James cracks down on gun sellers illegally selling, advertising ghost gun parts

James leads fight to protect children in civil immigration detention
New York State Attorney General, Letitia James.
Associated Press / Richard Drew/File

On the first day of Gun Violence Awareness Month, New York Attorney General Letitia James took action to crack down on firearms sellers illegally selling and advertising gun parts that are used to create homemade, untraceable firearms, known as ghost guns.

An investigation by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) found that 28 firearms sellers across the state advertised and/or offered to sell one or more unfinished frames, receivers, and/or kits containing both.

The OAG’s investigation found that a majority of these gun sellers were located in Western New York and on Long Island.

New York law prohibits the sale, exchange, or disposal of unfinished frames and receivers.

In cease-and-desist letters to all 28 dealers, Attorney General James ordered these businesses to immediately stop advertising and selling the prohibited parts and warned of the legal consequences, including imprisonment, if they do not comply.

“Ghost guns are fueling the flames of the gun violence epidemic, and we will not sit idly as they proliferate in our streets and devastate communities,” she said. “Across the nation, too many lives are being lost because of these untraceable and unregistered weapons that anyone can get their hands on without a background check.

“We are not going to wait for another tragedy, my office is taking action to crack down on gun sellers that are illegally advertising ghost guns,” she added. “If gun sellers do not comply with the law, they will face the full force of my office.”

The OAG’s investigation found that most of these firearms sellers advertised the prohibited unfinished receivers, frames, and kits online or at gun shows.

The OAG said they advertised them on their websites, with some allowing consumers to buy online and others telling consumers to call and ask for the price.

James’s enforcement action is the result of the Jose Webster Untraceable Firearms Act and the Scott J. Beigel Unfinished Receiver Act, which recently came into effect and criminalizes the sale of ghost guns and requires gunsmiths to register and serialize all such firearms.

The attorney general said nine of these businesses are in Western New York, six on Long Island, five in Central New York, four in the Hudson Valley, two in the Southern Tier and one in the Capital Region.

She said unfinished receivers and frames, also known as 80 percent frames, do not have serial numbers and can easily be used to make untraceable guns, or ghost guns, at home using basic tools.

James said unfinished receivers hold the upper, lower, and rear portions of a semiautomatic rifle together.

She said purchasers of unfinished receivers only have to make a few small changes with a common drill press to transform an unfinished receiver into a fully operational one.

Once milled, a receiver may be readily turned into a fully-assembled, illegal assault weapon, James said.

Similarly, she said a purchaser of an unfinished frame can use commonly available tools to finish the frame, which may then be readily assembled into an untraceable handgun.

Some of the businesses identified by OAG were selling kits that contained unfinished frames and the tools needed to put a finished gun together at home. They advertised “blank serialization plates,” which makes the firearms untraceable.

In her cease-and-desist letters, Attorney General James reminds the gun sellers that it is illegal in New York for any person not licensed as a gunsmith or dealer in firearms to knowingly possess an unfinished frame or receiver, and false or misleading advertisements about the legal risks of buying an unfinished frame or receiver could subject them to disgorgement, restitution, and penalties of up to $5,000 for each violation.

“For too long, ghost guns have been haunting our streets and taking lives. I have been warning about these dangerous gun kits for years, and we must take more aggressive action now to stop them from further proliferating,” said US Sen. Charles “Chuck” Schumer. “The new federal rule issued by the Department of Justice earlier this spring will help keep ghost guns off our streets, but there is still more to be done.

“That’s why I’m proud to support Attorney General James in cracking down on New York gun dealers who are illegally selling and advertising ghost gun parts,” he added. “The time is right now to take action on these ghost guns because they are too easy to build, too hard to trace, and too dangerous to ignore.”

“It is chilling that anyone — including convicted felons and domestic abusers — can bypass the background check system and purchase individual, untraceable gun parts to build a homemade assault-style weapon,” said US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. “We have to do more to combat the epidemic of gun violence in New York, and I thank Attorney General James for taking this decisive action to crack down on firearms dealers.”

This month’s action is the latest example of James’s commitment to cracking down on ghost guns and combatting gun violence in New York.

In April 2021, she sent a letter to U.S. DOJ urging them to strengthen federal regulations on ghost guns.

In February 2021,  James led a coalition of 21 attorneys general from around the nation in filing an amicus brief in the case Grewal v. Defense Distributed before the US Supreme Court, where the coalition fought a lawsuit that seeks to stop states from enforcing their laws against a company disseminating dangerous 3D-printed gun files on the internet.

In September 2019, Attorney General James sent cease and desist letters to the companies behind a number of websites selling incomplete weaponry pieces to New Yorkers that could be easily assembled into illegal assault weapons.

In July 2020, she announced that all the companies behind the sale of these firearms or firearms components had complied with her cease and desist letters and ended the sale of these weapons to New Yorkers.

To date, James said she has taken more than 3,000 firearms, including dozens of ghost guns, out of communities through gun buyback events and takedowns of violent drug and crime rings since taking office in 2019.

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