US supreme court takes up Biden’s ‘ghost guns’ regulation case

<span>Ghost guns on display at the San Francisco police headquarters on 27 November 2019.</span><span>Photograph: Haven Daley/AP</span>
Ghost guns on display at the San Francisco police headquarters on 27 November 2019.Photograph: Haven Daley/AP

The US supreme court will consider whether “ghost guns” – firearms made from kits available online that people can assemble at home – can be lawfully regulated.

On Monday, the justices agreed to take up the appeal by the Biden administration in favor of regulations aimed at reining in the so-called ghost guns.

A lower court invalidated the administration’s attempt to regulate the firearms, a decision the supreme court temporarily stayed last summer before reinstating the federal regulation at Joe Biden’s request.

Related: Many Americans who recently bought guns open to political violence, survey finds

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives approved a regulation in 2022 that required companies that sell unassembled firearm kits to add serial numbers to incomplete frames and components known as receivers, a key part of a homemade firearm kit, and to conduct a background check on prospective buyers.

Several companies that manufacture the ghost gun kits argued the regulation was not permitted under law. The federal rule only applies to unfinished frames and receivers, the primary components of a ghost gun.

A US district court in Texas ruled against the ghost gun regulation in July 2023, a decision the supreme court later put on hold. The US district judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth, Texas, found that the administration exceeded its authority under a 1968 federal law called the Gun Control Act in implementing the rule relating to ghost guns.

Such firearms lack the usual serial numbers required by the federal government.

In October 2023, the justices stepped in again, barring two Texas-based manufacturers from selling products that could be assembled into ghost guns, after O’Connor’s September injunction.

The Biden administration has said that police departments are facing an “explosion of crimes involving ghost guns” in recent years. Policymakers have also said that ghost guns are attractive to criminals and others prohibited from lawfully buying firearms, including minors.

In 2017, police submitted about 1,600 ghost guns for tracing. In 2021, the number grew to more than 19,000.

In 2022, the Department of Justice recovered 25,785 ghost guns in seizures in the US, according to a statement by the Office of Public Affairs.

Local governments are seeing these statistics first hand and taking action. Last summer, Philadelphia sued two ghost gun manufacturers after a mass shooter killed five people. Police said the suspect shooter, Kimbrady Carriker, used two ghost guns during the deadly shooting.

In Colorado, a ghost gun ban went into effect this year.