Sunday, December 4, 2022 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Maker of ‘Ghost Gunner’ machines drops challenge to California gun laws

The maker of ghost gun equipment dropped its case after a federal judge rebuffed an argument that a landmark Supreme Court decision in June supported its Second Amendment challenge.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A Texas maker of software and milling machines that allow people to build their own firearms, including AK-47 assault riffles, dropped its challenge to two recent California laws that criminalize the use of its equipment to make so-called ghost guns and make lawsuits to fight the state's gun laws potentially more costly.

Defense Distributed, a nonprofit business that sells the "Ghost Gunner" milling machine, filed a stipulation Friday to dismiss its case claiming California's restrictions on its products violate the Second Amendment. The company claims the Second Amendment implicitly includes the right to acquire and manufacture firearms.

Under the terms of the stipulation, the state won't seek to recover its legal fees and costs from the company.

The withdrawal of the lawsuit comes after U.S. District Judge George Wu had denied Defense Distributed's bid for a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the California laws. The judge wasn't persuaded that the prohibition against milling machines for firearms amounted to a violation of the Second Amendment.

Wu was particularly unimpressed by the argument that the landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court this past June in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which threw out a 1911 New York law that required applicants for a license to carry a concealed pistol to demonstrate a special need, supported Defense Distributed's claims.

Wu found Bruen made it abundantly clear that only when the Second Amendment’s "plain text" covers an individual’s conduct, that conduct is constitutionally protected. In such a case, the government has to justify its regulation by demonstrating that it is "consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation."

But the Second Amendment's plain text, Wu said, doesn't cover the issues at stake in Defense Distributed's lawsuit, which pertain to a prohibition on the sale and use of machinery to manufacture firearms and not to the right to carry firearms.

"Defense Distributed — and apparently certain other courts — would like to treat the Supreme Court’s Bruen opinion as a 'word salad,' choosing an ingredient from one side of the 'plate' and an entirely separate ingredient from the other, until there is nothing left whatsoever other than an entirely-bulletproof and unrestrained Second Amendment," Wu said. "That is not how precedent works; it is not even how language works (let alone salad, in most instances)."

In its complaint filed this past August in Los Angeles, Defense Distributed sought to invalidate the restrictions on ghost gun machinery as well as a provision in one of the new California laws that was modeled on Texas's controversial abortion law and that makes a plaintiff liable for the state's legal costs in defending an unsuccessful challenge to its gun laws.

"California’s inclusion of Section 2— and its passage of SB 1327 more generally — was nothing more than an ill-advised political ploy designed to manufacture a proxy war with the state of Texas," Defense Distributed said in its complaint, referring to the provision entitling the state to attorneys fees if it prevails in Second Amendment lawsuits.

California lawmakers passed a slew of gun laws earlier this year to address what they said was an epidemic of ghost guns involved in violent crime. One of the bills, SB 1327, is modeled after Texas’s abortion law that gives every citizen the right to sue health care providers who perform an abortion after detecting a heartbeat as well as though who enable the abortion — even the Uber driver who drives a woman to her appointment. The California law allows private citizens to sue gun manufacturers and sellers for dealing illegal assault weapons and ghost guns.

“Alarmingly, we are finding that more and more, no region or demographic is exempt from gun violence — our hospitals, grocery stores, schools, and even places of worship, are no longer safe," Democratic Assemblymember Mike Gipson said in July. "The proliferation of ghost guns, which are intentionally untraceable weapons to evade law enforcement, has only worsened the issue."

Ghost guns are sold in parts without serial numbers or background checks to be assembled by the user. The unserialized weapons have been increasingly used in lethal shootings in California and have been identified by city and district attorneys and law enforcement leaders up and down the Golden State as a top concern.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.

Loading
Loading...