WASHINGTON — The Biden administration’s new rule regulating untraceable build-at-home “ghost guns” in the U.S. for the first time can take effect while a group of Republican-led states sues to vacate the policy, a judge ruled.

The states’ motion for a preliminary injunction against the policy was denied Tuesday by Chief U.S. District Judge Peter Welte in Fargo, North Dakota, handing a significant victory to Democratic-led states and gun-control groups. Almost every state participated in the case along partisan lines.

“This rule will make it harder for criminals and other prohibited persons to obtain untraceable guns,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “It will help to ensure that law enforcement officers can retrieve the information they need to solve crimes.”

Welte, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, said an injunction isn’t warranted because the suit isn’t likely to succeed on the merits. The judge held that the final rule — issued in April by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — met the standard for seeking public comment and falls within the scope of the Gun Control Act of 1968.

“We’re still weighing our options,” Stephen Stamboulieh, a lawyer for Gun Owners of America and other plaintiffs that sued alongside Republican-led states, said in a phone call. “We will continue to fight the ATF’s final rule.”

According to DOJ data, nearly 20,000 ghost guns were recovered last year by law enforcement in criminal investigations, a more than tenfold increase from 2016. Over that six years, almost 700 homicide or attempted homicide probes have involved ghost guns.


“The gun lobby wanted to block critical federal regulations on ghost guns to line their own pockets, but justice prevailed,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. “The ATF’s rule will save lives.”

The rule updated the definitions of “firearm” and “frame or receiver” to enable regulation of kits and components that are often sold online and easily assembled into ghost guns that are untraceable because they lack serial numbers.

“It’s telling that the gun lobby, which talks a big game about standing with law enforcement, mounted a doomed defense of untraceable ghost guns, which are increasingly the weapon of choice for criminals and extremists,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement. “The gun lobby’s failure will make our country safer.”

The advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety is backed by Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent company Bloomberg LP.

The GOP states argued in the complaint that the final rule would “make it exceedingly harder (if not impossible) for the citizens of the plaintiff states to manufacture their own firearms.”

The Republican attorneys general also argued they had a right to sue because, among other reasons, banning ghost gun sales would reduce tax income in their state.

The ATF responded to that argument in an earlier court filing, saying such concerns weren’t necessarily true: “It is at least as likely that reducing the proliferation of untraceable weapons would lead to a decrease in violent crime, which would therefore increase commerce that generates tax revenues for the states.”