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H.R. 1454: Ghost Guns Are Guns Act


Ghosting is terrible when dating, but is it a good thing with weapons?

Context

With an increase in sales of firearm assembly kits over the past few years has come the concept of “ghost guns,” handguns that can be manufactured on your own. Unlike weapons purchased with traditional means, these firearms aren’t registered and lack serial numbers.

This means they can be owned by people who would normally fail background checks, such as those under age 18, with a felony conviction, or a domestic violence misdemeanor.

How many are out there? That’s unclear. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) recovered about 10,000 ghost guns in 2019, which means that the actual number is surely far higher than that.

In April, the Joe Biden administration’s Justice Department proposed a rule that would classify ghost guns as firearms, requiring background checks on buyers and that such weapons include serial numbers. Even if the rule is enacted, though, it could be reversed with the snap of the finger in a subsequent Republican administration. Some Democrats are proposing a codified version that would be harder to undo.

What the bill does

The Ghost Guns Are Guns Act would treat these “firearm assembly kits” as firearms, for purposes of federal law. The aim is to subject anybody who buys one to the federal background checks required for handguns purchased through licensed firearms dealers. (Although, dealing to the more decentralized nature of the internet, this could be difficult to enforce in practice.)

It was introduced in the House on March 1 as H.R. 1454, by Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY13).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that background checks law enjoy wide support across the political spectrum, including by 83 percent of gun owners and 72 percent of NRA members, but ghost guns offer a loophole.

“It is simply inconceivable that an individual can be barred from purchasing a firearm, but can still purchase a firearm assembly kit online that they can then use to create untraceable ghost guns that pose serious safety concerns to our communities and law enforcement,” Rep. Espaillat said in a press release. “These kits are oftentimes completely untraceable because they seldom have serial numbers, and our bill… aims to close this loophole and potentially help save lives.”

“We can no longer turn a blind eye to the effects that firearms have on our children, our families, and our communities,” Rep. Espaillat continued. “The [bill] is critical to addressing gun violence in the United States and will undoubtedly save lives in communities throughout the nation.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that ghost guns are a relatively minor problem which doesn’t merit regulation in this way.

“‘Ghost gun’ is an invented term intended to scare. Ghosts are imaginary, and so is the problem this bill is trying to address,” the NRA-ILA (National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action) wrote in a statement about a similar New York state bill passed earlier this year. “There is scant evidence that these types of firearms are used in crimes [in New York].”

“Criminals are not interested in costly equipment and the time-consuming and laborious process of manufacturing their own firearms like hobbyists when they can simply remove serial numbers by defacing crime guns,” the NRA-ILA continued. “The issue is really a non-issue.”

(Ghost guns have indeed been involved in fatalities, including a 16-year-old who used a ghost gun to kill two students at a California high school in 2019.)

Odds of passage

Rep. Espaillat previously introduced the bill twice. The 2017 version attracted 25 cosponsors, all Democrats, but never received a vote in the Republican-controlled House. The 2019 version attracted a significantly larger 88 cosponsors, all Democrats, yet never received a committee vote despite Democrats controlling the House.

The current version has attracted an identical 88 cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the House Judiciary Committee.

Last updated May 11, 2021. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Mar 1, 2021.


Ghost Guns Are Guns Act

This bill broadens the definition of firearm for purposes of federal firearms laws.

Specifically, it includes as a firearm any combination of parts designed or intended to be used to convert a device into a firearm and from which a firearm may be readily assembled.