Pa.’s Josh Shapiro, 19 other state attorneys general defend new rule to regulate ‘ghost guns’

Ghost guns. (Ximena Conde/WHYY)

Ghost guns. (Ximena Conde/WHYY)

This story originally appeared on WESA.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has joined 19 other state attorneys general in supporting a Biden administration effort to tighten regulations on so-called “ghost guns.” In an amicus brief filed last week, the officials asked a federal judge in Texas to reject a challenge to the new restrictions set to take effect in August.

“For years, convicted felons, violent drug dealers, have all been able to buy these guns at gun shows without a background check,” Shapiro said in a statement Monday. “With these new federal regulations, we are making it harder for gun kits to end up in the hands of criminals and easier for law enforcement to track crime guns in their investigations. All this helps make Pennsylvania communities safer.”

Shapiro, the Democratic nominee for governor, will face Republican Doug Mastriano, a strong opponent of gun control, in the November election.

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Often made at home with weapons parts kits and no serial number, ghost guns are untraceable. A background check is not required to purchase the kits, which the attorneys general argue has created a loophole through which criminals can obtain firearms. “The unregulated supply today of unserialized gun parts lets people evade the gun laws of their states,” the brief reads.

The new federal rule would ensure weapons kits and partially completed weapons have serial numbers and require buyers to undergo a background check. According to NPR, it also requires kit companies to be licensed manufacturers.

The brief was led by the attorneys general of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Washington, DC. Attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin also joined. The group argues the ghost gun industry has exploded in recent years, driven by online gun parts sales.

According to federal data, the number of ghost guns seized by law enforcement has increased ten-fold since 2016. “Without meaningful federal oversight, unserialized guns have regularly fallen into the hands of prohibited persons, with often deadly results,” the brief reads.

The brief also cites a 2019 incident in which a California teenager killed two classmates and himself with a ghost gun.

“Without banning the sale of kits or self-manufactured guns, the Rule ensures that states can at least trace these weapons and that they are not bought by criminals or children as a means of evading state law,” the brief reads.

The rule is being challenged in Texas by Galveston-based Division 80, a company that sells blank pistol frames and other gun parts that can be used to make ghost guns. The company argues the rule could put them out of business or at legal risk.

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But the attorneys general, echoing the Biden administration, argue ghost guns are too easy to access despite state efforts to impose requirements on kits and manufacturers.

“Though individual states have worked diligently to protect their citizens from gun violence and address this emerging threat, there is a natural limit to states’ abilities to combat a nationwide problem that crosses state borders,” the attorneys general argued.

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