By Shereen Siewert

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul today announced he joined a coalition of 19 attorneys general urging the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to compel the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to regulate untraceable partially-assembled “ghost guns.”

A ghost gun is a term for a homemade or improvised firearm that lacks commercial serial numbers or a commercial firearm that has had its serial number removed, making these firearms harder to trace.

The coalition argues that the ATF unlawfully interpreted the Gun Control Act in 2015, effectively giving a green light to unlicensed online retailers to sell nearly-complete firearms that can easily be converted into fully-functioning weapons.

In their brief, the attorneys general argue that ghost guns endanger residents while hampering police efforts to investigate and prosecute criminal activity.

When a gunman opened fire on employees at Paradigm in Middleton in September 2018, he used a ghost gun, Kaul said.

“While Congress has passed legislation that should be used to help limit the proliferation of ghost guns, the interpretive rule challenged in this case leaves communities without the protection the federal government should be providing against these weapons,” Kaul aid.

From the 1980s through the early 2000s, ATF classified the core components of handguns and rifles—frames and receivers—as “firearms” subject to federal regulation if the components could be quickly and easily converted into functioning guns. In 2015, the ATF reversed course and issued an interpretive rule stating that these rifle receivers and handgun frames were not considered firearms.

Since then, an industry has emerged in which unlicensed online retailers sell nearly-complete guns directly to consumers. These weapons are untraceable and sold without background checks.

The coalition asserts that ghost guns are prohibited by federal law, threaten public safety and mislead consumers.

Ghost guns sellers operate openly online across the U.S. As the Associated Press reports, “build parties,” events promoted on social media where people construct firearms together, are increasingly common. David Chipman, a former ATF agent and senior policy advisor at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, describes them as “an existential threat.”

A copy of the brief is available here.

The brief was also joined by the attorneys general of Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.