The Supreme Court has granted the Biden administration's request to freeze a lower court order that bars the government from regulating ghost guns as firearms under federal law. Ghost guns are untraceable homemade weapons that can be assembled from kits bought online. These guns have no serial numbers, do not require background checks, and provide no transfer records, making them attractive to those who are legally prohibited from buying firearms.
The Supreme Court's decision was made in a 5-4 vote, with Chief Justice John Roberts and conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett joining the court's three liberals to allow the regulations to remain in effect. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh would have denied the application.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives updated its regulations in 2022 to define ghost gun kits as firearms under the law, allowing the government to more carefully track them. The rule does not prohibit the sale or possession of ghost gun kits but requires compliance with federal laws that impose conditions on the commercial sale of firearms. These conditions include marking products with serial numbers and keeping records for law enforcement to trace firearms used in crimes.
The challenge to the ATF regulations was brought by two Texas residents who intend to manufacture ghost guns for personal use, as well as retailers of ghost gun kits and a gun rights group. They argued that the ATF had exceeded its authority in extending the definitions of firearms to include ghost gun components.
In an emergency filing with the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar warned that police departments across the country have seen an increase in crimes involving ghost guns in recent years. She argued that Congress had broadly defined "firearm" to include any weapon that can be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive.
Judge Reed O'Connor of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas had previously held that the ATF had exceeded its authority in promulgating the rule and blocked it nationwide. However, a federal appeals court declined to put on hold two key provisions of the regulation.
Overall, the Supreme Court's decision to allow the regulations to remain in effect while legal challenges play out ensures that the government can continue to regulate ghost guns as firearms under federal law.