October 15, 2021

On September 8, 2021, Dick Heller filed a lawsuit against the District of Columbia in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the constitutionality of a new D.C. law purporting to ban the possession or manufacture of “ghost guns” as overly broad and unconstitutionally vague. Dick Heller is the same plaintiff who brought the lawsuit that resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which recognized that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bears arms.  His latest lawsuit also challenges the District’s longtime ban on manufacturing firearms.

In March of 2020, the District enacted emergency legislation banning kits used to assemble “ghost guns” in response to a reported increase in the number of home-built firearms seized by police in the previous three years. The bill amended D.C. Code § 7-2501.01 to add definitions of a “ghost gun,” a receiver, and an unfinished frame or receiver to the D.C. Code.  The law defines a ghost gun as the frame or receiver of a firearm, including an unfinished frame or receiver, and a “major component” of a firearm that is not as detectable by a walk through metal detector as the security exemplar, which is a 3.7 ounce handgun shaped piece of stainless steel.  The term “major component” is not defined, but is likely to be intended to apply to the barrel, slide and cylinder, in addition to the frame or receiver based on the definition in a similar federal law, 18 U.S.C. § 922(p)(1)(B).  The complaint challenges this definition as overly broad, claiming “The District has apparently unwittingly made…existing polymer frame handguns illegal.”

The D.C. law further states “[t]he term ‘ghost gun’ includes an unfinished frame or receiver.” An “unfinished frame or receiver” is defined in the new D.C.  law as a “frame or receiver of a firearm rifle or shotgun that is not yet a component part of a firearm, but which may without the expenditure of substantial time and effort be readily made into an operable frame or receiver through milling, drilling, or other means.” The lawsuit challenges this definition as unconstitutionally vague.

The lawsuit also challenges a law that has banned the manufacture of firearms and ammunition in the District since 1976, noting that no other jurisdiction in the United States bans the manufacture of firearms.  The complaint acknowledges that D.C. has a legitimate governmental concern in prohibiting untraceable firearms, but that such concern could be addressed by requiring unfinished frames or receivers to be registered and have serial numbers, and requiring them to be transferred by a federally licensed firearms dealer after a background check, instead of a complete ban.

The complaint requests a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the new ghost gun laws and the manufacturing ban, as well as a declaratory judgment that both laws are unconstitutional.  Renzulli Law Firm, LLP will continue to monitor firearm related news and events around the country.  If you have any questions concerning firearms related legislation, please contact John F. Renzulli or Christopher Renzulli