Lawsuit challenges state police over new ‘ghost gun’ policy

December 20, 2019 GMT

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Businesses that manufacture frames that can be built into working firearms sued Pennsylvania’s attorney general on Friday, five days after he issued a legal opinion classifying the products as guns under state law.

The Commonwealth Court lawsuit asks a state judge to stop the state police from implementing any new policy, including background checks, based on the written opinion the agency received Monday from Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

Shapiro told state police to treat unassembled “ghost guns,” gun frames also referred to as 80% receivers, as firearms. The plaintiffs said the opinion does not give fair notice to people regarding what is legal and what is not, said Joshua Prince, who filed the petition.

“What they are saying is, a hunk of metal, because it could be turned into a receiver, is a firearm,” Prince said. “There is absolutely no criteria provided.”


Shapiro welcomed the legal battle, tweeting from his official account: “Bring It! We’ll see you in court.”

“These powerful special interest groups are the same ones that are stunting real reform in Washington and Harrisburg,” he said in a statement. “I will continue to fight to ensure our legal opinion stands and to close this gaping loophole in the system that allows criminals to get their hands on untraceable, unserialized DIY firearms.”

The lawsuit called the 80% receivers “non-firearm objects” and said the state police have already posted a notice on the background check website saying partially manufactured frames, receivers and kits now require background checks to purchase but the check system is not yet ready to accommodate them.

The plaintiffs said federal regulators have not defined the frames as firearms.

“Overnight the lawful conduct that Pennsylvanians had engaged in was now criminal, subjecting Pennsylvanians to fines and potential incarceration depending on which applicable section their conduct now purportedly fit into,” the lawsuit said.

Prince said the gun parts can be used to make firearm replicas.

“Many people use them as paperweights,” he said.

The lawsuit was filed by Landmark Firearms LLC of Newville, Pennsylvania; US Rifle LLC of Dublin, New Hampshire; Polymer80 Inc. of Dayton, Nevada; and the Firearms Policy Coalition Inc., a membership organization based in Sacramento, California. They sued Col. Robert Evanchick, commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police.

In announcing the guidance this week, Shapiro said ghost guns are firearms if they are designed to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive, or if they can be readily converted to do so.

“No single factor is dispositive,” he wrote, telling Evanchick to “weigh all the applicable factors together to determine whether a receiver ‘may be readily converted’ to expel any projectile by the action of an explosive.”

Shapiro said the guns are increasingly being found in the hands of people who are barred from possessing firearms.

Last year, New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill barring the purchase of separate parts or kits that could be used to manufacture a firearm not traceable by law enforcement. Other states are also considering what to do about ghost guns.