Supreme Court takes up Biden administration’s ‘ghost gun’ appeal

The Supreme Court will hear the Biden administration’s appeal of a ruling that would invalidate its “ghost gun” regulations, setting the stage for a major showdown on firearms next term.

After previously intervening in the dispute twice on an emergency basis, the justices in a brief order Monday agreed to take up the case on the merits.

Their decision comes two years after President Biden announced a crackdown on the devices, referring to firearms that are sold as do-it-yourself kits and are generally hard to trace.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the regulation unlawful, siding with two firearm owners, two gun rights advocacy organizations and five entities that manufacture or distribute guns that challenged the crackdown.

The Justice Department then urged the Supreme Court to take up the case, warning that letting that lower ruling stand would have deadly consequences.

“Under the Fifth Circuit’s interpretation, anyone could buy a kit online and assemble a fully functional gun in minutes — no background check, records, or serial number required,” U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote in court papers on behalf of the government.

“The result would be a flood of untraceable ghost guns into our Nation’s communities, endangering the public and thwarting law-enforcement efforts to solve violent crimes.”

The Supreme Court has twice intervened in favor of the Biden administration on the court’s emergency docket: Justices voted 5-4 the first time, while there were no public dissents on the second occasion.

But neither of those decisions were a final ruling on the merits of the administration’s regulation.

The case, Garland v. VanDerStok, does not implicate the Second Amendment but instead weighs whether a long-standing federal gun law provides the administration with authority to regulate ghost guns.

In the wake of Biden’s announcement, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) issued a rule expanding the administration’s interpretation of two provisions of the law.

The first clarifies that the federal definition of a “firearm” includes certain parts kits, and the second defines “frame or receiver” to include disassembled parts that can be readily converted into a functional gun.

Together, the rule expands federal serial number, record-keeping and background-check requirements to ghost guns.

Both groups of challengers agreed with the Justice Department that the Supreme Court should take up the case, but they urged the justices to affirm the lower ruling.

“This expanded definition upsets the delicate balance struck by Congress between the commercial production and sale of firearms and the non-commercial making of firearms by law-abiding citizens, and the Fifth Circuit properly held it to be unlawful,” one group of challengers wrote in court papers.

The other group of challengers called the rule “unprecedented.”

“It criminalizes for the first time ever wide swaths of traditional gunmaking activities,” their attorneys wrote to the justices.

The case adds to two major gun disputes being heard this term at the Supreme Court. The justices are weighing a challenge to a federal ban on domestic abusers possessing guns and a separate challenge to the Trump-era ban on bump stocks.

Updated at 9:47 a.m. ET

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.