The California attorney general filed a lawsuit in federal court this week to force the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) to categorize 80-percent receivers and frames as firearms under the Gun Control Act of 1968.
California AG Xavier Becerra filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. He was joined by the anti-gun group Giffords Law Center and two fathers of students killed in the 2019 shooting at Saugus High School.
“We are suing the ATF over its interpretation what qualifies as a firearm,” Becerra said on a call with reporters Tuesday. “ATF allows these guns to go unchecked despite having the authority under the Gun Control Act to regulate them.”
Becerra wants the ATF to re-categorize 80-percent lower receivers or “ghost guns” as full firearms, which would subject their purchase to the same background check and serialization requirements as other firearms. He’s asking for a court order nullifying the ATF’s classification of an unfinished rifle or pistol frame as not a firearm, and a finding that its guidance on 80% receivers and frames is “arbitrary and capricious.”
Right now, 80-percent receivers are not considered firearms by the ATF because users must drill out portions of the receiver before they can be used. The ATF has determined repeatedly that these products do not count as firearms under the Gun Control Act of 1968, and that they are not required to have serial numbers.
Becerra wants to force the ATF to change its ruling, citing the supposed proliferation of “ghost guns” being used in homicides and mass shootings.
“Ghost guns are quickly becoming the weapon of choice for illegal gun traffickers and those—like organized criminal gangs and mass murderers—who seek to bear arms not for lawful means, but rather to engage in criminal activity and acts of violence,” the suit states. “And most sellers have done little to dissuade prohibited people from buying ghost guns and have even actively encouraged such sales, leaving their customers and the public—not the sellers—to bear the consequences.”
Much of Becerra’s case rests on the idea that “ghost guns” can be assembled in minutes and are therefore firearms because they can “readily” be converted to firearms, per the Gun Control Act.
“If you can assemble Ikea furniture you can probably assemble a ghost gun. And you can probably do it faster,” said Hannah Shearer, litigation director for the Giffords Law Center.
This temporal test was rejected by the ATF around 2006 in favor of a “solidity test.” Eighty-percent lowers and frames are not firearms, the ATF decided, because the fire control area is completely solid or unmachined.
Becerra’s case is extremely similar to another lawsuit filed by Everytown for Gun Safety in August of this year. Everytown makes an identical argument to Becerra’s and urges the court to force the ATF to revise its categorization of 80-percent lower receivers.