President Joe Biden, in conjunction with the Department of Justice, announced a new measure Monday to crack down on what law enforcement says is the growing problem "ghost guns" and called on Congress to pass universal background checks.
"They call this rule I'm about to announce extreme. 'Extreme,'" Biden said at the White House Rose Garden event. "But let me ask you -- is it extreme to protect police officers, extreme to protect our children, extreme to keep guns out of the hands of people who couldn't even pass a background check?"
A "ghost gun" is a firearm that comes packaged in parts, can be bought online and assembled without much of a trace -- a point Biden demonstrated with props.
"It's not hard to put together," Biden said, showcasing its pieces. "Anyone could order it in the mail, anyone ... Terrorists and domestic abusers can go from a gun kit to a gun in as little as 30 minutes. Buyers aren't required to pass background checks because guns have no serial numbers."
The new rule essentially expands the definition of a "firearm," as established by the Gun Control Act, to cover "buy build shoot" kits that people can buy online or from a firearm dealer and assemble themselves. It will make these kits subject to the same federal laws that currently apply to other firearms.
The goal, officials said, is to keep untraceable guns off of the streets and out of the hands of those who are prohibited by law from possessing a firearm.
"We call them ghost guns because they can't be traced, but make no mistake. They are real. They can shoot to kill, and they do," said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco. "For years criminals have sought out these unmarked guns to murder and to maim. That's why the attorney general has signed a rule that updates our regulations to keep up with changes in technology."
With families affected by gun violence invited to the White House Monday, Mia Tretta, a survivor of a 2019 high school shooting in Santa Clarita, California, memorialized two classmates, Dominic Blackwell and Gracie Ann Muelburger, who were killed with a ghost gun, and introduced Biden, whom she called "the strongest gun-sense commander in chief ever to hold office" to make his big announcement.
"Starting today, weapons like the one used in Saugus High School and to ambush deputies that are here with us today are being treated like the deadly firearms they are," Biden said. "If you commit a crime with a ghost gun, expect federal prosecution."
"This rule is an important step, it's going to make a difference, I promise you," Biden added.
ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega pressed the White House on this promise at the daily White House briefing.
"Can you say, this administration say there will be fewer shootings, as a result of what the president is doing today?" Vega asked press secretary Jen Psaki.
"That's always our hope and our objective, right, is to reduce the impact of gun violence as we've seen, violence go up. We have seen a huge vast majority of that nearly three quarters as a result of guns and ghost guns, as you said, Cecilia, are used by simply clicking and ordering online, ordering a kit that people can make in their homes," she said.
Commercial manufacturers of those kits will now have to be licensed and include serial numbers on the kits' frame or receivers. In addition, commercial sellers will have to be federally licensed and run background checks before selling a kit.
A senior administration official told ABC News, "At its core, this rule clarifies that anyone who wants to purchase a weapon parts kit that can be readily be converted to a fully assembled firearm must go through the same process they would have to go through to purchase a commercially made firearm in short weapon parts kits that may be readily convertible into working fully assembled firearms must be treated under federal law."
The rule also tackles ghost guns already made and in circulation. The DOJ will require federally licensed dealers that take in any un-serialized firearms to serialize them before selling the weapon. If a licensed dealer acquires a ghost gun, the rule will require them to serialize it before re-selling it.
"This requirement will apply regardless of how the firearm was made, meaning it includes ghost guns made from individual parts, kits, or by 3D-printers," a fact sheet of the new rule shared with ABC News.
"If you can put together an IKEA dresser, you can build a ghost gun," Tretta, also a volunteer leader with Students Demand Action, told ABC News ahead of Monday's event. "Unfortunately, it is that easy to get a weapon that has not only changed my life but has done the same thing to thousands of others. Finalizing this rule is a critical step to making sure no one else has to go through what my family has had to go through."
The rule also updates the definition of a "frame" and "receiver" so that all using split or multi-part receivers are covered under existing gun laws and will be subject to serial numbers and background checks. It also extends the 20-year record retention requirement that all Federal Firearm Licensees must adhere to. Under the rule, FFLs must retain records for as long as the dealer is licensed.
While some gun advocacy groups are threatening to sue over the rule, Psaki said Monday the administration felt confident it would be able to continue to implement it.
Gun Owners of America has vowed to fight the rule it calls "pure gun control," claiming it "will do far more than the White House is pretending."
The National Rifle Association tweeted, "Biden’s gun control actions will hearten his wealthy gun control supporters. But, this action sends the wrong message to violent criminals, because this “ban” will not affect them. These violent crime sprees will continue unabated until they are arrested/prosecuted/punished."
From January 2016 to December 2021, the ATF said it received "approximately 45,000 reports of suspected privately made firearms recovered by law enforcement in criminal investigations -- including 692 homicides or attempted homicides," according to the DOJ.
New ATF director
Biden also announced the nomination of Steve Dettelbach as the new director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
"Steve's record makes him ready on day one to lead this agency," Biden said. "And by the way, in 2009, the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed him to serve as U.S. Attorney."
Dettelbach served the Justice Department for two decades, Biden said, ticking through his accomplishments. A senior administration official said of Biden's nominee, "He has a proven track record of working with federal, state, and local law enforcement to fight violent crime and combat domestic violent extremism and religious violence -- including through partnerships with the ATF to prosecute complex cases and take down violent criminal gangs."
The official did not specify whether the interim ATF director, Marvin Richardson, will remain in place during the confirmation process.
Psaki couldn't say on Monday what impact not having a confirmed leader of the bureau since 2015 was having on crime -- but put the onus on Republicans to help confirm Dettelbach given concerns over the crime rate.
"He's received bipartisan support from law enforcement leaders. He was confirmed unanimously when he was nominated to serve as a federal prosecutor. And our view is that if Republicans are about getting tough on crime as we are and keeping our communities safe, they should support a career prosecutor like Steve Dettelbach who can make the ATF more effective in getting guns off our streets and stopping criminals," she said.
Some gun safety advocacy organizations applauded the pick.
"We applaud the Biden-Harris Administration for doubling down on its commitment to gun safety by taking action to rein in ghost guns and nominating an ATF Director who will end its culture of complicity with the gun industry," John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, told ABC News. "Steve Dettelbach will be the strong leader the ATF needs to lead a top-to-bottom overhaul of the agency, and we urge the Senate to swiftly confirm him."
ABC News' Benjamin Siegel contributed to this report.