Court Strikes Down ATF ‘Ghost Gun’ Rule

 November 12, 2023

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit unanimously found that the ATF overstepped its boundaries, a ruling that undermines President Biden's efforts to regulate untraceable firearms through executive action.

The ATF's now-nullified rule, proposed by President Biden in April 2022, sought to expand the legal definition of firearms.

This change was intended to encompass parts that could be assembled into ghost guns, weapons that are often untraceable due to the lack of serial numbers.

The rule's annulment marks a setback for the Biden administration, which has been actively pursuing measures to combat gun violence.

Legal Challenges and the Role of Congress

The court's decision highlighted a crucial aspect of American lawmaking: the exclusive power of Congress to enact legislation.

This was a central argument in the court's ruling against the ATF's attempt to redefine firearms. The judges unanimously agreed that such a significant change in the law is the prerogative of Congress, not an executive agency.

In their ruling, the judges stated, "ATF, in promulgating its Final Rule, attempted to take on the mantle of Congress to 'do something' with respect to gun control. But it is not the province of an executive agency to write laws for our nation."

The ruling emphasized the need for any new or modified legislation regarding firearms to be deliberated and enacted by Congress, Washington Examiner reported.

The court's decision serves as a reminder of the separation of powers inherent in the U.S. political system, underscoring the role of the legislative branch in creating and modifying laws.

The Implications for Future Legislation

The court's decision has significant implications for the future of gun legislation in the United States.

With the current political landscape, where the House is controlled by Republicans and the Senate holds a narrow Democratic majority, the prospects of passing similar legislation seem bleak.

This political divide casts doubt on the likelihood of Congress enacting laws similar to the ATF's proposed rule in the near future.

As the court noted, "Only Congress may make the deliberate and reasoned decision to enact new or modified legislation regarding firearms based on the important policy concerns put forth by ATF and the various amici here."

The court's ruling thus leaves the issue of regulating ghost guns in legislative limbo, with the executive branch's efforts curtailed and Congress's path forward uncertain.

This situation underscores the complex interplay between different branches of government in shaping the nation's gun laws.

The Road Ahead for Ghost Gun Regulation

The decision to strike down the ATF's rule on ghost guns raises questions about the future of firearm regulation in the United States.

It highlights the challenges faced by the executive branch in implementing gun control measures without congressional support. The ruling also underscores the intricate balance of power between the legislative and executive branches in the U.S. political system.

Moreover, the court's decision reiterates the importance of the text of the Gun Control Act. The judges remarked, "But unless and until Congress so acts to expand or alter the language of the Gun Control Act, ATF must operate within the statutory text’s existing limits. The Final Rule impermissibly exceeds those limits, such that ATF has essentially rewritten the law."

Therefore, any significant change in gun laws seems contingent on congressional action.


As the debate on gun control continues, the recent court ruling serves as a pivotal moment in the ongoing discourse.

The ruling is a stark reminder of the limitations of executive action in the realm of gun control. Furthermore, the essential role of Congress in enacting and amending laws.

With the current political divide in Congress, the future of ghost gun regulation remains uncertain. It leaves a critical gap in the nation's approach to gun safety and control.

  • A federal appeals court struck down the ATF rule redefining "firearms" to include ghost gun parts.
  • The court ruled that the ATF exceeded its authority and that only Congress could make such changes.
  • This decision undermines President Biden's efforts to regulate untraceable firearms through executive action.
  • The divided Congress makes the passage of similar legislation unlikely in the near future.

About Victor Winston

Victor is a freelance writer and researcher who focuses on national politics, geopolitics, and economics.

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