Gun-rights advocates filed a lawsuit against Pennsylvania Friday after the state's attorney general issued a legal opinion overnight instructing state police to treat unassembled gun frames, or "ghost guns," as firearms under state law.
Joshua Prince, who filed the petition, slammed the opinion for not providing fair notice or criteria regarding what is legal and what is not.
"What they are saying is, a hunk of metal, because it could be turned into a receiver, is a firearm," he said. "There is absolutely no criteria provided."
What are the details?
Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) instructed state police last Monday to treat the gun frames, also known as 80 percent receivers, as firearms. The new rule means that purchasers of the receivers would be subject to mandatory background checks and that felons cannot possess them.
According to previous reporting by the Associated Press, Shapiro argued the "ghost guns" are increasingly being found in the hands of people who are barred from possessing firearms, saying felons are infiltrating gun shows to purchase the kits. The unregulated purchase of the receivers put the public at risk, he says, because they don't have engraved serial numbers and cannot easily be traced.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit decry the rule as vague, reactive, and not in step with federal law.
"Overnight the lawful conduct that Pennsylvanians had engaged in was now criminal, subjecting Pennsylvanians to fines and potential incarceration depending on which applicable section their conduct now purportedly fit into," the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit notes the fact that the receivers are not considered firearms by federal regulators.
The Firearms Policy Coalition, one of the plaintiffs, are arguing the attorney general short-circuited the legislative process.
"Rule by executive fiat was rejected by the Thirteen American Colonies, including Pennsylvania, when they declared independence from England, and we reject such lawlessness today," director of legal policy for the coalition, Adam Kraut, said, according to Newsweek. "The Attorney General's revisionist legal opinion adds an entire class of inanimate objects to the definition of 'firearm' under Pennsylvania law that the General Assembly never considered, nor intended."
Shapiro is welcoming the legal battle, posting on his official Twitter account Friday, "Bring It! We'll see you in court."
Prince says the new rule is an overreach, saying the gun parts are often used to make firearm replicas.
"Many people use them as paperweights," he said.
The lawsuit also argues that the background check system is not ready to accommodate the new information, despite state police already posting a notice on the background check website signaling that frames, receivers and kits now require background checks in order to purchase.
The lawsuit was filed by Landmark Firearms LLC of Newville, Pennsylvania; US Rifle LLC of Dublin, New Hampshire; Polymer80 Inc. of Dayton, Nevada; and the Firearms Policy Coalition Inc., a membership organization based in Sacramento, California. They sued Col. Robert Evanchick, commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police, the Associated Press reports.