San Jose mayor attends President Biden's ghost gun crackdown

Bay Area leaders, along with President Joe Biden, are tackling the issue of ghost guns.

For example, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo recently passed a first-in-the-nation gun ordinance, requiring gun owners to have liability insurance and pay a fee to the city to fund gun safety initiatives. 

Liccardo was at the White House on Monday, when Biden took fresh aim at ghost guns, the privately made firearms without serial numbers that are increasingly cropping up in violent crimes. 

Speaking at the White House, Biden highlighted the Justice Department’s work to finalize new regulations to crack down on ghost guns.

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.

"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."

Liccardo added that the challenge under federal law was that for many years, the government could only regulate completed guns. 

"And there was a lot of gray area about whether a kit that was partially constructed gun actually qualified as a firearm that could be regulated by federal law," he said. "So that ambiguity is now eliminated." 

Oakland has been seeing a rise in ghost guns as well. 

Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said the city is seeing an alarming amount of gun violence and more ghost guns. He called Biden's new rules that make it illegal for businesses to sell personally manufactured guns without serial numbers or a background check a quote "tremendous step forward."

Last year in Oakland, nearly 300 ghost guns were recovered. 

Still, Biden's announcement on guns highlights the limits of his 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.

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.

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 critical component in building an untraceable gun is what is known as the lower receiver, a part typically made of metal or polymer. An unfinished receiver — sometimes referred to as an "80-percent receiver" — can be legally bought online with no serial numbers or other markings on it, no license required.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.