The gun control lobby’s war on unserialized and home-built firearms took a hit this week when a judge in Nevada struck down key components of a new law banning their possession and manufacture. The ruling, which comes just a couple of weeks before the law was set to take effect, was the result of a challenge filed by Nevada company Polymer80, which has been targeted by the Biden administration for its DIY gun kits.
According to the judge, the language of the new “ghost gun” ban is unconstitutionally vague and fail to establish clear standards for the law’s enforcement.
“Unlike the federal regulatory process to determine whether a frame or lower receiver is considered a firearm under the Gun Control Act, Nevada has established no authority at all to determine when an ‘unfinished frame or receiver’ actually comes into existence,” Lyon County District Court Judge John Schlegelmilch wrote in his ruling. “The most any court can glean from the definition is that it is something less than a firearm and more than a block of raw material.”
The ban established by AB286 — which passed on party-line votes in both houses with Democrats in support — was considered one of the most prominent gun violence prevention measures approved by the Legislature this year. The bill was sponsored by Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui (D-Las Vegas), who during a hearing of the measure brought up her own experience as a survivor of the 1 October mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 59 dead and hundreds injured.
Starting in January, the law would have prohibited a person from possessing, purchasing, transporting or receiving any “unfinished frame or receiver” of a firearm, or assembling any firearm not imprinted with a serial number. People found guilty of doing so would have been subject to a criminal misdemeanor penalty, with repeat violations punishable by a felony charge.
The judge has hit on a key flaw with all of these attempts to ban home-built guns, which generally contain language regulating material that could be turned a firearm, but does not meet the statutory definition of a gun.
The court’s ruling additionally found that the state’s definition of an “unfinished frame or receiver” does not provide an ordinary person with proper notice of just what AB286 criminalizes.
The attorney general’s office — which represented the state officials named as defendants in the case, including Gov. Steve Sisolak and state Attorney General Aaron Ford — declined to provide comment on the ruling.
Schlegelmilch previously issued a preliminary injunction in favor of Polymer80 in July, temporarily barring enforcement of the portion of the bill prohibiting the sale of “ghost gun” firearm assembly kits. Attorneys for the state appealed the decision to the Nevada Supreme Court in a case that is still pending.
The temporary order came only days before federal District Court Judge Miranda Du denied a similar request for an injunction against the new law brought forward by the Firearms Policy Coalition.
This is great news for gun owners and Second Amendment supporters in Nevada, but it also foreshadows the fights ahead. The Biden administration is set to impose its own ban on unserialized and home-built guns next year, which will face its own legal challenges (or, more likely, multiple lawsuits challenging its constitutionality).
Judge Schlegelmilch’s ruling may not be the final word here, with the Nevada state Supreme Court and the federal judiciary also hearing challenges to the law. Nevada’s Attorney General can also appeal this ruling to the state Supreme Court, and given the timing of the law’s enactment the case could be fast-tracked. We’ll definitely be keeping an eye on the Nevada Supreme Court between now and the end of the year in case they deliver Democrats a Christmas present and overturn the judge’s injunction. For the time being, however, the law is on ice, and it seems likely that the state’s Democratic legislative majority is going to have to re-craft their gun ban if they want to see it take effect.