims to end that madness, and we welcome it.”
“Under Governor Murphy, New Jersey has been a national leader in the effort to reduce gun violence overall, and in particular to stop the flow of untraceable, build-them-yourself firearms into the hands of criminals and other individuals who have no business possessing them,” said Acting Attorney General Bruck.
“But throughout our nation, too many of these untraceable guns are still sold and transported across state lines because of loopholes not addressed by the federal government.
We’ve said for some time that ATF needs to tighten up its rules and take some of the onus off the states for combating illegal guns.
Those pleas fell on deaf ears with the prior administration, but we’re heartened to see that action is now being taken.”
In May 2021, DOJ’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) announced the proposed rule to clarify how the federal Gun Control Act applies to various firearm products, including firearm frames and receivers, which are the primary structural components of firearms.
Most importantly, the proposed rules would close loopholes in ATF’s existing policies that have exempted certain firearms—including ghost guns—from regulation under the Gun Control Act.
By clarifying that weapon parts kits and other unfinished firearms which can readily be completed are subject to regulation by ATF, the proposed rule will require gun retailers to run background checks before selling these products.
This will prevent dealers from selling the weapons to individuals who are prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms.
In addition, the rule will clarify that the Gun Control Act can apply to firearm frames and receivers even if the frame or receiver is split – a common feature of widely used semiautomatic weapons – or partially complete – a common feature of ghost guns.
This will require manufacturers of gun kits to include a serial number on the frame or receiver found in the kit.
The rule would also require federally licensed firearms dealers to add a serial number to any 3-D printed firearms or other non-serialized guns they plan to sell.
In the comment letter submitted to DOJ yesterday, Acting Attorney General Bruck, along with the other members of the coalition, welcomed the proposed rules.
The comment letter explains that existing “regulatory gaps” at the federal level have enabled the “meteoric rise of a ghost gun industry” that operates without proper oversight.
The increasing availability of easy-to-assemble, untraceable, no-background-check-required firearms, in turn, has fueled a surge in gun violence.
While ghost guns have become more available, large cities suffered a 24 percent increase in homicides and a 22 percent increase in gun assaults from the first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021.
In New Jersey, the comment letter reports, at least 37 unmarked ghost guns have been used in a shooting since the start of 2020.
Moreover, ghost guns represent an increasing percentage of all firearms recovered by New Jersey law enforcement. 55 unserialized guns were recovered in 2019 out of 3,385 total gun recoveries (1.62%); 101 were recovered in 2020 out of 3,375 total gun recoveries (2.99%); and 122 had already been recovered in 2021 as of July 15 out of 2,154 total gun recoveries (5.66%).
Amidst this steady increase, nearly 90 percent of the ghost guns recovered in New Jersey in 2020 and 2021 have been linked to kits sold by one particular company:
Polymer80, a retailer of ghost guns that has stated plainly on its website that persons with past felony convictions can purchase its kit.
In the absence of federal regulation, States have taken the lead in combatting the violence associated with ghost guns.
Just yesterday, Acting Attorney General Bruck announced the indictment of 11 members of a criminal organization charged with operating an illegal weapons trafficking operation which included the sale of numerous ghost guns.
The Attorney General’s Office also has used civil enforcement tools to crack down on out-of-state firearm distributors selling ghost guns to New Jersey buyers.
In March 2021, New Jersey announced a first-of-its-kind settlement with a ghost gun company that the Attorney General and New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs sued over the company’s advertising and marketing of ghost guns to New Jersey residents and delivery of an assault firearms kit to a New Jersey buyer.
The March 2019 lawsuit against James Tromblee, Jr. d/b/a U.S. Patriot Armory also was the country’s first such lawsuit against a ghost gun distribution.