The term “ghost gun” has been used by politicians and the mainstream media for years as a broad label for firearms lacking a manufacturer-engraved serial number. Now the ghost gun debate and coming legal battle have been heating up due to a proposed rule change the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) listed in the Federal Register on May 21, 2021. On April 11, 2022, President Joe Biden made a statement that the new rule would be published and going into effect soon. That same day, the Attorney General signed the ATF’s final rule, 2021R-05F, “Definition of ‘Frame or Receiver’ and Identification of Firearms.”

What is a Ghost Gun?

A “ghost gun” is an 80 percent receiver that does not have a serial number engraved on it prior to sale. The reason they are called “80 percent” receivers is because they are blocks of metal or polymer, not usable parts. In order to become a working firearm component, an 80 percent receiver has to be correctly drilled and milled. If it isn’t done correctly, it won’t be usable. It’s impossible to undo an improperly drilled hole or a bad milling job, so if someone gets it wrong, it just won’t work well, if at all. There are 80 percent lower receivers for AR-15 rifles and also receivers for polymer-framed handguns.

Similarly, when the mainstream media refers to a ghost gun by parts or as a kit, they typically mean an 80 percent receiver is being sold with a one-time-use plastic jig. The jig holds the receiver and makes it easier to hold the so-called ghost gun steady in a drill press.

Does the Biden Administration Want to Regulate Ghost Guns?

It’s no secret the Biden administration has gun control on its mind and one thing they want to do is regulate ghost guns (as they call them). The President’s campaign website contains extensive gun control proposals, making the proposed rule change less than surprising. The proposed rule change was originally leaked from the DOJ in a slightly shorter version than the document currently in the Federal Register. Regarding the initial information leak, the Daily Caller said, “The draft of the 107-page document obtained by The Reload … sketches the [ATF’s] proposed changes to federal regulation that will outlaw homemade firearms by unlicensed manufacturers.”

In the final document’s summary, the purpose of the proposed amendment was outlined as providing “new regulatory definitions of ‘firearm frame and receiver’ and ‘frame or receiver,’” among other terms. The summary paragraph also mentions “amending ATF’s definitions of ‘firearm’ and ‘gunsmith’ to clarify the meaning of those terms, and to provide definitions of terms such as complete weapon,’ ‘complete muffler or silencer device, ‘privately made firearm,’ and ‘readily’ for purposes of clarity given advancements in firearms technology.”

On April 8, 2021, President Biden gave a speech in the White House Rose Garden expressing his concerns about ghost guns: “I want to rein in the proliferation of so-called ‘ghost guns.’ These are guns that are homemade, built from a kit that includes the directions on how to finish the firearm. You can go buy the kit. They have no serial numbers, so when they show up at a crime scene, they can’t be traced.” Biden has consistently used the term ghost guns as his preferred phrase for 80 percent receivers.

Biden also stated that “anyone from a criminal to a terrorist can buy this kit and, in as little as 30 minutes, put together a weapon.”

The idea that anyone can build a firearm—whether it’s a pistol or a long gun—from an 80 percent lower and so-called ghost gun parts in 30 minutes is misleading. It’s also inaccurate to make a blanket statement implying or outright claiming criminals and terrorists are buying those parts in staggering numbers. Statistically, criminals are far more likely to attempt to file off serial numbers or to use stolen firearms in the commission of crimes. The instances of self-built firearms—what the media calls ghost guns—being used in crimes are exceedingly rare compared to crimes committed using serialized, stolen firearms. Furthermore, the receivers the news likes to refer to as ghost guns are lumped in with homemade guns made of random parts by criminals. 80 percent receivers purchased from reputable manufacturers are not the same thing as something a criminal pieces together out of random pieces of metal, wood, and duct tape.

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What Does the News Say About “Ghost Guns”?

It seems there’s a lot of misinformation and lack of understanding in the news about so-called ghost guns. Many guns pictured or discussed by the mainstream media are not built on 80 percent receivers at all but are factory guns, meaning they have serial numbers engraved by the manufacturer. To be technically correct, there are no such firearms as ghost guns, only serialized or un-serialized guns. Understanding the nuances of federal gun laws and laws about guns in general can be challenging, and generally speaking, the mainstream media isn’t educated enough to discuss supposed ghost guns on a factual, accurate level.

Why Does the News Call Them Ghost Guns?

It’s not possible to know precisely why the news calls 80 percent receivers ghost guns. One could assume it’s because calling them ghost guns makes them sound undetectable and scary. It is an inaccurate phrase to use when talking about the parts used to build guns. Many in the mainstream media seem to see themselves as ghost guns experts, but as a general rule they’re lacking in knowledge and comprehension of what different guns really are.

What Company Makes 80 Percent Receivers?

If you’re wondering whether there is a single company ghost gun components are made by, the answer is that there are quite a few companies manufacturing what the mainstream news refers to as ghost gun kits or simply ghost guns. In reality, those ghost guns are 80 percent receivers. Those receivers make it possible for a gun owner to learn the intricacies of their firearms, which makes them easier to troubleshoot, and also gives them the pride of building their own gun. Some companies that have manufactured 80 percent receivers in the past, or do currently, include: Polymer80, 80 Percent Arms, Anderson Manufacturing, Delta Team Tactical, and JSD Supply.

Can You Still Build Firearms?

When the proposed change regarding ghost guns that was listed in the Federal Register go into effect, now that the final rule has been adopted, they will affect not only non-serialized components in the market, but also anyone interested in building a firearm. That’s because the document includes (but is not limited to) changing the definition of who would be considered a gunsmith, requiring new, more in-depth serialization of suppressors, and altering the definition of products they refer to as “armor-piercing ammunition.” It even affects recordkeeping and retention for any person with a federal firearms license (“FFL”). The proposal may have revolved around the idea of restricting so-called ghost guns, but it also involved numerous other issues that should concern all gun owners.

Under the new rule, which Biden directed the DOJ to create, 80 percent component kits without serial numbers will be illegal as they are currently being sold. The ATF will enforce those changes in various ways, including requiring those parts to be serialized and sold through FFLs, accompanied with an FBI NICS background check prior to the transfer. In fact, “privately made firearms” will be redefined in such a way as to make it time- and cost-prohibitive for the average gun owner to build their own firearms. As for sellers of receivers and frames lacking serial numbers, they will be required to obtain federal licensing and to serialize parts as outlined in the proposed law, following the specifications as to size, depth, and placement of engravings.

For the law-abiding gun owner, building an AR or pistol using an 80% lower receiver is about the pride of the end product and the knowledge and enjoyment gained by installing the myriad springs, pins, and parts with their own hands. It’s a fantastic skill to hone and one that promotes the ability to diagnose issues with firearms in general, and it makes gun owners more competent shooters and encourages respect of the platforms.

80 Percent Lowers & What YOU Can Do

The rule changes related to so-called ghost guns were listed in the Federal Register on May 21, 2021, and were open for public comment. The review period was extended beyond the standard 90 days from the date the proposal was listed on the register. On April 11, 2022, the final rule was signed and, later, published to the Federal Register. It goes into effect in late August 2022.


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