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Biden administration to regulate ghost guns as untraceable firearms wreak havoc, cost lives

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 4/11/2022 Tim Balk

President Biden, facing pressure to combat the scourge of kit-assembled ghost guns contributing to a ghastly wave of violence in New York and other U.S. cities, said Monday that his administration had finalized a new rule meant to reduce the spread of the untraceable firearms.

The Justice Department rule, which was in the works for months, folds the firearms under the same regulations as traditional guns, and requires that dealers imprint serial digits on frames or receivers of unmarked guns they seek to sell. The labels are key for tracking the weapons.

Biden announced the new rule while revealing his new nominee to run the embattled federal agency that enforces firearm laws, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The move arrived just three days after a hail of bullets fired from a ghost gun in the South Bronx ended the life of a 16-year-old girl, Angellyh Yambo, and wounded two other teens, according to authorities. According to the NYPD, shootings are up in New York City by nearly 14% this year, compared to the same point in 2021.

Biden’s nomination of Steve Dettelbach, a former federal prosecutor from Ohio, to head the ATF seemed headed for a brick wall of Republican resistance. The ghost gun rule, set to take effect in 120 days, likewise was expected to face legal challenges from the right.

But Biden said that the ghost gun rule represents a “basic common-sense measure.”

“If you buy a couch that you have to assemble, it’s still a couch,” Biden declared in remarks from the White House Rose Garden. “Folks, a felon, a terrorist, a domestic abuser can go from a gun kit to a gun in as little as 30 minutes.”

Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives nominee Steve Dettelbach © Provided by New York Daily News Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives nominee Steve Dettelbach

Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives nominee Steve Dettelbach (Tony Dejak/)

The president’s moves received quick praise from gun-control advocates and from officials in New York, who are scrambling to address the growing beat of bullets rattling the five boroughs.

State Attorney General Letitia James issued a statement praising the president and noting that local efforts will “only go so far” without federal interventions. In October, Gov. Hochul signed into law state measures that criminalized the sale of ghost guns and outlawed the possession of unfinished gun frames.


Video: Biden administration gets tough on 'ghost guns' (MSNBC)

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Many assembled ghost guns appear to enter the city from out of state. Nationwide, law enforcement officials recovered some 20,000 suspected ghost guns last year, according to the Justice Department, an increase of more than 1,000% in five years.

Mayor Adams, isolating with COVID, also applauded to the White House, staging a virtual news conference to praise a potential antidote to what he described as “one of the biggest threats to public safety” in New York.

“The Biden administration deserves credit for taking strong steps to tackle the problem of ghost guns,” the mayor said.

A 9mm pistol build kit with a commercial slide and barrel with a polymer frame is displayed before President Joe Biden and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco speak in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C. on Monday, April 11, 2022. © Provided by New York Daily News A 9mm pistol build kit with a commercial slide and barrel with a polymer frame is displayed before President Joe Biden and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco speak in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C. on Monday, April 11, 2022.

A 9mm pistol build kit with a commercial slide and barrel with a polymer frame is displayed before President Joe Biden and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco speak in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C. on Monday, April 11, 2022. (Carolyn Kaster/)

Authorities in New York have recovered five times as many ghost guns so far this year as in the same period last year, Adams said. “This is a crisis,” he said. “We are at a crisis level.”

The mayor also called for a bipartisan congressional confirmation of Dettelbach, saying that bullets do “not ask a victim if they’re Democrat or Republican.”

But Dettelbach faced a formidable path. The 60-year-old ATF, seen by some as rudderless, has become accustomed to acting directors; the Senate has not confirmed a director to lead the agency since 2013.

The president’s previous nominee, David Chipman, a gun-control advocate and former ATF special agent, was derailed by intense Republican resistance. Biden pulled Chipman’s nomination in September.

Hoping to avoid a repeat of the Chipman setback, the White House described Dettelbach in a statement as a respected attorney who has received “bipartisan praise,” and highlighted a Fox News report that detailed support for the new nominee from Republican-appointed prosecutors.

President Joe Biden speaks about the March jobs report in the State Dining Room of the White House, Friday, April 1, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) © Patrick Semansky President Joe Biden speaks about the March jobs report in the State Dining Room of the White House, Friday, April 1, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

President Joe Biden speaks about the March jobs report in the State Dining Room of the White House, Friday, April 1, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) (Patrick Semansky/)

Dettelbach served as the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio from 2009 to 2016. In 2018, he unsuccessfully ran for Ohio attorney general.

His appointment quickly set off a battle on both sides of the gun-control debate. The National Rifle Association issued a statement dismissing Dettelbach, saying he is a “dedicated gun controller with a background that proves he would be neither fair nor objective as head of ATF.”

In the Rose Garden, Biden emphasized Dettelbach’s law enforcement work to combat domestic extremism, and the unanimous support he garnered in the Senate when he was confirmed as a U.S. attorney.

“Steve’s record makes him ready on Day One to lead this agency,” Biden said. “I look forward to working with the Senate to get him confirmed once again.”

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