New York Attorney General’s ‘Ghost Gun’ Lawsuit Marches Forward

Written By: Ethan Leonard

On Friday, February 23, 2024, a federal judge out of the Southern District of New York rejected the challenge brought by nine defendant ‘ghost gun’ companies to a lawsuit filed by New York State Attorney General Letitia James in 2022. 
Over the past few years, the sale of the disassembled parts of firearms without serial numbers has been relatively successful at evading federal and state regulation – making them the so-called “weapon of choice” for individuals legally barred from legally purchasing and possessing guns. This issue’s saliency is reinforced by the fact that the federal law banning ghost guns is set to expire next month.
The complaint alleges, inter alia, that these companies indiscriminately ship the central components of firearms without serial numbers – regardless of whether the purchaser can legally purchase and possess firearms in the state. James referenced a case where many of the defendants shipped ghost gun kits to a man who was charged for threatening his family with a gun. 
This ruling came the same day that the escalation of an altercation on a New York City subway led to the shooting death of a 45-year-old man from the Bronx; almost two weeks after a subway platform shooting left 1 dead and 5 injured; and after a shooting at a Super Bowl parade left 1 dead and 22 injured in Kansas City last week. It has not yet been reported whether ghost guns were used in any of these shootings. 
As gun violence continues to plague the nation, and the number of ghost guns being used to commit crimes sharply increases, lawmakers are struggling to tackle the issue in the face of pushback from companies that sell these ghost guns. 
What are Ghost Guns?
Ghost gun companies sell gun frames and receivers, the essential components of firearms, thus allowing consumers to ship them to their homes where they can easily and inconspicuously assemble a complete, functional gun. These simple-to-make kits are exponentially increasing accessibility to firearms, subverting legislative attempts to combat the prevalence of gun violence.
The fact that these companies operate over the internet has allowed them to evade many of the requisite background checks and investigations mandated by New York State. 
The federal government has so far been unable to effectively restrict these companies in the same manner that it does conventional firearm distributors and manufacturers. Legislation directed at regulating the sale and possession of ghost guns has, so far, struggled to prevent individuals from legally purchasing or possessing guns, from simply just ordering and assembling a ghost gun off of the internet. While both the federal and New York State governments enacted legislation banning ghost guns, the way that these companies operate has substantially hindered the enforcement of these laws. Thus, lawmakers’ efforts continue to be thwarted by the ease in which these guns can be obtained and then assembled.  
Between 2018 and 2022, the number of ghost guns recovered from crimes scenes grew substantially, rising from 44 to 797. That same year, local officials stated that gun arrests were higher than they had been in decades. Jumping forward to 2023, the federal government reported that the use of ghost gun-related crimes has increased around 1,000%. 
These numbers have sparked concern amongst political leaders. Shortly after the New York Attorney General commenced its lawsuit against these ghost gun companies, New York City Mayor Eric Adams voiced his support, stating: “We are not going to let gun companies turn New York into a city of mail-order murder.” Flash forward to just last week, the U.S. Senate Majority Leader out of New York, Chuck Schumer, traveled to Syracuse, NY where he and the Onondaga County District Attorney, William Fitzpatrick, spoke at a news conference, lobbying to keep ghost guns illegal on the federal level.
Uncertainty Moving Forward
Lawmakers across the country continue their struggle to arrive at an effective solution. In  November 2023, the U.S. Appeals Court for the 5th Circuit shot down the Biden Administration’s attempt to regulate the sale and purchase of ghost guns. After concluding that these companies merely sell unassembled components, not actual firearms, the court struck down one of the federal government’s attempts at regulation. But the Judge presiding over the New York Attorney General’s case was not convinced – calling the 5th Circuit’s reasoning “neither binding nor persuasive.” Now, after President Biden urged the Supreme Court to add the 5th Circuit’s ruling to its docket earlier this month, the American public is left uncertain. 
As the New York lawsuit marches forward, some worry whether the Supreme Court’s 9 Justices will adopt the 5th Circuit’s rationale some day in the future. The concern is that if that were to happen, it would tie lawmakers’ hands, allowing consumers to continue to use ghost guns to evade federal and state regulations restricting firearm access. As gun violence continues to sweep the nation, the debate over what the proper solution should be intensifies. 
However, some are assured by the fact that, prior to the 5th Circuit’s decision in November, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that allowed the Biden Administration to continue to restrict the sale of ghost guns pending the disposition of the case. It is yet to be reported whether the Supreme Court will hear that case, thus the uncertainty will likely persist for some time to come. 


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