On March 27 a gunman in Boulder, Colorado went on a shooting spree, killing 10 people at a grocery store. This was only days after a shooter in Atlanta went on a spree leaving 8 dead across three spas on March 16. The crescendo to what has been some of our most violent years in recent memory, the Biden administration released an executive order on April 7, 2021 that caught many people’s eye for its addressing of what it calls “ghost guns.” It became clear that many in the public were not sure what ghost guns were, or how a potential regulation of these guns would impact them. Furthermore, there seems to be a lot of panic around the executive order’s implications for legal gun holders. Accordingly, we decided to explain more about these guns, the policies that govern them, and how the potential regulation of them can affect you.
Following the assassinations of U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Congress passed The Gun Control Act of 1968 which mandated that firearms be marked with serial numbers on the frames or receivers, so they would be traceable by law enforcement agencies. The law primarily focused on the frames and receivers since those were essential elements of the gun, versus other parts that could potentially be subbed in and out, or be impractical to print on.
The ATF refers to ghost guns as “privately made firearms,” and the criteria that the bureau sets on whether a homemade firearm is subject to regulation can be complicated. It depends on the nuances of what legally constitutes a firearm frame or receiver, which the Code of Federal Regulations defines as “that part of a firearm which provides housing for the hammer, bolt or breechblock, and firing mechanism, and which is usually threaded at its forward portion to receive the barrel.”
What is important to note here is that the receiver often has to be solid without indentations or markings. If you were to purchase a gun kit or receiver right now, and it had demarcations or outlines of where to drill or where each piece fits in, then you are at risk of earning yourself some time behind bars.
So can I own a ghost gun or not?
Yes and no. The Gun Control Act of 1968 mandated that persons “engaged in the business” of dealing firearms must be licensed by the federal government (18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(21)(C).)
In effect, this makes it illegal for an unlicensed person to make a firearm for sale or distribution, and any sale of a weapon requires registration and background checks.
However, while you cannot make a gun that you then sell without a license, the GCA does not prohibit you from making guns for your own personal use, as long as it is not previously demarcated, and you are not prohibited from owning a firearm for other legal reasons such as felonies.
It is also very important to note that if a gun you possess ever had a serial number, it is a Felony under BATF-E Regulations to remove a serial number or possess a firearm that has had its serial number removed.
Am I required to add a serial number to my homemade gun?
In the Untraceable Firearms Act of 2020, a bill that stalled in committee, all frames and receivers, even unfinished ones, would be required to be marked with serial numbers and sold in-person by federally-licensed dealers. This means that purchasers would have to undergo the same background checks as those buying fully assembled firearms. This bill has not been passed however, so we will be watching to see if this gets picked up in the Justice Department’s rules following the executive order by President Biden.
Can I 3D print a gun?
Yes, you can still 3D print a gun for personal recreation, but due to the Undetectable Firearms Act, any firearm that cannot be detected by a metal detector is illegal. This means that any plastic or non-metal 3D printed gun must have a metal plate inserted into it, or else it is very illegal and can land you in a boatload of trouble.
We at Baldwin & Vernon strive to keep you informed, so you are not surprised and can stay on the right side of the law. Given that Attorney General Merrick Garland stated at the Executive Action press conference that the administration’s rule would most likely classify do-it-yourself gun kits as firearms so they could be regulated under federal law, we believe this will be an important issue to watch for gun enthusiasts. If you have questions about gun laws or would like to discuss a case related to firearms, please reach out to our team at (816) 842-1102 or https://baldwinvernon.com/.