By: José Niño
Earlier this month, a Northern District of Texas federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) efforts to regulate unfinished frames and receivers. These frames and receivers are generally classified as “ghost guns” by anti-gun organizations and politicians due to how they do not feature serial numbers and require the end user to complete the item before firing it.
John Crump of AmmoLand noted that in 2021 the Biden administration instructed the ATF to establish new rules on unfinished firearms frames and receivers, better known as 80% frames and receivers. The ATF classifies these items as privately made firearms (PMF). In April 2022, President Joe Biden rolled out the new regulations classifying those complete kits or any combination of parts as firearms. This new regulation barred companies from jointly selling unfinished frames and jigs. In December 2022, the ATF published a letter that redefined firearms again to encompass polymer blank frames. The ATF published this letter after facing pressure from members of Congress, the Biden administration, and gun control proponents to close off the “ghost gun loophole.”
Multiple lawsuits filed across the country challenged the constitutionality of the ATF’s Final Rule. One of the cases is VanDerStok v. Garland. Several companies, Jennifer VanDerStok, and the Firearms Policy Foundation, initiated the legal action. The Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) and Defense Distributed, of Ghost Gunner desktop CNC machines fame, were two other prominent parties to take part in this case.
Defense Distributed and SAF asserted that the ATF abused its power and was in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) due to the ATF’s failure to consider data and relevant factors when issuing the Final Rule.
Defense Distributed was also able to demonstrate irreparable harm. In essence, irreparable harm is when a company or person suffers harm that cannot be repaired via financial means. The judge in the case found that Defense Distributed ran a very real risk of going out of business due to the Final Rule.
The money lost would in all likelihood not be recoverable due to the defendants (Justice Department) having sovereign immunity, which shields them from paying damages. The government attempted to assert that Defense Distributed’s product descriptions were too vague for a court to determine that the company would be subject to irreparable harm. The judge was not swayed by the government’s argument.
Defense Distributed is part of the Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC). Once Defense Distributed’s leadership determined that FPC being part of the case would not shield them from the Final Rule, the company intervened by joining the case. The government responded by claiming that since it took Defense Distributed nine months before intervening in the case there was no need for a preliminary injunction. The court ended up siding with Defense Distributed.
The injunction enjoins Defense Distributed, its staff, and its patrons from the ATF’s Final Rule. Defense Distributed was founded by Cody Wilson, a former University of Texas School of Law student, in 2012. Defense Distributed is a non-profit organization that builds and disseminates open-source gun designs for “wiki weapons” that can be used for 3D printing and digital manufacturing. It’s one of the few organizations that works to disintermediate the gun control regime through cutting-edge technology.