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Biden DOJ proposes changing definition of ‘firearm;’ background checks on gun parts and more ‘ghost gun’ rules

AR-15. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
May 07, 2021

President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a proposed change to the legal definitions of “firearms” on Friday in an effort to subject more firearms parts to background checks and serial number tracking. It would be the first update to the “firearms” definition since 1968.

According to a notice from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the DOJ seeks to amend the definitions of “firearm” to “clarify when a firearms parts kit is considered a ‘firearm,'” and “help close a regulatory loophole associated with [homemade guns].”

Firearm frames and receivers — which house the firing mechanism — already fall under the definition of “firearms” and are subject to standard firearm rules, such as bearing a serial number, and retail sales transactions taking place only at Federal Firearms License (FFL) holders. Privately sold pieces and unfinished “80%” pieces are currently exempt from those regulations, but the proposed rules would end that exemption.

ATF illustration depicting firearm frames or receivers, which are legally defined & regulated as a “firearm.” (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives/Released)

The ATF website currently defines a “firearm” as “any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive; the frame or receiver of any such weapon; any firearm muffler or firearm silencer; or any destructive device,” which is codified in federal statute 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(3).

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), further defines “firearm frame or receiver” as “That part of a firearm which provides housing for the hammer, bolt or breechblock, and firing mechanism, and which is usually threaded at its forward portion to receive the barrel.”​

The DOJ’s proposed regulation would add the following to the end of the sentence of the “firearm” definition: “[t]he term shall include a weapon parts kit that is designed to or may readily be assembled, completed, converted, or restored to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive.”

“We are committed to taking commonsense steps to address the epidemic of gun violence that takes the lives of too many people in our communities,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in a statement. “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.”

“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,” he continued. “Although this rulemaking will solve only one aspect of the problem, we have an obligation to do our part to keep our families and our neighborhoods safe from gun violence.”

The DOJ’s statement claims that from 2016 to 2020, over 23,000 “ghost guns” lacking serial numbers were reportedly recovered by law enforcement from potential crime scenes, including one firearm that was linked to 325 homicides and attempted homicides.

In a statement provided to American Military News, Gun Owners of America (GOA) Senior Vice President Erich Pratt said, “The proposed rules by Biden’s Justice Department seek to add undue burdens on homebuilt firearms. Forcing purchasers of unfinished chunks of metal and plastic to undergo a background check from a broken NICS system is simply asinine. Just as with other forms of gun control, these regulations will leave honest people with one less method for self-defense but will be completely ignored by criminals.”

The DOJ release stated that the public will have 90 days to submit comments once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register. To submit a comment, follow the steps here.

The proposed change comes roughly one months after President Biden announced several gun-control measures that will be enacted by the White House, including Friday’s proposed rule to help stop the growth of homemade “ghost gun” firearms, regulations on pistol braces and a federal model for state “red flag” laws.

“Today we’re taking steps to confront not just the gun crisis, but what is actually a public health crisis,” Biden said from the White House Rose Garden.

“Nothing, nothing I’m about to recommend in any way impinges on the Second Amendment. Their phony argument suggesting that these are Second Amendment rights at stake for what we’re talking about, but no amendment to the Constitution is absolute. You can’t yell fire in a crowded movie theater and call it freedom of speech.”