June 12, 2024


The Legal System

New federal ghost gun laws support ones adopted by WA lawmakers


The Biden administration’s announced plans to crack down on gun crime by regulating untraceable firearms also known as “ghost guns” will dovetail with and strengthen bills passed by the Washington state Legislature.

Ghost guns are firearms that can be purchased online without a background check and assembled by anyone. They don’t have serial numbers, making them untraceable and are regularly sold in kits with unfinished frames or receivers so that users can assemble them at home.

According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, about 20,000 ghost guns were recovered in criminal investigations by law enforcement agencies in 2021. The White House said untraceable firearms make it difficult for law enforcement agencies to locate the owner when the weapons are found at crime scenes.

The new federal regulations, signed by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on April 11, modify ATF’s definitions of “frames or receivers,” making it illegal to possess unserialized parts once the law goes into effect, 120 days after the ATF publishes the notice on the Federal Register.

Under the regulations, ghost guns already in circulation will need to be serialized by federally licensed dealers or gunsmiths to be considered legal. The federal law applies to all untraceable firearms including those made by 3-D printers, and firearms made from kits or individual parts.

Additionally, since kits will now be defined as “firearms,” the federal rule bans manufacturers of ghost gun kits and parts from selling them without a federal license or without serial numbers included on the parts. Commercial sellers must be federally licensed and must run a background check before selling any kits or parts.

The new federal regulations came just as Washington’s new ban on ghost guns is set to go into effect on July 1.

While Washington has had some restrictions on untraceable firearms in place since 2019, this year the legislature took the regulations a step further by banning them and requiring violators of the new law to pay fines and possibly face misdemeanor charges.

The new state law also modifies the definition of “untraceable firearms,” and is defined as “any firearm manufactured after July 1, 2019, that is not an antique firearm and that cannot be traced by law enforcement by means of a serial number affixed to the firearm by a federal firearms manufacturer, federal firearms importer, or federal firearms dealer in compliance with all federal laws and regulations.”

The new law also prohibits the manufacturing, selling, transferring, or purchasing of weapons or gun kits without serial numbers.

In addition, possessing, transporting or receiving unserialized weapons will be prohibited after March 10, 2023, though some exemptions for law enforcement agencies and federally licensed dealers or manufacturers are in place.

Unfinished frames or receivers that already have been imprinted with a serial number by a federally licensed firearms dealer are not subject to the new restrictions.

Serial numbers can be imprinted on unfinished frames or receivers by federal firearms dealers, and those dealers must keep records on the serialized parts.

Violators can expect a civil infraction and a $500 fine for the first offense. Those who violate the law a second time can expect a misdemeanor, while violations on the third and subsequent times will result in a gross misdemeanor. Those who are caught with three or more untraceable weapons at once also will be charged with a gross misdemeanor.

Those who manufacture or assemble untraceable guns with the intent to sell after June 30 will face a class C felony for violating the new law.

The state legislature passed the legislation in March, and the governor signed it later that month.

Mike Faulk, Deputy Communications Director and Press Secretary for Gov. Jay Inslee, told McClatchy that the new federal rule on ghost guns is a “great step forward” and has the governor’s full support.

“It’s no secret that armed criminals increasingly prefer these untraceable weapons, and taking that tool away from them will help save lives,” Faulk added.

Everytown, an organization dedicated to gun safety policies, noted on their website that “the rise of ghost guns is the fastest-growing gun safety problem facing our country.”

Several other states including California, Hawaii and New York also have bans on ghost guns, and require untraceable firearms to have a serial number.

Shauna Sowersby was a freelancer for several local and national publications before joining McClatchy’s northwest newspapers covering the Legislature.


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