California sues federal government over ‘ghost gun’ rules

Tribune Content Agency

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California is suing the federal government over its definition of a firearm in attempt to make it easier to track and confiscate so-called “ghost guns” that are often bought online and built at home without a background check.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra said at a news conference it’s critical the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives consider “ghost guns” as firearms so the federal agency can regulate the weapons with the same stringency as traditional guns.

Without the restrictions, Becerra said, ghost gun purchasers will continue to skirt federal and state rules and potentially use the weapons in mass shootings like the November 2019 Saugus High School shooting in Santa Clarita.

“These firearms are indistinguishable from the serialized firearms that are regulated under state and federal law. And they’re every bit as lethal,” Becerra said. “Anyone can make them, anyone can carry them, anyone can fire them.”

Ghost guns don’t have traceable serial numbers because the parts are often bought online and then put together at home, according to the gun violence prevention nonprofit Brady Campaign. These operations make it hard to track when someone who’s not allowed to carry a firearm is in violation of the law.

Ghost guns are subject to a list of legislative rules in California. The state Department of Justice requires self-made firearms have a serial number and restricts the sale and transfer of these guns.

But because these weapons qualify as an “unfinished receiver” or “80% finished,” according to the federal agency, they’ve “not yet reached a stage of manufacture that meets the definition of ‘firearm frame’ or ‘receiver.’”

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges the bureau is violating the 1968 Gun Control Act by not imposing the same limitations on these “lethal do-it-yourself” projects. Without this check, the filing claims, “ghost guns are quickly becoming the weapon of choice” for gun traffickers and gangs.

“It’s not supposed to be this easy for anyone to get a gun,” said Bryan Muehlberger, whose daughter Gracie Anne Muehlberger was killed by a ghost gun used last year at the Saugus High School shooting. “Ghost guns are guns, plain and simple,”

Muehlberger and Frank Blackwell, who also lost his son Dominic Blackwell in the same shooting, joined the lawsuit as plaintiffs, along with the firearm policy organization Giffords Law Center.

“We owe it to these families who are suffering,” said Becerra, whose agency has sued the federal administration more than 100 times. “We owe it to our children.”


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