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SCOTUS Reinstates Rule Regulating Gun Parts Kits As Traditional Firearms

The Supreme Court stayed Tuesday a lower court decision to vacate a rule designed to crack down on “ghost guns” by regulating gun parts kits as traditional firearms.

The Biden administration asked the Supreme Court on July 27 to restore the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) “Frame or Receiver” rule, which expands the definition of firearm to include parts kits that are “readily convertible to functional weapons” or “functional ‘frames’ or ‘receivers’ of weapons,” arguing a federal judge’s decision to vacate the rule “is irreparably harming the public and the government.” United States District Judge for the Northern District of Texas Reed O’Connor found the rule exceeded ATF’s authority and issued a judgement on July 5 vacating it nationwide.

The Supreme Court stayed the lower court order pending its appeal to the Fifth Circuit. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch would have denied the application for a stay.

“The district court’s universal vacatur is irreparably harming the public and the government by reopening the floodgates to the tide of untraceable ghost guns flowing into our nation’s communities,” Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar told the Supreme Court. “Once those guns are sold, the damage is done: Some will already be in the hands of criminals and other prohibited persons — and when they are inevitably used in crimes, they are untraceable.”

In his opinion on June 30, O’Connor wrote that the rule exceeds the authority granted to the ATF by Congress.

“This case presents the question of whether the federal government may lawfully regulate partially manufactured firearm components, related firearm products, and other tools and materials in keeping with the Gun Control Act of 1968,” the district court judge wrote in a June 30 opinion. “Because the Court concludes that the government cannot regulate those items without violating federal law, the Court holds that the government’s recently enacted [rule] is unlawful agency action taken in excess of the ATF’s statutory jurisdiction.”

Richard Thomson, vice president of communications for the Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC), one of the plaintiffs who challenged the rule, called the district court judge’s decision “a monumental victory against the tyrannical ATF.”

“Firearms Policy Coalition and FPC Law have argued that this rogue agency has unlawfully attacked gun owners in this latest round of ‘rulemaking’ and we are grateful to see the Court agree,” Thomson said in a statement following the judge’s decision.

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