ABA Midyear Meeting

ABA House votes in favor of 'ghost guns' restrictions, firearm permits and safe storage

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The ABA will call for tighter controls to curb gun violence after adopting three resolutions Monday addressing gun permits, so-called ghost guns and safe storage.

The Standing Committee on Gun Violence co-sponsored three resolutions that the House of Delegates passed at the midyear meeting in Austin, Texas.

Standing committee chair Joshu Harris and advisory member Monte Frank urged delegates to adopt the resolutions.

Frank described how gun violence touched him personally when his 17-year-old cousin was shot in the back of the head in Chicago. She survived, he said, but her friend was killed.

“Yes, gun violence has landed on my door, and I know it has impacted so many of you,” he said.

Resolution 107A addresses loopholes in state and federal law that allow gun buyers to purchase partially built receivers to make homemade firearms known as “ghost guns.” Resolution 107A was also co-sponsored by the Criminal Justice Section and the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice.

The report accompanying the resolution said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ruled that unfinished firearm frames or receivers do not have to contain serial numbers. Under those rules, the do-it-yourself guns do not need to meet the same registration requirements as traditional firearms.

A 16-year-old boy used a ghost gun in the November 2019 high school shooting in Santa Clarita, killing two students and injuring three more.

The pistol did not have a serial number, making it untraceable. Gangs have also taken advantage of the loopholes to stockpile untraceable firearms.

There are several pending state laws to address ghost guns in Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington. Congress has addressed the issue with two pending bills, the Ghost Guns Are Guns Act, and the Untraceable Firearms Act, according to the committee’s report to the House of Delegates.

Adam Skaggs, a special advisor to the Standing Committee on Gun Violence and chief counsel at Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said that ghost guns are increasingly being used by people who can’t legally possess or buy firearms.

“This is a niche part of the industry and a growing threat from several years ago to a clear and present danger today,” Skaggs said in a phone interview.

Follow along with the ABA Journal’s coverage of the 2020 ABA Midyear Meeting here.

Resolution 107B urges authorities to require people to apply for a permit from a designated law enforcement or public safety agency before they are given a permit to purchase a firearm. It also asks that authorities, at the very least, require gun permit applicants to apply in person, be fingerprinted and be subject to a background and criminal records check.

“Having a permit to enable a purchase of firearms is probably the most significant item in that fight against gun violence deaths,” Frank said in recent phone interview.

Darin Scheer, a delegate from the Wyoming State Bar and senior counsel at Crowley Fleck in Casper, Wyoming, told the House of Delegates he could not support Resolution 107B because the issue was “still very much up for debate.”

“I don’t think that the ABA should be in the business of recommending one-size-fits-all, top-down requirements for an issue like this that is constitutional,” he said.

Resolution 107C calls for federal, state and local governments to enact regulations for the safe storage of firearms, require gun owners to comply with the rules, and promote safe gun storage education programs.

Resolutions 107B and 107C were co-sponsored by the Standing Committee on Gun Violence, the Criminal Justice Section, the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice and the Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence.


This story was updated Feb. 18 to correctly state that Resolution 107B urges authorities to require people to apply for a firearm from a designated law enforcement or public safety agency before being given a permit to purchase one.

The Journal regrets the error.

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