Anti-2A activists already complaining about ATF's new "ghost gun" rules

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

It’s been nearly a month since the ATF’s new rules regarding unserialized firearms took effect, and already gun control activists are complaining that the firearms industry is doing an end run around the regulations when it fact it looks like most companies are actually complying with them.

Under the new regulations, companies that sell DIY gun-making kits must serialize the unfinished frame or receiver that’s a part of the kit, which means that purchasers must go through an FFL and a background check before buying.

On the public radio program Marketplace, Alain Stephens of the pro-gun control website The Trace tried to make the case that companies who are continuing to sell unfinished frames and receivers are somehow exploiting a loophole, even though the ATF itself has said that the regulations that took effect last month only apply to unserialized parts kits and not to 80% complete frames and receivers sold by themselves.

Stephens: Correct. Yes. So the Biden administration decided they needed to do something about this. And anyone who follows the gun space knows that congressional law regarding gun policy has pretty much been at a stalemate, and so they went through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and used their rulemaking capability to try to create regulations on people selling these ghost guns parts kits. But it only applies to the parts kits. So these dealers, after the rule went into effect, they simply just break up the kits and sell each piece individually, and now they’re just back in business.

Ryssdal: It’s seems to me this is a story — and look, I don’t want to coin a phrase here, right — but this is a story of the administrative state. It is a government regulatory agency using its regulatory powers in its area of concern. But it’s uniquely an area where there are ways for the companies and people being regulated to get around it. Does that make sense?

Stephens: Yeah, absolutely. The firearms industry has been very powerful, and they’ve had very powerful lobbying capabilities. In fact, when the Biden administration actually announced that they were going to take on this ghost gun issue almost a year ago, they also in that same announcement had to say that they’re trying to put in another ATF director, because the agency had been nearly directorless for almost 20 years. And part of that was result of gun dealers and their consistent lobbying through Congress members to kind of put the ATF very much into a corner when it comes to their regulatory capabilities. So even when a lot of these rules and regulations are being made, they’re very much being made under the caution and concern of essentially getting pummeled by some very powerful industry lobbying groups.

If the firearms industry had as much sway over Joe Biden’s ATF as Stephens claims it does, then I doubt these new rules would have been implemented in the first place. The real problem that Stephens and other gun control activists have with the new ATF rules is that they don’t go far enough for their liking. They want the ATF to regulate all unserialized frames and receivers as if they were completed firearms; a move that the agency could still adopt in the future, by the way.

Ryssdal: What do your sources — once you put the pen and paper away — what do sources at the ATF tell you about the current state of play?

Stephens: You know, I’m going to keep it real with you. These guys have seen this problem for a very long time. And you know, there’s a lot of disappointment. They don’t really talk about the politics, the law enforcement guys, but what they do see is this: That when it comes to this rule, the only thing they think it did was create a lot of fanfare that’s created fear-based sales of more of these parts kits. And, you know, they’re telling me that they’re assuming that they’re going to be picking up more ghost guns at crime scenes as this kind of problem is still being muddled in the White House.

You mean to tell me that by hyping up “ghost guns” and crafting new regulations around them only created more demand for them? Gosh, who could have predicted that?

Pretty much everyone. I mean, we’re all aware by now that the demand for new restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms inevitably results in more customers rushing out to buy whatever it is the gun control lobby is trying to ban, right?

I don’t think Stephens is actually surprised by the fact that unfinished frames and receivers are still being offered for sale. Instead, he and other gun control activists are trying to establish the narrative that the new rules don’t go far enough and that a further crackdown is needed. Honestly, they could easily get their way. Given the sway that anti-gun groups have with the Biden White House, more executive action aimed at law-abiding gun owners is a distinct possibility, especially if Republicans succeed in taking back the House and/or the Senate this November. Get ready for a lot more gaslighting from the anti-gunners about the impact (or lack thereof) of the very rules they demanded be put in place… and why the ATF needs to go even further in the months ahead.