A Pennsylvania judge issued a preliminary injunction on Friday blocking a new state police policy requiring background checks for 80% lower receivers and other “partially manufactured receivers” put in place a few weeks ago following an opinion by the state’s Attorney General that declared the unfinished receivers “firearms” under Pennsylvania’s Uniform Firearms Act.
The Firearms Policy Coalition filed the suit shortly after AG Josh Shapiro released his opinion and the Pennsylvania State Police issued guidance to gun store owners on how to comply with the new order. Pennsylvania firearms attorney Joshua Prince argued that unfinished receivers simply aren’t “firearms” under any definition, and that the new policy endangered the rights of Pennsylvanians under the U.S. and state constitutions.
In his order on Friday, Judge Kevin Brobson said the plaintiffs in the case raised valid points about the vagueness of the new policy, which applies even to products that the ATF has determined are not firearms. From the judge’s order:
The judge also noted that the new policy by the Pennsylvania State Police requires a new background check form for “partially manufactured receivers,” even though the State Police now say that those receivers actually are firearms. If that’s the case, the judge wondered, why the need for a new form? Shouldn’t they be using the existing form for firearms background checks? It’s another example of how the new policy “sows confusion within the industry and the public.”
Judge Brobson did say it’s possible for the Pennsylvania State Police to change how they’re enforcing this policy in such a way that the temporary injunction would not need to remain in place. The state uses its own Pennsylvania Instant Check System, which means it wouldn’t have to depend on the NICS system to run checks on those purchasing an unfinished receiver (that would be problematic, since the ATF doesn’t define 80%-finished receivers as firearms, and it’s unlikely the FBI would agree to run checks on those products).
The biggest problem for the state police and the state’s attorney general would appear to be the vague interpretation of the state’s Uniform Firearm Act to require the background checks in the first place. As the judge notes, the Attorney General claims that “unfinished receivers” are still firearms, but the term “receiver” is never actually defined in the UFA. It appears AG Josh Shapiro was trying to write a new law instead of merely interpreting the existing statute.
I’d say it’s a given that the state police will appeal Judge Brobson’s ruling, and this case is still very much in the early stages. Still, the temporary injunction is good news for those who care about the rule of law in Pennsylvania, and a setback for those seeking to turn our rights into privileges to be doled out by the State.