President Biden celebrated a new federal rule in August that cracked down on the online sale of untraceable components for weapons known as ghost guns as a major step in stemming gun violence. The rule has done little to stop the sale of key parts used to make deadly homemade firearms, according to officials and gun control groups, the New York Times reports. The rule clarified the definition of a firearm under federal law to regulate modern semiautomatic weapons. That paved the way for regulating ready-made kits, which include all the parts needed to assemble a workable firearm in under an hour. The move was a centerpiece of the administration’s initiative to address the proliferation of illegal weapons driving an increase in mass shootings and violent crime, an effort highlighted by the passage of Biden’s limited bipartisan gun deal in June. Because the rule was created through executive action, rather than a statute validated by Congress, it has given companies confidence that they can keep selling individual gun parts.
Dozens of online retailers are still selling core components used to make ghost guns, also known as privately manufactured firearms, says the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. Many have adopted the narrowest possible interpretation of the rule, continuing to sell so-called 80 percent frames and receivers, which require simple alterations to become operational. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has been reluctant to target vendors who sell those parts out of concern that doing so would prompt a legal backlash. Biden’s allies are pushing the administration to take a much more aggressive stance. “The problem is it’s a regulation, not a statute, so there’s only so much ATF can do,” said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. “The Constitution does not authorize the federal government to prevent you from making your own firearm,” says Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY). “This a fact that has been recognized for 200+ years.” Last year, the Justice Department reported that law enforcement agencies had recovered 19,300 homemade guns, about five times the number confiscated or found at crime scenes in 2018. The problem has reached epidemic proportions in California. The gun lobby strongly opposed the new federal rule, and several conservative legal groups have challenged it, arguing that it violates existing firearms laws and Second Amendment protections.