In a 5-to-4 vote, the US Supreme Court granted a request on Tuesday to temporarily stay a ruling by the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas that vacated a rule regarding “ghost guns” from the Bureau of Alchohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “Ghost guns” are weapons parts kits that can be put together to create a gun without registering the firearm.
The order allows the ATF rule to stay in effect pending the resolution of the challenge in the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Additionally, the stay will remain in effect pending the disposition of the case if a writ of certiorari is timely sought by a petition to the US Supreme Court. Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh would have denied the request. The court initially stayed the district court ruling on July 28 and later extended the stay until Tuesday.
The case involves a challenge to the ATF’s rule. The plaintiffs, which consist of gun owners and manufacturers, argue that the ATF exceeded its authority under the National Firearms Act (NFA) and the Gun Control Act (GCA). The NFA authorizes the federal regulation of certain firearms, and the GCA requires manufacturers and dealers to have a federal license. The ATF has the authority to administer and enforce the acts and can prescribe necessary rules to carry out its duties. The plaintiffs and district court agreed that the new rule’s expanded definitions of “frame or receiver” and “firearm” went beyond the ATF’s statutory authority.
In contrast, the ATF asserts that weapon parts kit that can readily be converted into a working firearm are a “firearm” under the GCA. The GCA defines a firearm as:
any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive;  the frame or receiver of any such weapon;  any firearm muffler or firearm silencer; or  any destructive device. Such term does not include an antique firearm.
The District of Columbia and several states filed an amicus brief arguing that the new rule fits “squarely” within the GCA’s comprehensive scheme. Additionally, a coalition of gun prevention groups filed an amicus brief arguing that the district court’s ruling is “incompatible” with the text and purpose of the GCA.