Feds try to get ghost-gun lawsuit dismissed; state pledges to fight

Balloons and flowers stand in front of Saugus High School which was still closed for investigation on Friday, November 15, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

The federal government wants a California district court to dismiss the case over ghost guns brought forth by the state and the parents whose children died during the Saugus High School shooting. 

Filed Sept. 29 against the Department of Justice, the lawsuit demands that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, categorize ghost guns as firearms so that they’re subject to the same regulations as other guns. Bryan Muehlberger and Frank Blackwell, the fathers of Gracie Muehlberger and Dominic Blackwell, respectively, are spearheading the lawsuit as a result of the deadly Nov. 14, 2019, shooting at Saugus High School, in which six students were shot and three were killed in an incident involving a ghost gun. 

The federal government filed the motion to dismiss the case Nov. 30, as well as a motion to intervene by BlackHawk Manufacturing Group, the Firearms Policy Coalition and two individuals named Zachary Fort and Frederick Barton.

“We will respond to both motions as we continue to call on the ATF to correctly classify ghost guns as firearms and to regulate them accordingly,” officials with the state Attorney General’s Office wrote in an email Monday. 

ATF officials did not respond to requests for comment Monday. Plaintiffs have until Dec. 30 to file their opposition to the federal government’s motion to dismiss the case, according to court documents. 

Ghost guns, also known as “80% receivers and frames,” are not subject to the same regulations as firearms because they haven’t reached the manufacturing process stage to qualify them as guns, Bureau officials have said, while state officials have argued that the do-it-yourself guns are dangerous as they cannot be traced. 

“Anyone can make them, anyone can carry them, anyone can fire,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a previous news briefing. “And because they lack serial numbers, these ghost guns cannot be traced by law enforcement agents. These homemade weapons have tragically been used in mass shootings across the country.”

ATF has recently determined, however, that ghost gun company Polymer80 has kits that do meet the definition of a firearm and must comply with background check requirements, something that “Polymer80 does not conduct,” according to the search warrant affidavit investigating the company’s “Buy Build Shoot” kit. 

The lawsuit comes as federal agents raided Polymer80, on suspicion the company has illegally manufactured and distributed firearms that would also be considered ghost guns. 

Muehlberger said the raid, which took place in Dayton, Nevada, came in response to efforts he and Blackwell have pushed for with the lawsuit. 

“This is a strong example of what Frank and I are doing to make a difference and make things safer for our children,” he said. 

Polymer80 has had “numerous” contacts with government and law enforcement officials and has cooperated each time, according to the company’s attorney Jason Davis, in an emailed statement. 

“This practice is consistent with Polymer80’s hard-earned reputation as an industry leader and responsible corporate citizen,” read the statement, in part. “Indeed, the company takes its legal obligations seriously, just as it does its treasured and fruitful relationships with its customers and independent dealers. In short, Polymer80 is committed to discharging all of its responsibilities and duties as to them, as well as vigorously protecting its rights under the law. We will continue to monitor all developments as they arise.”

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