Justice Alito’s Intervention Sparks Revival of Ghost Gun Rules

On Friday, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito agreed to temporarily halt a lower court judgment that prevents the government from regulating so-called ghost guns, or untraceable handmade weapons, as firearms under federal law. Alito proceeded unilaterally because he is the sole justice on the lower court that has jurisdiction over the case.

Alito stated in his short order that the full Supreme Court will issue its decision by August 4 and gave challengers of the regulation until August 2 to file their responses. Whether or not the regulations should continue in effect while legal challenges are heard is a question.

“Ghost guns” refer to firearms that can be purchased as kits online and assembled by the user. There are no serial numbers, no need for verification of identity, and no records of transfers that make tracking them simple. Opponents argue that they appeal to persons who should not be in possession of firearms due to legal restrictions.

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In 2022, regulations were changed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, guns, and Explosives to classify the kits as guns, allowing the government to keep better tabs on them. The regulation does not forbid the acquisition of such a set, nor does it restrict the sale or ownership of firearms.

Instead, it necessitates adhering to federal rules that regulate the commercial sale of weapons and set forth certain requirements for doing so. Manufacturers and retailers of commercial weapons must adhere to these regulations, which include permanently marking rifles with serial numbers and maintaining records to facilitate the tracking of stolen firearms.

Late in June, United States District Judge Reed O’Connor of the Northern District of Texas halted the rule’s implementation statewide on the grounds that the government had overstepped its authority in doing so. Two significant contested portions of the regulation were not stayed by a federal appeals court.

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Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar notified the Supreme Court of an urgent matter, writing that “police departments around the Nation have confronted an explosion of crimes involving ghost guns” over the past few years.

“Congress recognized that limiting the federal firearms laws to functional firearms would invite evasion, and it thus broadly defined ‘firearm’ to include any weapon ‘that will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive,’” Prelogar wrote.

The ATF rules were challenged by Texans who already own the necessary parts to make ghost guns for their own purposes. Due to the regulation, they are unable to acquire replacement components independently. Also challenging the regulation were gun rights advocates.

O’Connor wrote in his order that “parts, or aggregations of weapons parts” are not included in the definition of a firearm provided by Congress, even if those parts can be “readily assembled into something that may fire a projectile.”

“Even if it is true that such an interpretation creates loopholes that as a policy matter should be avoided, it not the role of the judiciary to correct them,” O’Connor wrote.

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