The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Plan to Regulate Ghost Guns

(George Frey/Reuters)

The Reload, the new site from gun reporter Stephen Gutowski, has a preliminary, leaked draft of a forthcoming Biden-administration rule on “ghost guns.”

As I’ve discussed previously, it’s legal to make your own guns for personal use, and these guns don’t need serial numbers — but the law is ambiguous as to how much businesses can help you. Specifically, serial numbers and background checks are needed when a business sells a “firearm,” a term that applies not only to fully functional weapons but also to a gun’s “frame or receiver” or a weapon that “may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive.”

Currently, companies can sell receivers that are “80 percent” complete, meaning they still need some machining, but nothing too elaborate. Some companies have even been selling full kits, which include the 80 percent receiver and the other parts needed to make a gun.

The proposal would tighten up the standards dramatically. It would treat “a weapon parts kit that is designed to or may readily be assembled, completed, converted, or restored to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive” as a firearm. So too a “partially complete” receiver that “is clearly identifiable as an unfinished component part of a weapon” and “may readily be completed, assembled, converted, or restored to a functional state.”

As Gutowski adds,

The proposal provides only subjective standards for what makes an unfinished part “readily” convertible into a finished firearm but provides footnotes to court cases where the term has been applied. One court example included in the document said a part completed in “around an eight-hour working day in a properly equipped machine shop” was considered “readily” convertible. The only example of a ruling defining when a part is not “readily” convertible involved a process that “required [a] master gunsmith in a gun shop and $65,000 worth of equipment and tools.”

The examples provided in the document show the proposed rule would likely outlaw the sale of any unfinished receiver, especially when included in a kit with other parts and instructions or tools needed to complete the part. That’s because most unfinished parts sold in America today, including so-called 80% AR-15 lowers, can be finished at home in a few hours with commonly available tools like drill presses and compact mills.

The rule would also fix the problem I discussed here, in which the current regulatory definition of “receiver” seems to allow people to sell finished AR-15 receivers without background checks, because the gun requires both a “lower” and an “upper” receiver and neither meets the definition by itself.


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