Attorney General Platkin Co-Leads Multistate Coalition to Fight for Ghost Gun Regulation Before the Supreme Court

To Increase Public Safety, Ghost Guns Require the Same Federal Oversight as Conventional Firearms

For Immediate Release: July 3, 2024

Office of the Attorney General
– Matthew J. Platkin, Attorney General
Division of Law
– Michael T.G. Long, Director

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TRENTON – Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin is co-leading a coalition of 23 attorneys general in filing an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Garland v. VanDerStok, in support of a federal government rule that closes a loophole regulating ghost guns in the same way as conventional guns, in order to keep them from away from people who should not have them.

Ghost guns are weapons without serial numbers that are often made at home from kits or partially complete frames and receivers, which can be purchased without background checks. These weapons, which are untraceable and are often sought out by people who are otherwise not permitted to possess firearms, including individuals convicted of felonies, domestic violence perpetrators, and minors, have been illegal in New Jersey since 2018.

More than two years ago, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) issued a Final Rule to clarify that the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA) applies to the key building blocks of ghost guns. This commonsense clarification does not ban gun kits. Rather, it subjects kits and nearly-complete guns to the same rules as conventionally manufactured guns—including serial number and background check requirements—and requires manufacturers and all licensees keep records so that law enforcement officers can trace any self-made guns later used in a crime. It also limits gun traffickers’ ability to distribute these illegal weapons into New Jersey.

This spring, the Supreme Court agreed to review a lower court decision invalidating federal regulations on ghost guns—rules that are already showing every indication that they are working as intended to get these deadly weapons off New Jersey streets. The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case in the next term beginning in October 2024.

“Ghost guns are a pernicious scourge, and we are standing up to ensure that homemade guns cannot wreak havoc in our communities,” said Attorney General Platkin. “Without ATF’s important rule, law enforcement are left to navigate a patchwork system of laws that allow otherwise untraceable guns to slip through the cracks. Gun violence is a public health crisis, and we need every tool available to combat it. There is no time to waste.”

The brief, which was also co-led by Attorneys General Brian L. Schwalb of the District of Columbia and Michelle A. Henry of Pennsylvania, argues that the Final Rule, which has been partially in effect for almost a year, fills a crucial public safety gap and may already be working to stop gun violence.

Specifically, the brief notes that before the Final Rule went into effect in August 2023, the New Jersey State Police (NJSP) recovered an average of 34 privately made firearms (PMFs) used in crimes per month from January to July 2023. That number dropped to approximately 19 per month between August and December 2023.

NJSP numbers also show that, as of June 28, 2024, 100 PMFs were recovered in crime investigations so far this year, as compared to 195 in the first six months of 2023—a nearly 50% drop in the same time period. The PMFs themselves may be reused in multiple crimes, as 15 of the PMFs recovered had been involved in a total of 26 shootings.

Although the data is preliminary and subject to update, it shows encouraging trends. The data also show how PMFs are attractive weapons for individuals with backgrounds that could disqualify them from gun ownership: of 78 unique individuals found to possess PMFs so far in 2024, 81% had prior criminal histories, 58% had prior felony convictions, 51% had prior gun-related arrests, and 17% were involved in previous shootings.

This is not the first time that a coalition of States has defended the rational, logical regulation challenged in this case. The States submitted amicus briefs throughout this litigation, including during the fight against preliminary and permanent injunctions before the Northern District of Texas, which eventually vacated the entire ATF rule, and in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The coalition also filed an amicus brief at the Supreme Court previously, urging the Court to allow the ATF rule to remain in effect as the legal challenge continued. The Supreme Court granted both requests.

The brief was joined by the Attorneys General of Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

This matter is being handled by Assistant Section Chief Andrew Yang and Deputy Attorney General Samuel Rubinstein under the supervision of Section Chief Jessica Palmer and Assistant Attorney General David Leit of the Special Litigation Section within the Division of Law’s Affirmative Civil Enforcement Practice Group.