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SCOTUS Rules on ‘Ghost Gun’ Regulation

October 21, 2023

On Monday, in a 5-to-4 decision, the Supreme Court voted without comment to allow the Biden administration’s regulations on “ghost guns” to go into effect. The rules require serial numbers on gun parts.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined their three Democrat-appointed colleagues in allowing the Biden administration to enforce these rules while the Biden administration appeals a lower court ruling.

Democrats have pushed for serial numbers on all parts of guns, saying it’s a way to protect public safety and prevent violent crime. “The public-safety interests in reversing the flow of ghost guns to dangerous and otherwise prohibited persons easily outweighs the minor costs that respondents will incur,” Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote in a court filing.

“It will help to ensure that law enforcement officers can retrieve the information they need to solve crimes,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland claimed last year. “And it will help reduce the number of untraceable firearms flooding our communities.”

Biden’s expanded use of serial numbers is aimed at stopping the production of homemade guns, now called “ghost guns” by gun control advocates. Homemade guns have been around since before the United States became a country, and it was never terribly difficult to make a gun with simple machine tools. But now their production has become nearly impossible to regulate. With 3D metal printers, people can now make weapons that are indistinguishable from those purchased in stores.

But, even if homemade guns had serial numbers, that still wouldn’t help law enforcement solve crimes. TV shows such as “Law & Order” do not reflect reality.

In theory, if criminals leave registered guns at a crime scene, the serial numbers can be used to trace the weapons back to the perpetrators.

But, in real life, guns are only left at the scene of a crime when gunmen have been seriously injured or killed. With both the criminal and the weapon present at a scene, police can solve these crimes without registration. In the exceedingly unusual instances where registered guns are left at the scene, they aren’t registered to the person who committed the crime. 

Police in Hawaii, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York have had registration systems in place for decades but can’t point to any crimes that this has helped them to solve. Even entire countries such as Canada haven’t had success. 

New York and Maryland spent tens of millions of dollars compiling a computer database that contained the unique ballistic “fingerprints” of each new gun sold over a 15-year period. Even these states, which strongly favor gun control, eventually abolished their systems because they never solved a single crime.

Despite Biden’s claims, his new ghost gun regulations are no more useful. Combined with Biden’s zero-tolerance policy for any paperwork mistakes by gun dealers, which has put thousands of licensed dealers out of business, this new rule is quite nefarious. Biden wants to put gun dealers out of business if they make any paperwork mistake, no matter how trivial or inconsequential. With each part of a gun having a different serial number, just transferring a barrel from one gun to another requires redoing all the paperwork on both guns. Biden is adding significant costs to gun dealers and manufacturers and increasing the likelihood of mistakes that would put them out of business.

There is a possible argument for using serial numbers for tax purposes, to allow for easier proof of whether a gun has been taxed. The 1934 National Firearms Act imposed taxes on certain weapons, such as machine guns. But licensed dealers can still make sure that guns are properly taxed when sold, just as sales taxes are imposed on items at any other store.

The Supreme Court’s decision on Monday isn’t the final word. But the real question is this: Why do Democrats keep pushing a policy that costs so much and has no crime-reducing benefits? Someday, knowing who owns guns will help them to target their confiscation efforts. Mass registration will set the stage for future gun bans.

This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.

John R. Lott Jr. is a contributor to RealClearInvestigations, focusing on voting and gun rights. His articles have appeared in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, New York Post, USA Today, and Chicago Tribune. Lott is an economist who has held research and/or teaching positions at the University of Chicago, Yale University, Stanford, UCLA, Wharton, and Rice.

For media inquiries, please contact media@realclear.com.

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