'Ghost Gun' Retailers Required to Perform Background Checks on Purchasers Under New DOJ Rules

The Justice Department proposed new rules on Friday regarding firearms that would require retailers selling kits to assemble homemade "ghost guns" that lack serial tracking numbers to perform background checks on those who purchase them, the Associated Press reported.

The proposal follows President Joe Biden's recent declaration in which he promised a crackdown on "ghost guns," as kits often are purchased despite no background check being performed, allowing individuals prohibited from owning guns to obtain them.

"Criminals and others barred from owning a gun should not be able to exploit a loophole to evade background checks and to escape detection by law enforcement," Attorney General Merrick Garland said. "This proposed rule would help keep guns out of the wrong hands and make it easier for law enforcement to trace guns used to commit violent crimes, while protecting the rights of law-abiding Americans."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Man Shops For a Handgun
The Justice Department proposed new rules on Friday that would require gun retailers to conduct background checks for the sale of gun kits that allow for the assembling of a "ghost gun." Above, Alexander Carey shops for a new handgun at Freddie Bear Sports on April 8, 2021, in Tinley Park, Illinois. Scott Olson/Getty Images

U.S. law enforcement confiscated more than 23,000 weapons without serial numbers between 2016 and 2020 that were aligned with 325 homicides or attempted homicides, according to the Justice Department's estimates.

The Justice Department's proposed rule would broaden the definition of a firearm, requiring some gun-making kits to include a serial number.

For years, federal and local law enforcement officials have been sounding the alarm about what they say is a loophole in federal firearms law, allowing people who are generally prohibited from owning guns to obtain them by making the weapons themselves.

Ghost guns have increasingly been turning up at crime scenes and being purchased from gang members and other criminals by undercover federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents.

It's legal to build a gun in a home or a workshop, and advances in 3-D printing and milling have made it easier to do so. Ready-made kits can be purchased for a few hundred dollars online without the kind of background check required for traditional gun purchases.

The rule sets forth several factors to determine whether the unfinished receivers could be easily convertible into a finished firearm, a senior Justice Department official said. If they meet that criteria, manufacturers would also be required to include a serial number, the official said. The rule also would require serial numbers to be added to homemade, un-serialized weapons that are traded in or turned into a federal firearms dealer.

The official could not discuss the matter ahead of a public announcement and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity. Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, the public will have 90 days to submit comments.

The critical component in building an untraceable gun is what is known as the lower receiver, a part typically made of metal or polymer. An unfinished receiver—sometimes referred to as an "80% receiver"—can be legally bought online with no serial numbers or other markings on it, no license required.

Converting the piece of metal into a firearm is relatively simple and takes only a few hours. A drill press or a metal cutting machine known as a Computer Numeric Control, or CNC, is used to create a few holes in the receiver and well out a cavity. The receiver is then combined with a few other parts to create a fully functioning semi-automatic rifle or handgun.

"Ghost Guns" on Display
In this file photo taken November 27, 2019, Sgt. Matthew Elseth with "ghost guns" on display at the headquarters of the San Francisco Police Department in San Francisco, California. Haven Daley/AP Photo