The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled this week that posting plans for so-called “ghost guns”—homemade firearms and firearm parts designed to route around gun regulations—is technically legal. The ruling, which affirmed the Trump-era removal of these gun and gun parts from the State Department’s Munitions List, means that the blueprints for these weapons can be sold for export without approval from the federal government.
Ghost guns came under fire in 2018 when the Trump administration settled a lawsuit with 3D-printed gun maker Defense Distributed. The ruling stated these firearms weren’t to be placed on the Munitions List, essentially allowing their worldwide sale and export. The latest ruling reaffirmed this decision. From the 2018 ruling:
Certain software and technology capable of producing firearms when posted on the internet under specified circumstances is being controlled under this final rule in order to protect important U.S. national security and foreign policy interests; however, communication of ideas regarding such software or technology is freely permitted. Moreover, nothing in this final rule prohibits U.S. persons within the United States from acquiring firearms of any type—there are other laws and regulations that control the acquisition of firearms in the U.S.
Tuesday’s ruling by the 9th Circuit overturns the injunction put in place in March 2020 by a federal judge in Seattle after 21 attorneys general sued in January 2020 to have ghost gun plans taken offline. Judge Richard Jones issued the injunction on the grounds that it would impede states’ ability to stop terrorist attacks or other violence.
Judge Robert Whaley, who cast the dissenting vote, in the 9th Circuit decision, echoed Jones’ previous concerns. “This potential increase in the accessibility of ‘ghost guns’ presents a serious threat to public safety, as ‘ghost guns’ have already been linked to multiple mass shootings in the United States,” he said.
Ghost guns can range from plastic and metal weapons created entirely on 3D printers to parts like this innocuous-looking wall hook that turns an AR-15 into an automatic fire weapon. Other manufacturers provide so-called 80% parts that can be used to build real weapons provided the owner drills holes in the part or otherwise modifies it to be usable.
Killers have used ghost guns in many recent mass shootings including the shooting last Thursday in San Diego. Of primary concern to regulators is the lack of serial numbers on these important parts and the potential to use them to skirt firearms laws.