On June 1, 2022 (the first day of Gun Violence Awareness Month) New York Attorney General Letitia James (“NYAG”) took action to crack down on firearms sellers who illegally selling and advertising gun parts that are used to create homemade, untraceable firearms, known as ghost guns. An investigation by the NYAG found that 28 firearms sellers across New York State advertised and/or offered to sell one or more unfinished frames, receivers, and/or kits containing both. The 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, NYAG 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.
The investigation found that most of these firearms sellers advertised the prohibited unfinished receivers, frames, and kits online or at gun shows. They advertised them on their websites, with some allowing consumers to buy online and others telling consumers to call and ask for the price. This 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.
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. Unfinished receivers hold the upper, lower, and rear portions of a semiautomatic rifle together. 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. Similarly, 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, NYAG 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.
NYAG’s action is the latest example of her commitment to cracking down on ghost guns and combating 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, Attorney General 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 U.S. 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, Attorney General James 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.
Contact Friedman & Ranzenhofer, PC at 716.542.5444 if you have questions about New York Gun Laws.