back to article US Supreme Court allows 'ghost guns' to fall under federal purview

The Biden administration's crackdown on 3D-printed gun parts can be allowed to be enforced, at least temporarily, after the US Supreme Court voted to let the rule to stand. The one-page order [PDF], which was issued yesterday after a 5-4 vote, strikes down a decision from a Texas court in July that vacated the regulations on …

  1. JessicaRabbit

    I really can't wrap my head around why they're so determined to allow untraceable guns. Are they not-so-secretly aligned with criminals? Surely serial numbers on legally owned and operated guns would never be an issue. The whole purpose of these ghost guns is to commit crime with untraceable weapons, no?

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      I don't think that they're actually "allowing" them, they're making ghost guns harder to make.

      Of course, they're not making them illegal either, but this is the Land of the Nutjobs and, as soon as you even just mention gun control in theory, the mass of foaming-at-the-mouth, you'll-get-my-gun-when-you-pry-it-out-of-my-cold-dead-hands springs into action and immediately starts their regular religious chant of loudly proclaiming that their liberty is dependent on them having the means to quickly and noisily kill someone they don't like.

      As long as that section of the population has not been put to rest, these shenanigans will continue.

      1. Someone Else Silver badge

        [...] loudly proclaiming that their liberty is dependent on them having the means to quickly and noisily kill someone they don't like.

        Yeah, like that guy in Chicago who shot and killed an 8-year-old girl playing with a scooter on the sidewalk outside her home, because she "was being too loud".

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      "I really can't wrap my head around why they're so determined to allow untraceable guns."

      It's typical reaction to a strongly-held opinion. They think "I don't like restrictions on guns. This is a restriction on guns. Therefore, I should not like this". If it stopped there, they might think twice and figure out how weird it got, but they've added another statement to their syllogism: "I do not like restrictions on guns. I hate the people who suggest restrictions on guns. This is a restriction on guns. Therefore, I should not support it and I should hate the person who does". At the point that they've added a bad person who can be blamed, they don't feel the need to keep thinking about whether the idea they just had makes sense, even under their previous opinion of guns being great. It's not limited to that opinion, either.

      It's a common logical failing that affects many of us, including me. Not about guns in my case, but there are things that I strongly support, and I am more easily prone to making quick decisions about things related to those without considering all the factors. I try to remind myself to review things that I've made instant judgements about to reevaluate whether that was a good judgement. I'm not great at that, nor are many others I know. Some others I know never even think that their opinions could be wrong, so as soon as they form one, it is set in stone and may never be questioned.

    3. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

      "Surely serial numbers on legally owned and operated guns would never be an issue."

      That's the first step to requiring gun registration. The next step is confiscation.

      Serial numbers on guns do little to prevent their use. It's not like a vehicle registration plate, where someone can observe and jot down the number and report it to the police. Odds are that ballistics, fingerprints and DNA will do much more to identify who shot whom with what. The serial number is only useful to establish a historical chain of possession once the offending gun is already in custody. Which can be used to generate secondary infractions should a transfer have occurred not in keeping with regulations. And then it does no good at all should the gun have been stolen. Other than to create a value premium on stolen guns for the black market.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "That's the first step to requiring gun registration. The next step is confiscation."

        The first needn't, and for decades so far, has never led to the second. Why would you even link those two statements?

        After all, many, many things bought and sold have serial numbers. Mainly to provide tracking for the manufacturer during warranty claims or supplying correct accessories etc.

        1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

          My state isn't actively trying to claw back all the Sony BluRay players sold to it's citizens.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            SO how many states that require gun registration, and have done for decades at least, are now actively confiscating those guns? Or at least trying too? One? A few? Many? Most? All? None?

            1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

              Louisiana, specifically New Orleans has done so:

              Colorado, New Mexico, Maryland, Nebraska and Illinois specifically allow it.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "suspected ghost guns"

    How can one not immediately see that it is a 3D-printed gun ?

    Are they so well made these days that you can mistake them for the real thing ?

    And the lack of serial number having been filed off is not a tell-tale sign ? Why tip-toe around that particular bush ?

    Say it like it is, officer, everyone knows what you're talking about.

    1. Aitor 1

      Re: "suspected ghost guns"

      Because they are not a gun.

      A legal or illegal gun with a 3d printed part is being called a suspected ghost gumd, 3d printed. And they insist the stock can be a gun.

      1. FuzzyTheBear

        Re: "suspected ghost guns"

        Can also be a piece of small dimension steel pipe available everywhere in hardware stores.

        There's a common size that fits a 22 cal bullet perfectly.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "suspected ghost guns"

      Until inspected some may be licensed firearms which have had parts replaced.

      Instead of parts which have had unlicensed 'gun bits' added.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "suspected ghost guns"

        Isn't a suspected ghost gun something that might be a proton pack?

    3. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid

      Re: "suspected ghost guns"

      "How can one not immediately see that it is a 3D-printed gun"

      I think the phrase "20,000 suspected ghost guns" actually meant that it's suspected that there are 20,000 ghost guns, not suspicion that any particular gun is ghost or not. If you had a 3d printed gun in your hand to inspect, it might be obvious.

      And that's the point behind all this, that "ghost" means these homemade guns are untraceable so it's impossible to know how many there are, or who has them. And for a few years now they seem to be capable enough for that to bother law enforcement.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: "suspected ghost guns"

        "And that's the point behind all this, that "ghost" means these homemade guns are untraceable so it's impossible to know how many there are, or who has them. "

        How does stamping a serial number make a gun traceable? The vast majority of guns used by criminals were either purchased legally or stolen. If the gun is stolen, the trace is broken. A gun purchased legally and used in an illegal manner (6yo takes it to school and shoots his teacher) is unaffected by the serial number being on it. It could be interesting to know where a gun came from, but not a useful factoid in a crime.

    4. Combat Epistomologist

      Re: "suspected ghost guns"

      There's a couple of important details here.

      First, the entire gun is not 3D printed, except in a couple of rare cases that don't actually work very well. The typical application is to 3D print the frame or lower receiver, which is (A) the part that is required to have a serial number if you buy one, and (B) a relatively unstressed part. A 3D printed frame or lower receiver, especially if painted, can look almost indistinguishable from a machined one.

      You then build up the rest of the firearm using commercially purchased spare parts — barrel, bolt, trigger group etc — that are not required to be serial numbered. The 3D printed frame may wear out quickly, but it's cheap to print another one.

      The other way of doing this is to buy what's referred to as an "80% receiver", i.e. an 80% finished lower receiver that you need to perform the final machining on (typically drilling holes etc) yourself. Under ATF rules, if it's 80% complete or less it is not considered a firearm yet and does not require a serial number.

      These are both ways of exploiting BATF regulations that were originally intended to make it legal to build a firearm yourself from scratch, making all the parts yourself, to prototype a new design for example, with the proviso that any such firearm can never legally be sold UNLESS you put a serial number on it and get a license to manufacture.

      Second, the article mentions full-auto sears can be bought (for some firearms). This is true, but the important part it doesn't mention is that to legally buy a full-auto sear you MUST have a $200 permit from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, because that sear ITSELF is legally considered a "machinegun" or machinegun part. Even if you don't put it into anything, it's illegal to possess one that is not registered with the BATF and does not have its tax stamp, and it's illegal for a dealer to SELL one to you without seeing proof that you have the tax stamp (the dealer's license can be revoked if BATF finds out). So, yeah, it's a thing, but it's not really a common thing. You can't just go down to the corner gunshop and say "Yeah, I want to buy a full-auto sear for my [fill in the blank]." (Well, OK, you can, but the gunsmith will laugh at you.) The fact is, virtually all full-auto firearms used in crimes were obtained illegally in the first place or illegally modified.

      The whole controversy around "bump stocks" arose because idiots seized on them as a way to have a similar EFFECT to making a full-auto firearm, without actually having to have any controlled or technically illegal parts, and this end-run is why the BATF then decided they should be illegal. The people who buy them don't really care that accurate fire with a bump stock is extremely difficult. Personally I think they're a stupid idea, but there are a lot of people in the US who buy fundamentally stupid things Because They Can, especially if you tell them that by doing so they're somehow putting one over on the government or Owning The Libs. (Like "truck nuts". Dude, seriously, what are you trying to compensate for?)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "suspected ghost guns"

        And the reason this is under the remit of the ATF? Because it is a tax issue. The govt just wants their money (and 10% for the big guy).

      2. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: "suspected ghost guns"

        " the article mentions full-auto sears can be bought (for some firearms). "

        The rest of the weapon has to be up to scratch too or it's just like putting a nitrous system on an bimbobox and expecting it won't break the engine. Full auto is fun. I've been to a range where I could fire one. It was a stack of money for about 2 seconds. What would be more worrying is 3-shot triggers, but that's not macho enough for the gangbangers and a more complicated mech.

        1. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

          Re: "suspected ghost guns"

          I don't even like the 3-round auto on the later M16s. Single shot per pull, I can hit 30 separate targets with a 30 round magazine. 3 round auto, that's reduced to 10 targets. Full auto, one target 3-4 times, then some birds as the recoil drags the barrel up. It takes practice to control full auto correctly, and that practice is extremely expensive and time consuming whereas single shot is far cheaper and easier to practice.

          1. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: "suspected ghost guns"

            " I can hit 30 separate targets with a 30 round magazine. 3 round auto, that's reduced to 10 targets. Full auto, one target 3-4 times,"

            It depends on your intent. I see it being a better choice to switch between single and 3-shot rather than having full auto. Ideally, being good enough to only need single rounds it great, but when failure is not an option, having a burst mode and knowing how to use it can be an advantage.

      3. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

        Re: "suspected ghost guns"

        One can bump fire a rifle by hooking your thumb through your belt loop. So will the ATF rule that wearing pants could be "constructive possession" of an automatic weapon?

        In California, Washington (state) and others, some of the regulations defining restricted or banned weapon features have had the unintended consequence of making allowed weapons trivially easy to bump fire (usually accidentally).

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: "suspected ghost guns"

          "One can bump fire a rifle by hooking your thumb through your belt loop."

          You'd have to pull your pants waaaaay up to do that while sighting properly.

    5. fromxyzzy

      Re: "suspected ghost guns"

      The article really goes hard on the 3d printed aspect but frankly that's a very small amount of the ghost guns being produced. Most 'ghost guns' are literal home made guns, sometimes completely homemade but more often just assembled from parts and fabricating the missing (already regulated) bits yourself.

      Most of them aren't the little white plastic things we're thinking of, some of them look very well crafted and nobody is familiar with all models of firearms made over the years. So yes, some can be so well made they can be mistaken for the real thing.

  3. ChoHag Silver badge

    > "I've been on the force for 30 years next month, and I've never seen anything like this," said San Diego PD Lieutenant Paul Phillips

    In 30 years it never occurred to him that criminals might make their own guns? Particularly people who have been banned from owning guns legally?

    Do we actively purge imagination from our police forces?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes, but I think it was the volume he hasn't seen before. Because it's easier now.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I would hazard a guess that a lot of these 'ghost guns', especially as this is in SoCal, are NOT '3D printed' or kit built in the US but have come across from Mexico along with the drugs. I doubt that someone is making these guns in the US for sale to criminals and SERIOUSLY doubt that it is the criminals making them themselves.

        This is a 'look, we are actually doing something' from the police. Or what is left of them after defunding and lots of them quitting.

        There was a plan back in the 70s/80s in the UK to require lathes and other metalworking tools to be registered as they can be used to make guns.

        1. DJO Silver badge

          Being approached from the wrong end. Guns per se are not much of a problem, ammunition however is so restrict access to ammunition.

          Now people will point out that ammunition can be made in a simple workshop and that's true - Cartridges are easy to make, bullets are trivial to make, gunpowder or guncotton is also easy to make or obtain (although not too easy to make well).

          The primer however is not easy to make and uses chemicals that are not easy to obtain - so restrict access to those as well as the finished articles.

          Make bullets ridiculously expensive and traceable except for when used in shooting club premises, by registered hunters or other legitimate legal uses.

          Actually enforce the "well regulated" bit.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            The 'well regulated' bit of the 2A is not worth much. 'Shall not be infringed' is a little more overriding :)

            Again the bullets will just come from elsewhere. It is pretty much illegal to own a firearm in the UK and, apart from bird shot and maybe some hunting rifle calibres, I doubt you could go into a shop and buy a box of 9mm. Yet somehow people still get shot by illegally owned guns here.

            1. DJO Silver badge

              Oh, if it's difficult let's not bother.

              That is the most stupid argument in the entire history of stupid arguments.

              Yes it's not going to be easy to reduce the access to firearms and ammunition for people who have no legitimate need for them but that is not a good reason not to try.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                It is difficult which is why they are going after the easy but wrong target. I never said they should do nothing.

                The crims are not obtaining ANY part legally so putting even more restriction on things won't help. Just like how drugs get into the UK and US the guns will also get in.

                1. DJO Silver badge

                  OK, suggest away.

                  Also amendments are not written in stone, they can in turn be amended or abolished - note the 21st amendment.

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    It doesn't need any changes to any laws, it needs a ditching of this pathetic soft on crime crap that has become the norm in the last few years. Enforce the current laws.

                  2. Joe 59

                    If there is ever a serious attempt to eliminate the 2nd amendment, the result would be embarrassing for those attempting it. And by embarrassing, I mean absolutely destructive.

                    A direct threat against the 2nd is a direct threat against the 1st, 3rd, 4th and of course the 13th. The politicians voting for it would find themselves assuming room temperature pretty much immediately.

                    That's how serious those who take the 2nd amendment seriously take the second amendment. Don't underestimate their resolve, or their numbers.

                    1. Anonymous Coward
                      Anonymous Coward

                      Remember there are those who see the 1A as a 'threat to democracy' or other such oft spouted guff.

                      They want you to be a good little drone and drink your banana-broccoli shake and certainly not allow you the choice between the t-bone or the jumbo rack of ribs.

                    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

                      "The politicians voting for it would find themselves assuming room temperature pretty much immediately."

                      They'd certainly be looking for a real job before too long and not having any luck finding one.

                  3. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

                    You can forget that one. There are way too many states that will not support repealing the 2nd Amendment for that to ever happen. Not to mention - the last time a government in the US attempted to confiscate firearms was 1775.

                    1. Anonymous Coward
                      Anonymous Coward

                      Was it Al Sharpton who came out recently with some line about how the founding fathers would never have tried to overthrow a government?

              2. MachDiamond Silver badge

                "Yes it's not going to be easy to reduce the access to firearms and ammunition for people who have no legitimate need for them but that is not a good reason not to try."

                Trying to restrict access when it's not insurmountable to make them is holding back the tide. There don't need to be any more laws put in place either. What needs to happen is to enforce the laws that are on the books and make sure criminals are held and given a speedy trial and not just given a notice to appear at a future date some months down the road. Perhaps there should be no technical dodges in cases where there's clear CCTV/photos or witnesses that know the subject.

                There was a recent story in the US where the people at a corner shop gave a robber a good thrashing. There was no question the criminal was guilty as he was behind the counter clearing out the cig rack. Given the price of smokes, he also had to be well into felony territory. The stories I was seeing were where the people that were being robbed were being brought up on charges. After watching the video, I was thinking "play stupid games, win painful prizes". A judge should just consider the beating as icing on the incarceration the robber is due and due quickly. We know who the robber is, we have clear video and intent. Why can't a trial be mostly about the filling out of forms and translating everything into Latin? Just pull up the chart and apply the sentence from the choices. The same goes to gun crimes and there are plenty with video/photos.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Unfortunately FAFO is not seen as a legitimate reason to give a criminal a good beating. The soft on crime politicians see these people somehow as victims of some oppressive system that is keeping them down and thus it isn't their fault that they turned to crime. (the reality is the very same politicians are the ones responsible for the system in the first place as it makes the politicians and their friends VERY rich)

                  We've been hoodwinked into thinking that putting criminals in gaol is what causes them to be criminals and that if we just tell them to behave then they won't commit crime. This is usually done by the same group who think that we can solve the drug and homelessness epidemic by giving homeless people more drugs....

              3. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

                We'll test that philosophy out with illegal drugs. If it works, we'll apply it to guns.

        2. MachDiamond Silver badge

          "I doubt that someone is making these guns in the US for sale to criminals and SERIOUSLY doubt that it is the criminals making them themselves."

          I've run the sims on my 3D printer software and a basic 9mm handgun lower is ~18 hours to print. Of course, if there is an error, it's another 18 hours if you don't catch the problem right when it happens and a big waste of material. Some of the larger weapons can be over 80 hours of print time. The whole notion of being able to buy the parts and "quickly put together a working firearm" is nonsense. Besides printing, holes need to be drilled/reamed to exact dimensions as they don't often print perfectly. Lots of filing needs to be done so everything fits and slides properly which is ages of file/check/file/check/sand/check/lather/rinse/repeat. After getting a 3D printer and getting all excited about creating all sorts of parts, I'm finding many things can be done on the mill/lathe much quicker and more precisely. Filament printed parts are also weak from layer to layer so one would need to be careful about the forces being applied so a part doesn't just split which I've learned especially with small parts. It would take a dedicated criminal a year to do nothing but produce 50 handguns and criminals aren't really known for being hard workers of they'd just get a real job. They could make more, but it would take an investment in machinery, tools and jigs. By hand, it's too labor intensive.

    2. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid

      I think some context in the article would have helped to indicate what exactly Lt. Paul Phillips had never seen in their 30yrs on the force.

      I'm guessing it's the prevalence of home made guns, but it could easily be the idea of home made guns itself or even the legal activity/inactivity (depending on one's perspective) in regulating them. Could be anything.

  4. Rich 2 Silver badge

    “ I really can't wrap my head around why they're so determined to allow untraceable guns..”

    The answer is simple. Half of Americans are raving lunatics and vote in people who go out of their way to fuck-over the general public.

    And the general public actually LIKE being fucked-over. Couple this with a collective mindset stuck in the age of the Wild West, and a completely dysfunctional society flourishes.

    We complain A LOT about The crap that goes in this country but it’s nothing compared to the US (though we’re catching up fast!)

  5. phuzz Silver badge

    While you can mostly 3d print a gun, it's still easier to make a functional* one out of metal in a modestly equipped garage.

    The part that's difficult to make at home is ammunition. While you might be able to knock up black powder in your kitchen, making primers or cartridge cases is a lot more tricky.

    Of course, in the US you can just buy it in your local supermarket instead.

    * ie one that can fire more than once without blowing your hand off.

  6. Marty McFly Silver badge

    Lots of fear in this article

    This article states "Ghost guns are unserialized, privately made firearms often produced with a 3D printer."

    While it has been demonstrated it is academically possible to create a functioning firearm with a 3D printer, they are not safe nor reliable to use with the smallest of rounds and lightest of chamber pressures. Someone with a 3D printer isn't going to suddenly become a firearms manufacturer. A machinist with a high-end CNC machine, however, is a different from 3D printing. Even an old-school non-computerized machinist could produce the parts required with some time & skill.

    - Requiring gun components like frames and receivers to be stamped with a serial number

    - Requiring gun dealers to add serial numbers to 3D printed gun parts once taken into inventory

    - Requiring gun retailers to retain sale records for the entire time they're licensed to sell firearms,

    These laws are already in place. No gun dealer or manufacturer is going to touch guns without serial numbers. That will get them a visit to Club Fed for an extended stay.

    Requiring a background check before selling someone parts necessary to make a gun

    That is the real issue here. 80% lowers are partially finished receivers that a person can complete on their own by finishing the machine work. Unfinished they are just a hunk of metal. At what point does that hunk of metal become a firearm and require a serial number?

    Look it up, here is a 20% finished lower receiver for an AR-15. Should this require a serial number?

    How about a 0% finished lower?

  7. FuzzyTheBear

    US Problem .. for now.

    the fascination for guns in America is an illness.

    it's everywhere .. the more they remove from the streets the better off they are.

    An untraceable weapon's only use is murder or crime. ban them and jail for life whoever uses one on that particular count.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: US Problem .. for now.

      "An untraceable weapon's only use is murder or crime."

      A serialized weapon built by a licensed manufacturer is 'untraceable' when it gets stolen. The vast majority of criminals have stolen weapons since they might not be able to purchase one legally, they're expensive bought new in the shops and the last thing they'd want is one that's registered to them. This isn't embedded RFID or some sort of module that broadcasts the weapon's location via the cell network (which changes all the time). A weapon sold in another country could be 'untraceable' as well.

      If somebody wants to put the hours and hours into fabricating their own weapon, it's unlikely that their intent is to use it for criminal activities. It would be far easier to follow somebody home from the gun shop, note their address and come back later and steal it. It has to be kept in mind that a one-off weapon is far more likely to identifiable through forensics than a factory made weapon that's made very consistently on high precision machinery. If the homemade weapon is fired, it will be easier to get a match if it's recovered. The serial number being present or not will have no affect.

  8. Ashto5 Bronze badge

    Stop making your own guns

    We have entire industries for making killing machines

    If you make your own we won’t have buckets of profit

    The murdered are just acceptable collateral damage as long as it’s not our collateral

    Mr Smith & Western

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