Biden announces rule on 'ghost guns, new ATF nominee
Biden has nominated Steve Dettelbach to serve as ATF director.
President Joe Biden, in conjunction with the Department of Justice, announced a new measure Monday to crack down on what law enforcement says is the growing problem " ghost guns " and called on Congress to pass universal background checks.
"They call this rule I'm about to announce extreme. 'Extreme,'" Biden said at the White House Rose Garden event. "But let me ask you -- is it extreme to protect police officers, extreme to protect our children, extreme to keep guns out of the hands of people who couldn't even pass a background check?"
A "ghost gun" is a firearm that comes packaged in parts, can be bought online and assembled without much of a trace -- a point Biden demonstrated with props.
"It's not hard to put together," Biden said, showcasing its pieces. "Anyone could order it in the mail, anyone ... Terrorists and domestic abusers can go from a gun kit to a gun in as little as 30 minutes. Buyers aren't required to pass background checks because guns have no serial numbers."
The new rule essentially expands the definition of a "firearm," as established by the Gun Control Act, to cover "buy build shoot" kits that people can buy online or from a firearm dealer and assemble themselves. It will make these kits subject to the same federal laws that currently apply to other firearms.
The goal, officials said, is to keep untraceable guns off of the streets and out of the hands of those who are prohibited by law from possessing a firearm.
"We call them ghost guns because they can't be traced, but make no mistake. They are real. They can shoot to kill, and they do," said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco. "For years criminals have sought out these unmarked guns to murder and to maim. That's why the attorney general has signed a rule that updates our regulations to keep up with changes in technology."
With families affected by gun violence invited to the White House Monday, Mia Tretta, a survivor of a 2019 high school shooting in Santa Clarita, California, memorialized two classmates, Dominic Blackwell and Gracie Ann Muelburger, who were killed with a ghost gun, and introduced Biden, whom she called "the strongest gun-sense commander in chief ever to hold office" to make his big announcement.
"Starting today, weapons like the one used in Saugus High School and to ambush deputies that are here with us today are being treated like the deadly firearms they are," Biden said. "If you commit a crime with a ghost gun, expect federal prosecution."
"This rule is an important step, it's going to make a difference, I promise you," Biden added.
ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega pressed the White House on this promise at the daily White House briefing.
"Can you say, this administration say there will be fewer shootings, as a result of what the president is doing today?" Vega asked press secretary Jen Psaki.
"That's always our hope and our objective, right, is to reduce the impact of gun violence as we've seen, violence go up. We have seen a huge vast majority of that nearly three quarters as a result of guns and ghost guns, as you said, Cecilia, are used by simply clicking and ordering online, ordering a kit that people can make in their homes," she said.
Commercial manufacturers of those kits will now have to be licensed and include serial numbers on the kits' frame or receivers. In addition, commercial sellers will have to be federally licensed and run background checks before selling a kit.
MORE: Proposed 'ghost gun' rule could reshape battle against homemade guns: Experts
A senior administration official told ABC News, "At its core, this rule clarifies that anyone who wants to purchase a weapon parts kit that can be readily be converted to a fully assembled firearm must go through the same process they would have to go through to purchase a commercially made firearm in short weapon parts kits that may be readily convertible into working fully assembled firearms must be treated under federal law."
The rule also tackles ghost guns already made and in circulation. The DOJ will require federally licensed dealers that take in any un-serialized firearms to serialize them before selling the weapon. If a licensed dealer acquires a ghost gun, the rule will require them to serialize it before re-selling it.
"This requirement will apply regardless of how the firearm was made, meaning it includes ghost guns made from individual parts, kits, or by 3D-printers," a fact sheet of the new rule shared with ABC News.
"If you can put together an IKEA dresser, you can build a ghost gun," Tretta, also a volunteer leader with Students Demand Action, told ABC News ahead of Monday's event. "Unfortunately, it is that easy to get a weapon that has not only changed my life but has done the same thing to thousands of others. Finalizing this rule is a critical step to making sure no one else has to go through what my family has had to go through."
MORE: 'Ghost guns' showing up in school shootings, experts fear trend will get worse
The rule also updates the definition of a "frame" and "receiver" so that all using split or multi-part receivers are covered under existing gun laws and will be subject to serial numbers and background checks. It also extends the 20-year record retention requirement that all Federal Firearm Licensees must adhere to. Under the rule, FFLs must retain records for as long as the dealer is licensed.
While some gun advocacy groups are threatening to sue over the rule, Psaki said Monday the administration felt confident it would be able to continue to implement it.
Gun Owners of America has vowed to fight the rule it calls "pure gun control," claiming it "will do far more than the White House is pretending."
The National Rifle Association tweeted, "Biden’s gun control actions will hearten his wealthy gun control supporters. But, this action sends the wrong message to violent criminals, because this “ban” will not affect them. These violent crime sprees will continue unabated until they are arrested/prosecuted/punished."
From January 2016 to December 2021, the ATF said it received "approximately 45,000 reports of suspected privately made firearms recovered by law enforcement in criminal investigations -- including 692 homicides or attempted homicides," according to the DOJ.
New ATF director
Biden also announced the nomination of Steve Dettelbach as the new director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
"Steve's record makes him ready on day one to lead this agency," Biden said. "And by the way, in 2009, the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed him to serve as U.S. Attorney."
Dettelbach served the Justice Department for two decades, Biden said, ticking through his accomplishments. A senior administration official said of Biden's nominee, "He has a proven track record of working with federal, state, and local law enforcement to fight violent crime and combat domestic violent extremism and religious violence -- including through partnerships with the ATF to prosecute complex cases and take down violent criminal gangs."
The official did not specify whether the interim ATF director, Marvin Richardson, will remain in place during the confirmation process.
Psaki couldn't say on Monday what impact not having a confirmed leader of the bureau since 2015 was having on crime -- but put the onus on Republicans to help confirm Dettelbach given concerns over the crime rate.
"He's received bipartisan support from law enforcement leaders. He was confirmed unanimously when he was nominated to serve as a federal prosecutor. And our view is that if Republicans are about getting tough on crime as we are and keeping our communities safe, they should support a career prosecutor like Steve Dettelbach who can make the ATF more effective in getting guns off our streets and stopping criminals," she said.
Some gun safety advocacy organizations applauded the pick.
"We applaud the Biden-Harris Administration for doubling down on its commitment to gun safety by taking action to rein in ghost guns and nominating an ATF Director who will end its culture of complicity with the gun industry," John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, told ABC News. "Steve Dettelbach will be the strong leader the ATF needs to lead a top-to-bottom overhaul of the agency, and we urge the Senate to swiftly confirm him."
ABC News' Benjamin Siegel contributed to this report.
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FACT SHEET: The Biden Administration Cracks Down on Ghost Guns, Ensures That ATF Has the Leadership it Needs to Enforce Our Gun Laws
Today, President Biden and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco will deliver remarks in the Rose Garden to announce additional steps the Administration is taking to combat gun crime.
Ensuring that ATF has the leadership it needs to enforce our commonsense gun laws and fight gun crime.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is our top federal law enforcement agency responsible for enforcing our commonsense gun laws. Today, the President is nominating Steve Dettelbach to serve as Director of ATF.
Dettelbach is a highly respected former U.S. Attorney and career prosecutor who spent over two decades as a prosecutor at the U.S. Department of Justice. He has received bipartisan praise and support from law enforcement for his work. In 2009, he was unanimously confirmed for his position as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. He has a proven track record of working with federal, state, and local law enforcement to fight violent crime and combat domestic violent extremism and religious violence – including through partnerships with the ATF to prosecute complex cases and take down violent criminal gangs. Dettelbach also worked closely with local law enforcement and community leaders to develop and implement data-driven and neighborhood-based efforts to prevent and fight violent crime. His leadership and his record of innovation in fighting crime and violence make him ready from day one to aggressively and creatively address these pressing issues at the Director of ATF.
Cracking down on ghost guns – the weapon of choice for many violent criminals
Today, the President and Deputy Attorney General will also announce that the U.S. Department of Justice has issued a final rule to rein in the proliferation of “ghost guns” – unserialized, privately-made firearms that law enforcement are increasingly recovering at crime scenes in cities across the country. Last year alone, there were approximately 20,000 suspected ghost guns reported to ATF as having been recovered by law enforcement in criminal investigations – a ten-fold increase from 2016.  Because ghost guns lack the serial numbers marked on other firearms, law enforcement has an exceedingly difficult time tracing a ghost gun found at a crime scene back to an individual purchaser.
This final rule bans the business of manufacturing the most accessible ghost guns, such as unserialized “buy build shoot” kits that individuals can buy online or at a store without a background check and can readily assemble into a working firearm in as little as 30 minutes with equipment they have at home. This rule clarifies that these kits qualify as “firearms” under the Gun Control Act, and that commercial manufacturers of such kits must therefore become licensed and include serial numbers on the kits’ frame or receiver, and commercial sellers of these kits must become federally licensed and run background checks prior to a sale – just like they have to do with other commercially-made firearms.
The final rule will also help turn some ghost guns already in circulation into serialized firearms. Through this rule, the Justice Department is requiring federally licensed dealers and gunsmiths taking any unserialized firearm into inventory to serialize that weapon. For example, if an individual builds a firearm at home and then sells it to a pawn broker or another federally licensed dealer, that dealer must put a serial number on the weapon before selling it to a customer. This requirement will apply regardless of how the firearm was made, meaning it includes ghost guns made from individual parts, kits, or by 3D-printers.
This rule builds on the Biden Administration’s prior executive action to rein in the proliferation of ghost guns. In February 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice launched a National Ghost Gun Enforcement Initiative, which is training a national cadre of prosecutors and disseminating investigation and prosecution tool to help bring cases against those who use ghost guns to commit crimes. As President Biden said during an event at the New York Police Department headquarters, if you use a ghost gun to commit a crime “not only are state and local prosecutors going to come after you, but expect federal charges and federal prosecution as well.”
Additional executive action to reduce gun violence
Today’s final rule includes two additional actions to make our communities safer.
First, the final rule ensures that firearms with split receivers are subject to regulations requiring serial numbers and background checks when purchased from a licensed dealer, manufacturer or importer. Decades ago, ATF issued a regulation defining the “frame or receiver” of a firearm as the part that is regulated by the Gun Control Act – meaning that is the part that triggers federal serialization, background check, and other requirements. At that time, many firearms in the United States were single-framed firearms, like revolvers, that house key components in a single structure. However, we have seen the increasing popularity of firearms using split or multi-part receivers that house key components in multiple structures. Some courts have recently interpreted decades-old regulatory text in a way that, if broadly applied, could mean that as many as 90 percent of firearms in the United States today would not have a frame or receiver subject to federal regulation. The final rule updates the regulatory definitions of “frame” and “receiver” to ensure that firearms using split or multi-part receivers continue to be covered by our common-sense gun laws.
Second, the final rule requires federally licensed firearms dealers to retain key records until they shut down their business or licensed activity. At that time, these dealers must transfer the records to ATF, just as they are currently required to do at the end of licensed activity. Previously, these dealers were permitted to destroy most records after 20 years, making it harder for law enforcement to trace firearms found at crime scenes. According to ATF’s National Tracing Center, on average more than 1,300 firearms a year are untraceable because the federally licensed firearms dealer destroyed the relevant records that were more than 20 years old.
Implementing the President’s comprehensive gun crime reduction strategy
This final rule is part of the President’s comprehensive gun crime reduction strategy. President Biden made more progress on executive actions to reduce gun violence than any other President during their first year in office. You can read more about the Administration’s whole-of-government approach to reduce gun crime here .
President Biden’s fiscal year 2023 budget calls on Congress to deliver the funding needed to implement the President’s comprehensive strategy to reduce gun crime and make our communities safer. These additional resources will fund accountable policing, including by putting more police officers on the beat, and making essential investments in crime prevention and community violence intervention.
Congress needs to do its job by passing this budget and other essential legislation to reduce gun crime, including legislation to require background checks for all gun sales, ensure that no terrorist can buy a weapon in the United States, ban the sale and possession of unserialized firearms — ghost guns, ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and repeal gun manufacturers’ protection from liability.
We'll be in touch with the latest information on how President Biden and his administration are working for the American people, as well as ways you can get involved and help our country build back better.
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Biden finalizes restrictions on 'ghost guns,' names new ATF nominee
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Monday announced new restrictions on homemade guns known as “ghost guns,” as well as a new nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Biden announced the finalization of a rule that would require makers of gun kits to include a serial number on the firearms and for sellers to follow the same standard as with other guns, including requiring a background check for purchase.
"These guns are the weapons of choice for many criminals," Biden said. "We are going to do everything we can to deprive them of that choice."
Biden also said he would nominate former U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach to be head of the ATF, which has been without a Senate-confirmed director since 2015.
The announcement comes nearly one year to the day that Biden announced from the White House the proposed rule on ghost guns and the nomination of a different ATF head, David Chipman. Biden blamed lobbying from gun rights advocates for delaying the finalization of the rule.
The White House withdrew Chipman from consideration in September following unanimous opposition from Republicans.
Biden pledged during his campaign to make stricter gun control measures, like universal background checks, a priority if elected.
But many of those changes require action from Congress, where lawmakers have been unable to reach a compromise on stricter gun control measures. Gun control advocates have been pushing the White House to go further.
“The president has done more to fight gun violence and keep our community safe than any president in history in his first year in office," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday, adding that the issue was obviously one "that is close to his heart, something he’s passionate about and has been for decades."
Biden said his administration is continuing to go after gun dealers who do not follow the law and gun trafficking across state lines, and is calling for additional funding for community policing programs and the hiring of more police officers.
"The answer is not to defund the police. It is to fund the police and give them the tools and training and support they need to be better partners and protectors of our communities," Biden said.
Law enforcement recovered 20,000 suspected ghost guns last year, a tenfold increase from 2016, Biden said. Because the firearms don’t have serial numbers, law enforcement has difficulty tracking their origin when used in a crime. The ATF said it has been able to trace fewer than 1 percent of the weapons, Biden said.
A senior administration official said they were anticipating a smoother confirmation process for Dettelbach than Chipman faced.
“He should be a noncontroversial candidate because he has a long record of working in law enforcement and for the public safety of the people of Ohio and the American people,” the official said. “We will work hard to make sure that Congress confirms him swiftly.”
Chipman is a senior policy adviser at a nonprofit organization, Giffords, dedicated to reducing gun violence and named for former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was shot in a 2011 assassination attempt. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., alleged that Chipman was a foe of the Second Amendment.
Shannon Pettypiece is senior policy reporter for NBC News digital.
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ATF’s Final Rule to End the Proliferation of Dangerous, Untraceable Ghost Guns
- Background Checks on All Gun Sales
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The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) announced a final rulemaking that would end the proliferation of untraceable ghost guns by clarifying that their core building blocks are firearms under the law—ensuring they are traceable and that licensed dealers conduct a background check before their sale. The rulemaking was first proposed in May 2021 as part of a slate of lifesaving executive actions announced by President Joe Biden to address the nation’s gun violence crisis.
Ghost guns are do-it-yourself guns made from readily available, untraceable building blocks.
- Ghost guns are very easy to make: their core building blocks (nearly-complete frames or receivers) can be bought online or at a gun show and are designed and marketed to be easily converted into a fully functional firearm with little skill.
- Ghost guns are the fastest-growing gun safety problem facing our country and have emerged as a weapon of choice for violent criminals , gun traffickers, dangerous extremists , and other people legally prohibited from buying firearms. Ghost guns are also the thread connecting a recent increase in gunfire on school grounds . Schools in Arizona , New Mexico , Maryland , and Kansas have been devastated by school shootings involving ghost guns – highlighting a scary trend and another important reason to regulate these dangerous weapons.
This final rule would shutter many of the ghost gun companies that flooded the market with untraceable ghost guns intentionally designed to evade regulation.
- Everytown’s research has revealed over 100 companies selling ghost gun parts online. And despite years of headlines making clear that ghost guns were being bought and used by mass shooters , extremists , and children , ghost gun companies continue to sell untraceable ghost gun kits and parts online with no questions asked.
- This rule corrects ATF’s previous interpretation of federal law to ensure that these companies can no longer evade regulation. Under federal law, the definition of “firearm” includes both operable weapons and the core building block of a weapon—the frame of a handgun or the receiver of a long gun. The law also covers nearly-complete weapons and kits that can readily be converted into an operable firearm or an operable frame or receiver.
- ATF had previously taken the position that certain frames and receivers do not qualify as firearms, even if they only require a minimal amount of drilling or milling to “finish” them. The rulemaking cures this flawed interpretation by clarifying that nearly-complete frames and receivers are firearms if they can be easily turned into one and by revoking ATF’s prior flawed determination letters.
- This rule also confirms that all-in-one ghost gun kits are “firearms” under federal law and it codifies a list of factors that courts have used to determine if a core building block may be “readily” converted into an operable firearm, ensuring that nearly-complete frames and receivers, such as 80% receivers, are regulated as firearms under federal law.
When the rule goes into effect in August, ghost gun sellers will be required to abide by the same rules and regulations as any other gun seller
- Under the rule, manufacturers and dealers of ghost gun building blocks must be federally licensed, the building blocks marked with serial numbers, and purchasers must pass a background check before buying these parts from a licensed dealer.
- The rule does not ban the possession of ghost guns altogether. People who already own ghost guns can still have them, so long as they aren’t legally prohibited from owning guns. But any dealers that have ghost guns in their inventory must serialize them, as well as any unserialized ghost guns they acquire in the future.
- 10 states and D.C. already have laws on the books regulating ghost guns, and several of those laws go further than this rule by banning the possession of ghost guns. But states on their own are unable to cut off the national supply chain for ghost guns, which this rule will finally do.
The rule does not infringe on Second Amendment rights, nor does it prevent hobbyists from building their own guns.
- Every federal court to have considered a Second Amendment challenge to a state or local ghost guns regulation has rejected it. Federal courts agree that there is also no Second Amendment right to an unserialized gun or a gun purchased without a background check. Further, companies have no Second Amendment right to sell unserialized guns.
- Nearly-complete frames and receivers and ghost gun kits are intentionally designed and marketed to require as little technical expertise, time, and effort as possible to assemble, unlike home-built firearms made by gunsmiths and hobbyists. Hobbyists can still acquire nearly complete frames and receivers to build a firearm, the only difference is that the parts will be serialized and companies will do a background check.
The call for action on ghost guns has grown significantly in the past couple of years and Everytown has been at the forefront of the fight.
August 2020, december 2020, february 2021, august 2021.
Everytown Research & Policy is a program of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, an independent, non-partisan organization dedicated to understanding and reducing gun violence. Everytown Research & Policy works to do so by conducting methodologically rigorous research, supporting evidence-based policies, and communicating this knowledge to the American public.
Two Decades of Suicide Prevention Laws: Lessons from National Leaders in Gun Safety Policy
In order to understand the variability in state-level firearm suicide rates, Everytown has examined the role of state gun safety policies.
The Smoking Gun
An online resource committed to exposing the gun industry’s role in our gun violence epidemic today.
Ghost Guns Recoveries and Shootings
Everytown Research & Policy has collected examples of reported murders and shootings using ghost guns since 2013.
Inside the Gun Shop: Firearms Dealers and Their Impact
This report spells out the basic facts about licensed dealers and the relationship between these dealers and gun crimes.
Did you know?
Every day, more than 120 people in the United States are killed with guns, twice as many are shot and wounded and countless others are impacted by acts of gun violence.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. WONDER Online Database, Underlying Cause of Death. A yearly average was developed using four years of the most recent available data: 2018 to 2021.
Last updated: 2.13.2023
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Supreme Court allows ATF to enforce "ghost gun" rules for now
By Melissa Quinn
Updated on: August 8, 2023 / 8:52 PM EDT / CBS News
Washington — The Supreme Court on Tuesday paused a lower court decision that invalidated the Biden administration's efforts to regulate so-called ghost guns , allowing enforcement of the restrictions while legal proceedings continue.
The 5-4 order from the court came hours before a temporary pause issued by Justice Samuel Alito, who handles requests for emergency relief arising from states including Texas, was set to expire . Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined with the three liberal justices to freeze the lower court's ruling, while Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh said they would deny the request from the Biden administration to revive the rules.
The White House commended the Supreme Court's decision to temporarily pause the lower court orders blocking its efforts aimed at curbing gun violence.
"While this case is being litigated, the Supreme Court's action will keep in place important efforts to combat the surge of unserialized, privately-made 'ghost guns' which have proliferated in crime scenes across the country," Olivia Dalton, White House principal deputy press secretary, said in a statement.
The legal battle arrived at the Supreme Court late last month when the Biden administration asked the high court to reinstate the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' regulation targeting ghost guns while proceedings continue in the lower court.
The measure from ATF , which took effect in August 2022, updated the rules regarding the definition of a "firearm" under the Gun Control Act to address the proliferation of ghost guns, which are untraceable firearms that can be made from kits available online and assembled at home. The rule defined "firearm" to include ghost gun kits and clarified the definition of "frames or receivers," which are also sold in kits.
The legal battle over ghost guns
Under the law, manufacturers and sellers of certain kits are required to obtain licenses, mark their products with serial numbers, conduct background checks and maintain records to allow law enforcement to trace the firearms when used in crimes. The rule does not prohibit the purchase, sale or possession of any gun, nor does it bar a person legally allowed to have a firearm from making one at home.
A group of gun owners, advocacy groups and entities that make or sell products covered by the rule challenged portions of ATF's restrictions last year, arguing they're unlawful.
A federal district court first blocked the challenged provisions, prohibiting the Biden administration from enforcing them. Then, on July 5, U.S. District Court Judge Reed O'Connor ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and blocked the regulation nationwide, finding ATF acted beyond the scope of its statutory authority. The Biden administration asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to halt the lower court's decision, and the appeals court declined to do so regarding two challenged portions of ATF's restrictions.
The 5th Circuit expedited the Biden administration's appeal and is set to hear arguments in September.
In addition to asking the Supreme Court to put the district court's order on hold, the Biden administration argued that under a stay, the challengers would be free to make, sell and buy weapons parts kits, and only would need to comply with federal requirements that apply to commercial sales of other firearms.
"The district court's universal vacatur is irreparably harming the public and the government by reopening the floodgates to the tide of untraceable ghost guns flowing into our Nation's communities," Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote in the emergency application to the court. "Once those guns are sold, the damage is done: Some will already be in the hands of criminals and other prohibited persons — and when they are inevitably used in crimes, they are untraceable."
But the plaintiffs challenging ATF's rule argued that by redefining "frame or receiver" and "firearm" under federal law, the agency overstepped its authority under the Gun Control Act.
"By seeking to bring within its purview items that facilitate the making of firearms by private citizens for their own use, ATF has sought to fundamentally alter the policy choices made by Congress in 1968," one group of gun owners and retailers told the court. "Those policy choices are for Congress, not ATF, to make."
Melissa Quinn is a politics reporter for CBSNews.com. She has written for outlets including the Washington Examiner, Daily Signal and Alexandria Times. Melissa covers U.S. politics, with a focus on the Supreme Court and federal courts.
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By 5-4 Vote, Supreme Court Revives Biden’s Regulation of ‘Ghost Guns’
The federal government, citing a rise in violence involving untraced firearms, had asked the justices to step in. The court provisionally allowed the regulation while a challenge moves forward.
By Adam Liptak
Reporting from Washington
The Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily revived the Biden administration’s regulation of “ghost guns” — kits that can be bought online and assembled into untraceable homemade firearms.
In defending the rule, a key part of President Biden’s broader effort to address gun violence, administration officials said such weapons had soared in popularity in recent years, particularly among criminals barred from buying ordinary guns.
The court’s brief order gave no reasons, which is typical when the justices act on emergency applications. The order was provisional, leaving the regulation in place while a challenge moves forward in the courts.
The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Amy Coney Barrett joining the court’s three liberal members — Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson — to form a majority.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh noted dissents. Like the justices in the majority, they did not explain their reasoning.
The regulation, issued in 2022 by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, broadened the bureau’s interpretation of the definition of “firearm” in the Gun Control Act of 1968.
The change, Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar wrote in the Biden administration’s emergency application , was needed to respond to “the urgent public safety and law enforcement crisis posed by the exponential rise of untraceable firearms.”
The new regulation did not ban the sale or possession of kits and components that can be assembled to make guns, she wrote, but it did require manufacturers and sellers to obtain licenses, mark their products with serial numbers and conduct background checks.
Gun owners, advocacy groups and companies that make or distribute the kits and components sued to challenge the regulations, saying that they were not authorized by the 1968 law.
That law defined firearms to include weapons that “may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive” and “the frame or receiver of any such weapon.”
What Do Homemade Guns Mean for Gun Laws? We Made One to Find Out.
Virtually anyone can buy a kit online to build a gun from parts — without a background check. that raises questions about the future of gun regulation..
[GUN CLICKS] This is a gun I made myself. The government doesn’t know I have it, but it’s totally legal. You can buy a kit online with all the parts you need to build a Glock 19. You don’t need a 3-D printer or fancy tools, and you don’t need a background check. I purchased the Glock 19 during Glocktober, so I got $100 off. People call these ghost guns. And they’re becoming more popular, especially for people who want a gun, but don’t want any record that it exists. I’d like to see how easy it is to build one of these guns and to find out what these kits mean for the future of gun regulation. Order is confirmed. All that’s left to do is build it. I don’t have a handgun license in New York, so I sent the kit to Virginia, where you don’t need one. Let’s make a gun. I get the appeal of making a gun. I like building stuff. And for a lot of people who buy these kits, that’s the point. They’re fun to make. “Hey, guys. Today we’re going to be going over how to build your Full Conceal Polymer80 frame. So it’s actually fairly quick to do this.” “Kind of paint by numbers in a sense.” The lower receiver or frame is the only part of the gun that’s technically considered a firearm under U.S. law. Gun kits aren’t regulated like firearms because they come with unfinished lower receivers. “So this is the lower receiver, and it’s in this jig. So what we’ll need to do is remove the extra pieces that are sticking up out of the jig.” [SNAPPING] Yeah, instead of shop, I took early childhood development. It was actually really awesome. The finished lower receiver looks almost identical to the unfinished one. You just drill a few holes and remove these extra bits of polymer. Then you assemble and add the rest of the parts. If you do it right, you’ll have a working firearm. On a factory-made gun, the serial number would go here. But the gun I’m building won’t have one, so there’s no way to trace it. Gun kits aren’t regulated at all in most states. There are no records of sales. And for a lot of people, that’s the appeal. “Hey.” “Hey.” “Andy Lander.” “Jeremy White.” Andy Lander is a firearms expert who worked for the N.R.A. for 13 years. He’s built guns before. “We’re still technically a free country. And I think that one of the greatest freedoms is having privacy. To me, if you bought 100 guns, it’s none of my business.” It’s impossible to say how many ghost guns are out there or who owns them. Last year, nearly a third of all firearms seized by law enforcement in California were homemade without serial numbers. Still, Andy says the kits aren’t the problem. “A criminal is going to steal a gun. He’s going to either rob somebody and get a gun. He’s going to get a gun anyway. I’m not worried about a guy building a Glock 19 in his garage.” “Nope. Drop it in from the top.” “Drop it in.” “Straight down.” “Oh, it has to be all the way —” “You have to clear that, yeah. Push down till it pops. Yeah, that’s it.” [GUN CLICKS] “There you go. You’re done.” “Wow. Thanks for your help.” [GUN CLICKS] It took me about six hours to build my ghost gun. [GUN CLICKS] If I had to do it again, I could do it much faster. Still, there’s no guarantee that it will work. “Scot Thomasson.” “Jeremy White.” “Nice to meet you.” “Good to meet you.” “How are you?” “Good.” “Good. It’s the same damn gun.” “Really is.” “The difference is right there, serial number. And that’s important.” Scot Thomasson is a retired A.T.F. agent. He’s letting me try out my new gun on his property. “Looks O.K. Looks like it’s not going to blow up anybody’s hand, so that’s a good thing.” “Let’s go test it out.” [GUN CLICKS] [GUN FIRES] “Hit.” [GUN FIRES] “Hit.” [GUN FIRES] “O.K.” “That’s a working gun.” “Yeah, sure enough is. Listen, I worked violent crime my whole career for 26 years. You want those officers to have every means possible bringing to justice those who use that firearm to commit acts of violence. And without a serial number on that firearm, you can’t do it.” “So if these kits had a serial number and were sold through licensed dealers, do you see any problem with that?” “No problem whatsoever. So what?” “Right now we really don’t know what we don’t know, because these guns are completely untraceable.” Jennifer Wexton is a representative from Virginia’s 10th district and a co-sponsor on two bills that would broaden the definition of firearms to include assembly kits. so you couldn’t buy them without the government knowing. “Normally the serial number would be here.” “No. And look, there’s nothing there.” “There’s nothing there.” “Yeah. That’s part of the allure of these kinds of ghost guns, by the way. So when they’re picked up in crime scenes and things like that, we know that they are out there. And we’re seeing it happen more and more.” “What do you say to the Second Amendment advocate that says, these laws are an invasion of my privacy when it comes to gun ownership?” “I think that guns should be traceable. So I think that weighing the interest in not having a serial number on your firearm versus the overall public safety, I come down on the side of public safety.” In the end, the government does find out about my ghost gun. Without a handgun license, I can’t bring this gun back to New York, so I’m turning it in to the local police. They interview me, do a background check and file a police report. That’s a lot more screening than I went through to get the gun in the first place. For most people, this isn’t the easiest way to get a gun. It takes time and skill. Some people may like that challenge. Most people would rather just buy one from a gun shop or a licensed dealer. But if you’re a felon, or underage, or you can’t legally buy a gun for some other reason, these kits make it remarkably easy to get one anyway.
Judge Reed O’Connor, of the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Texas, sided with the challengers and struck down the regulation in July, saying that “a weapon parts kit is not a firearm” and “that which may become or may be converted to a functional receiver is not itself a receiver.”
He added: “Even if it is true that such an interpretation creates loopholes that as a policy matter should be avoided, it is not the role of the judiciary to correct them. That is up to Congress.”
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, refused to stay key aspects of Judge O’Connor’s ruling.
When the Supreme Court struck down a New York gun control law last year on Second Amendment grounds, it split along familiar lines, with the six Republican appointees in the majority and the three Democratic ones in dissent. The vote in the new case revealed a different fault line, with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Barrett taking a more cautious approach than the other four conservatives.
In the government’s emergency application, Ms. Prelogar asked the justices to consider an analogy.
“Every speaker of English would recognize that a tax on sales of ‘bookshelves’ applies to Ikea when it sells boxes of parts and the tools and instructions for assembling them into bookshelves,” she wrote.
A Supreme Court brief from one set of challengers said the comparison was flawed.
“A better analogy would be to a ‘taco kit’ sold as a bundle by a grocery store that includes taco shells, seasoning packets, salsa and other toppings, along with a slab of raw beef,” the brief said. “No one would call the taco kit a taco. In addition to ‘assembly,’ turning it into one would require cutting or grinding and cooking the meat — and until that was done, it would be nonsensical to treat it as food and the equivalent of a taco.”
The two sides also differed on whether there has been a spike in homemade firearms.
Ms. Prelogar wrote that there had been “an explosion of crimes involving ghost guns,” pointing to a sworn statement from an A.T.F. official . More than 19,000 firearms without serial numbers were recovered by the authorities in 2021, the official said, compared with about 1,600 in 2017. He added that in the 11 months ending in July, “a total of approximately 23,452 suspected privately made firearms were recovered at crime scenes and submitted for tracing.”
Such weapons are particularly attractive to criminals and minors, Ms. Prelogar wrote, adding that they “can be made from kits and parts that are available online to anyone with a credit card and that allow anyone with basic tools and rudimentary skills (or access to internet video tutorials) to assemble a fully functional firearm in as little as 20 minutes.”
The challengers’ brief questioned the Biden administration’s data.
“The government’s alleged ‘epidemic’ of privately made firearms traced by the police appears to be largely an artifact of police departments changing their tracing practices in response to A.T.F. pressure,” the brief said, adding that “nothing in the government’s submission demonstrates that firearms made by individuals for their own personal use are fueling an increase in crime.”
The brief also objected to the phrase “ghost guns,” calling it “a propaganda term that appears nowhere in federal law” and one that includes both firearms “that are manufactured lawfully by individuals and those that have their serial numbers illegally obliterated.”
Adam Liptak covers the Supreme Court and writes Sidebar, a column on legal developments. A graduate of Yale Law School, he practiced law for 14 years before joining The Times in 2002. More about Adam Liptak
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Frame and Receiver Rule Goes into Effect
Today, the Department of Justice Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) “Frame or Receiver” Final Rule goes into effect. The new rule modernizes the definition of a firearm and makes clear that parts kits that are readily convertible to functional weapons, or functional “frames” or “receivers” of weapons, are subject to the same regulations as traditional firearms. This rule will help curb the proliferation of “ghost guns,” which are often assembled from kits, do not contain serial numbers, and are sold without background checks, making them difficult to trace and easy to acquire by criminals.
“Last year, the Justice Department committed to modernizing our regulations to address the proliferation of ‘ghost guns’ that law enforcement officers across the country have increasingly recovered from crime scenes,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “These guns have often been sold as build-your-own kits that contain all or almost all of the parts needed to quickly build an unmarked gun. And anyone could sell or buy these guns without a background check.
“That changes today. This rule will make it harder for criminals and other prohibited persons to obtain untraceable guns. It will help to ensure that law enforcement officers can retrieve the information they need to solve crimes. And it will help reduce the number of untraceable firearms flooding our communities. I am grateful to the professionals across the Department who worked tirelessly to get this important rule finalized and implemented, and who did so in a way that respects the rights of law-abiding Americans.
“The Justice Department will continue to do everything within its power to protect our communities from violent crime and put an end to the plague of gun violence.”
The rule, which was posted in the Federal Register in April, will address the proliferation of these un-serialized firearms in several ways. These include:
- To help keep guns from being sold to convicted felons and other prohibited purchasers, the rule makes clear that retailers must run background checks before selling kits that contain the parts necessary for someone to readily make a gun.
- To help law enforcement trace guns used in a crime, the rule modernizes the definition of frame or receiver, clarifying which part of a weapon must be marked with a serial number – including in easy-to-build firearm kits.
- To help reduce the number of unmarked and hard-to-trace “ghost guns,” the rule establishes requirements for federally licensed firearms dealers and gunsmiths to have a serial number added to 3D printed guns or other un-serialized firearms they take into inventory.
- To better support tracing efforts, the rule requires federal firearms licensees, including gun retailers, to retain records for the length of time they are licensed, thereby expanding records retention beyond the prior requirement of 20 years. Over the past decade, ATF has been unable to trace thousands of firearms – many reportedly used in homicides or other violent crimes – because the records had already been destroyed. These records will continue to belong to, and be maintained by, federal firearms licensees while they are in business.
The proliferation of privately made firearms (PMFs), also known as “ghost guns”, are a growing problem for law enforcement efforts to reduce violent crime. Recent federal prosecutions by the Chicago Firearms Trafficking Strike Force show the impact:
- An Orland Hills, Ill., man was charged with illegally selling 36 firearms, including “ghost guns” and machine guns, in the Chicago area. Many of the transactions occurred in a car wash in a Chicago suburb.
- Two Indianapolis men were charged with federal firearm violations for allegedly trafficking 10 guns, including four semiautomatic rifles and two “ghost guns,” from Indianapolis to Chicago.
- A Chicago resident was charged with trafficking more than a dozen guns, including a “ghost gun” and a machine gun, in Chicago.
- Five men were indicted for allegedly trafficking guns from St. Louis to Chicago.
As the final rule explains, from January 2016 to December 2021, ATF received approximately 45,240 reports of suspected PMFs recovered by law enforcement, including in 692 homicide or attempted homicide investigations.
In April 2021 , the Attorney General announced that the ATF would be issuing a proposed rule within 30 days to address the proliferation of unmarked firearms increasingly being used in crimes. On May 7, 2021 , the Department of Justice issued a notice of proposed rulemaking, and during the 90-day open comment period, the ATF received more than 290,000 comments, the highest number of comments submitted to a proposed rule in the Justice Department’s history.
The final rule, as submitted to the Federal Register, can be viewed here: https://www.atf.gov/rules-and-regulations/definition-frame-or-receiver .
A New Hampshire man has been indicted in connection with sending threatening text messages to three presidential candidates.
Today, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced a transition in the leadership of the Justice Department’s War Crimes Accountability Team (WarCAT).
As directed by Executive Order 14074 , Advancing Effective, Accountable Policing and Criminal Justice Practices to Enhance Public Trust and Public Safety , the Justice Department today launched the National...
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WATCH: Biden takes fresh aim at ‘ghost guns’ with new rules
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Monday took fresh aim at ghost guns, the privately made firearms without serial numbers that are increasingly cropping up in violent crimes, as he struggles to break past gun-control opposition to address firearm deaths.
Watch the event in the live player above.
Speaking at the White House, Biden highlighted the Justice Department’s work to finalize new regulations to crack down on ghost guns, and announced the nomination of Steve Dettelbach, who served as a U.S. attorney in Ohio from 2009 to 2016, to run the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
READ MORE: Police arrest second suspect in Sacramento shooting
“Law enforcement is sounding the alarm,” Biden said of ghost guns, briefly holding one up for cameras to see in the Rose Garden. “Our communities are paying the price.”
He promised the new regulations would save lives.
Still, the announcement on guns highlights the limits of Biden’s influence to push a sweeping congressional overhaul of the nation’s firearm laws in response to both a recent surge in violent crime and continued mass shootings . Congress has deadlocked on legislative proposals to reform gun laws for a decade, and executive actions have faced stiff headwinds in federal courts — even as the Democratic base has grown more vocal in calling on Biden to take more consequential action.
Dettelbach’s confirmation, too, is likely to be an uphill battle. Biden had to withdraw the nomination of his first ATF nominee, gun-control advocate David Chipman, after it stalled for months because of opposition from Republicans and some Democrats in the Senate.
Both Republican and Democratic administrations have failed to get nominees for the ATF position through the politically fraught process since the director’s position was made confirmable in 2006. Since then, only one nominee, former U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones, has been confirmed. Jones made it through the Senate in 2013 but only after a six-month struggle. Jones was acting director when
President Barack Obama nominated him in January 2013.
The Biden administration’s plan on guns was first reported by Politico.
For nearly a year, the ghost gun rule has been making its way through the federal regulation process.
Gun safety groups and Democrats in Congress have been pushing for the Justice Department to finish the rule for months. It will probably be met with heavy resistance from gun groups and draw litigation in the coming weeks.
Gun Owners of America vowed that it would immediately fight the rule.
“Just as we opposed the Trump Administration’s arbitrary ban on bump stocks, GOA will also sue Biden’s ATF to halt the implementation of this rule,” Aidan Johnston, the group’s director of federal affairs said in a statement. The group believes the rule violates the U.S. Constitution and several federal laws.
But gun safety advocacy groups, like Everytown for Gun Safety, which pushed the federal government for years to take action on ghost guns, applauded Biden’s moves and insisted that both Dettelbach’s appointment and the finalized rule will help combat gun violence.
“Ghost guns look like a gun, they shoot like a gun, and they kill like a gun, but up until now they haven’t been regulated like a gun,” said John Feinblatt, Everytown’s president.
Christian Heyne, the vice president of policy at Brady, another gun control group, said Dettelbach was “an unimpeachable public servant who has spent a career using the levers of government to hold negligent or nefarious actors accountable.”
Justice Department statistics show that nearly 24,000 ghost guns were recovered by law enforcement at crime scenes and reported to the government from 2016 to 2020. It is hard to say how many are circulating on the streets, in part because in many cases police departments don’t contact the government about the guns because they can’t be traced.
The new rule changes the current definition of a firearm under federal law to include unfinished parts, like the frame of a handgun or the receiver of a long gun. It says those parts must be licensed and include serial numbers. Manufacturers must also run background checks before a sale — as they do with other commercially made firearms. The requirement applies regardless of how the firearm was made, meaning it includes ghost guns made from individual parts, kits, or by 3D-printers.
Federally licensed firearms dealers must retain key records until they shut down their business or licensed activity and then transfer the records to ATF as they are currently required to do at the end of licensed activity. Previously, these dealers were permitted to destroy most records after 20 years, making it harder for law enforcement to trace firearms found at crime scenes.
“A year ago this week standing here with many of you, I instructed the attorney general to write a regulation that would rein in the proliferation of ghost guns because I was having trouble getting anything passed in the Congress,” Biden said.
The rule goes into effect 120 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register
For years, federal officials have been sounding the alarm about an increasing black market for homemade, military-style semi-automatic rifles and handguns. As well as turning up more frequently at crime scenes, ghost guns have been increasingly encountered when federal agents buy guns in undercover operations from gang members and other criminals.
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Yo-Yo Ma and Gabby Giffords perform ‘Sound of Silence’ to honor lives lost to gun violence
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New gun safety laws take effect around US after over 650 mass shootings in 2023
California, Illinois and Colorado among states implementing ‘red flag’ laws after US ends 2023 with more mass shootings than days
New gun safety laws are taking effect in several states around the US on 1 January after the country ended 2023 with more mass shootings than days.
States including California, Illinois and Colorado are starting the year by implementing extreme risk protection orders, more commonly referred to as “red flag” laws, as a means to prevent further gun violence. According to the Gun Violence Archive , there were 655 mass shootings in the US in 2023.
In California, a law signed by the Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, prohibits people from carrying concealed guns in 26 places including public parks and playgrounds, churches, banks and zoos. The law prevailed after a federal court suspended an injunction issued by a judge who concluded the state’s law violated the right of citizens to keep and bear arms under the US constitution’s second amendment.
In Illinois, a law will go into effect on Monday that bans the sale of many types of semiautomatic assault weapons, including AK-47s and AR-15 rifles, and magazines with more than 10 rounds for rifles and more than 15 rounds for handguns. The law was passed following the deadly mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, in 2022.
Notably, these laws have overcome a slate of lawsuits from pro-gun groups across several states. Gun rights advocates have been challenging the legislation through the courts , relying on a supreme court decision in 2022 that expanded gun rights by striking down a New York gun law.
Also taking effect on Monday is a Washington state law imposing a 10-day waiting period on firearms purchases. The law intends to create a buffer between people in crisis and a firearm. It will also require all gun buyers to show they have taken safety training.
The measure is part of a package signed in April 2023 by Governor Jay Inslee, which included a ban on the sale of certain semiautomatic rifles – clearing the way for lawsuits against gun makers or sellers in certain cases.
In Colorado, a new law that bans so-called “ ghost guns ”, or those that can be made at home using parts kits and which typically lack a serial number, will go into effect this week. Pro-gun groups filed a federal lawsuit against the Colorado governor, Jared Polis, claiming the law restricts the second amendment rights of gun owners who want to use guns for personal use.
The US has grappled with rampant gun violence for decades. Guns were the leading cause of death for children and teens in the country in 2022, while the number of gun suicides reached an all-time high – 73 people died by gun suicide every day.
The mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas in 2017 remains one of the deadliest gun violence events in history, with 60 killed and more than 850 injured . In 2023, 18 people were killed and 13 others were injured during a spree shooting at two locations in Lewiston, Maine.
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The gruesome event last year reignited efforts by advocates and lawmakers for firearm safety measures to prevent another tragedy, but many politicians still refrain from adopting large-scale reforms. The cold-shoulder attitude and political inaction poses a striking difference from other countries that have banned assault weapons after a single mass shooting, including Norway and New Zealand.
In 2023, the US marked more than 18,800 gun deaths, 36,200 gun injuries, and over 24,100 suicides, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
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Gun rights groups sue Colorado over the state’s ban on ‘ghost guns,’ which lack serial numbers
FILE - This image provided by U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, shows a ghost gun seized in undercover transactions in New York. On Monday, Jan. 1, 2023, gun rights groups filed a federal lawsuit challenging Colorado’s ban on so-called ghost guns. (U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York via AP, File)
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DENVER (AP) — Gun rights groups have filed a federal lawsuit challenging Colorado’s ban on so-called ghost guns — firearms without serial numbers assembled at home or 3D printed that are difficult for law enforcement to trace and allow people to evade background checks.
The litigation filed Monday is the latest of several Second Amendment lawsuits aimed at a slew of gun control regulations passed by Colorado’s majority Democratic legislature and signed by Democratic Gov. Jared Polis last year.
The ban on ghost guns took effect Monday and follows a dramatic rise in their reported use in crimes, jumping by 1,000% between 2017 and 2021, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The law bars anyone in Colorado except licensed firearm manufacturers from creating gun frames and receivers, which house internal components. It also prohibits the transport and possession of frames and receivers that don’t have serial numbers.
The lawsuit filed by the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and the National Association for Gun Rights alleges that the ban infringes on Americans’ Second Amendment rights.
“This law is an outright assault on the constitutional rights of peaceable Coloradans. It’s not just an overreach; it’s a direct defiance to our Second Amendment freedoms,” said Taylor Rhodes, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, in a statement.
Rhodes said the Supreme Court’s ruling last year , which is considered an expansion of gun rights, reinforces their case in Colorado, pointing to a long history in America of citizens being their own gunsmiths.
“The Supreme Court made it clear that any law infringing on the right to bear arms must align with the historical understanding of the Second Amendment,” said Rhodes, “If homemade – unserialized – guns weren’t legal at the time of our nation’s founding, we would all have a British accent.”
Shelby Wieman, a spokesperson for Polis, declined to comment citing ongoing litigation. As Colorado’s governor, Polis was named as the defendant in Monday’s lawsuit.
The other gun control laws passed last year facing legal challenges include raising the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21 and imposing a three-day waiting period between purchase and receipt of a firearm.
Democratic President Joe Biden has similarly cracked down on ghost guns with the new rules also being challenged in federal court.
Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.