Joe Biden expected to target US ghost guns with new rules

The firearms, which cannot be traced because they have no serial numbers, are becoming increasingly widespread

Ghost guns on display at the headquarters of the San Francisco Police Department. US Justice Department statistics show that nearly 24,000 such weapons were recovered at crime scenes and reported to the government from 2016 to 2020. Photo: AP
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US President Joe Biden's administration will come out with its long-awaited ghost-gun rule — aimed at reining in privately made firearms without serial numbers that are increasingly cropping up at crime scenes — as soon as Monday.

Completion of the rule comes as the White House and the Justice Department have been under growing pressure to crack down on gun deaths and violent crime in the US.

The White House has also been considering choosing Steve Dettelbach, a former US attorney from Ohio, to run the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, the Associated Press reported.

Mr Biden had to withdraw the nomination of his first nominee — gun-control advocate David Chipman — after it stalled for months because of opposition from Republicans and some Democrats in the Senate.

For nearly a year, the rule has been making its way through the federal regulation process. Gun safety groups and Democrats in Congress have been pushing for the Justice Department to finish the rule for months. It will probably be met with heavy resistance from gun groups and draw litigation in the coming weeks.

The exact timing of the announcement has not been set, AP reported. The White House declined to comment.

On Sunday, the Senate's top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, implored the administration to move faster.

“It’s high time for a ghost-gun exorcism before the proliferation peaks, and before more people get hurt — or worse,” Mr Schumer said.

“My message is a simple one: no more waiting on these proposed federal rules." Ghost guns are "too easy to build, too hard to trace and too dangerous to ignore.”

Justice Department statistics show that nearly 24,000 ghost guns were recovered by law enforcement at crime scenes and reported to the government from 2016 to 2020.

It is difficult to say how many are on the streets, in part because in many cases police departments do not contact the government about the guns because they cannot be traced.

The rule is expected to change the current definition of a firearm under federal law to include unfinished parts, like the frame of a handgun or the receiver of a long gun.

For years, federal officials have been sounding the alarm about an increasing black market for home-made, military-style semi-automatic rifles and handguns. As well as turning up more frequently at crime scenes, ghost guns have been increasingly encountered when federal agents buy firearms in undercover operations from gang members and other criminals.

Some states, like California, have enacted laws in recent years to require serial numbers to be stamped on ghost guns.

Police across the country have been reporting spikes in ghost guns being recovered by officers. The New York Police Department, for example, said officers found 131 unserialised firearms since January.

A gunman who killed his wife and four others in northern California in 2017 had been prohibited from owning firearms, but he built his own to skirt the court order before his rampage.

And in 2019, a teenager used a home-made handgun to fatally shoot two classmates and wound three others at a school in suburban Los Angeles.

Updated: April 10, 2022, 6:12 PM