President Biden on Monday announced new restrictions on untraceable firearms known as “ghost guns” and introduced a nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as the president faces pressure to get a grip on the violent crime plaguing America.
Under the new rules, gun kit manufacturers will be required to include serial numbers on firearms and follow the same regulations as if they were selling a gun, including background checks.
“If somebody sells a ghost gun to a federally licensed dealer … that dealer must take the firearm and mark it with a serial number before reselling it,” Mr. Biden said in the White House Rose Garden. “All of a sudden, it’s no longer a ghost. It has a return address.”
He said his rule will “help save lives, reduce crimes and get more criminals off the streets.”
Law enforcement officials and Republicans say the move won’t ease the surge of homicides. Republicans accuse Democrats of fostering high crime through calls to “defund” the police and from lenient prosecution.
Ghost guns are unregulated firearms made from homemade kits without serial numbers, hindering the government’s ability to track the weapon if it is used in a crime. The kits are not regulated as firearms, so purchasers are not required to pass government background checks.
Mr. Biden showed off one of the kits at the Rose Garden ceremony. He said anyone could use the components to build a working firearm in about 30 minutes.
“If you order a package like this one here that includes the parts you need and directs the assembly of a functioning firearm, you bought a gun,” Mr. Biden said. “It doesn’t take very long. Anyone can order it in the mail.”
Mr. Biden also announced that he would nominate former U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach to head the ATF, which has been without a director since 2015.
Gun violence and crime have surged over the past year. Homicide rates are up in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and other U.S. cities, according to data from crime analyst Jeff Asher.
The number of homicides across the country so far this year is 1,527, up 3% from 1,484 through the same period last year.
Police said at least 27 people were shot, six fatally, over the weekend in Chicago. One of them was a 17-year-old boy.
During the first weekend in April, gunfire killed 13 people and injured more than 40 others. That included six killed and 12 injured in Sacramento, California.
Fears of gun violence are showing up in polls. A recent Gallup survey found that 51% of adults believe crime is rising in their area, up from 38% in 2020.
Law enforcement officials and firearms experts say tackling ghost guns will do little to address the nation’s high homicide rate because the weapons account for a small portion of the guns recovered by law enforcement.
Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith, a spokeswoman for the National Police Association, said law enforcement isn’t seeing a lot of ghost guns.
“Using the term ‘ghost guns’ makes them sound scary and dangerous, but as research shows, they are not a big problem for law enforcement,” she told The Washington Times.
Data from the ATF and FBI revealed that ghost guns were used in less than 0.36% of homicides from 2016 to 2020.
Of the 1,089 guns San Francisco police seized last year, 20% were ghost guns, according to data. Of the 2,382 guns seized by Baltimore police, 15%, or 352, were ghost guns.
Local departments say the number of ghost guns recovered is increasing at an alarming rate.
The White House, citing ATF reports, said about 20,000 suspected ghost guns were recovered in criminal investigations last year, a tenfold increase from 2016. The proliferation is making it difficult for investigators to trace guns as violent crime approaches record levels in many cities, officials said.
The Philadelphia Police Department recovered 571 ghost guns last year, more than double the 250 recovered in 2020. The ghost guns recovered in Baltimore were more than double the 128 police seized in 2020.
If Mr. Biden wants to crack down on crime, Ms. Smith said, he should focus on liberal prosecutors in cities with significant crime waves.
“In reality, violent crime is being fueled by de-policing, lax prosecution, no bail, or low or no sentencing,” she said.
Gun control groups hailed Mr. Biden’s efforts to rein in ghost guns. They said it is a critical step to reduce violence in America.
“Ghost guns look like a gun, they shoot like a gun and they kill like a gun, but up until now, they haven’t been regulated like a gun,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “We applaud the Biden-Harris administration for doubling down on its commitment to gun safety by taking action to rein in ghost guns.”
Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, called the new regulation a “bold, necessary rule to stop ghost guns from flooding our communities.”
Mr. Biden received vocal pushback from Republican lawmakers who said the plan treads on the Second Amendment.
Rep. Thomas Massie, Kentucky Republican and a vocal advocate for gun owners, said Mr. Biden is trying to exercise powers he doesn’t possess.
“The Constitution does not authorize the federal government to prevent you from making your own firearm. This [is] a fact that has been recognized for 200+ years. Also, Article 1, Section 1 (literally the first operative sentence in the Constitution) says Congress makes law, not POTUS!” he tweeted.
Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, said in a statement: “Expanding federal gun regulations only makes it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to own guns. If President Biden wants to crack down on crime, he should begin by enforcing existing laws and prosecuting violent criminals.”
ATF nominee faces confirmation battle
Mr. Biden’s pick to head the ATF is facing long odds for confirmation. Resistance on Capitol Hill sank the previous two nominees for the post.
Mr. Dettelbach, a former U.S. attorney from Ohio, drew backlash from gun rights advocates even before his nomination was officially announced.
“It is deeply troubling to see President Biden once again nominate someone with an anti-gun record to serve as the new ATF director,” said Tim Schmidt, president and founder of the U.S. Concealed Carry Association. “This, along with the administration’s proposals with respect to so-called ‘ghost guns,’ are just the latest evidence that the Biden administration is more focused on restricting Americans’ God-given right to self-protection than targeting criminals and reducing violent crime.”
Mr. Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, called Mr. Dettelbach “a strong leader the ATF needs to lead a top-to-bottom overhaul of the agency.” He called for a swift confirmation hearing.
In the Senate, deep divisions over gun policy derailed two recent nominations for ATF director. Mr. Biden and President Trump had to withdraw their choices for the post after lawmakers’ support dwindled and the nominations languished for months.
Even more surprising is that Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump faced resistance from members of their own parties.
Since the ATF director became a Senate-confirmed position in 2006, the agency has had only one permanent director, Byron Todd Jones, who served in the Obama administration from 2013 to 2015.
In September, Mr. Biden pulled the plug on his nomination of David Chipman to lead the ATF. Lawmakers in both parties raised questions about his ties to the gun control advocacy group Giffords, which was founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona Democrat, who survived a mass shooting in 2011.
Mr. Chipman could have won confirmation if all Senate Democrats backed his nomination, but Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona raised questions about his positions.
Opposition also frustrated Mr. Trump, who pulled the nomination of Chuck Canterbury after a disastrous confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Republicans controlled at the time.
Mr. Canterbury, a former national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, rankled senators with evasive answers during his 2019 confirmation hearing. The nomination stalled for a year before Mr. Trump withdrew it.
• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.