RICHMOND(August 20, 2021) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has submitted comments to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) encouraging it to finalize regulations that would make clear that ghost guns are firearms under federal law. By finalizing regulations, the ATF would dramatically reduce the availability of untraceable crime guns and would take a significant step in addressing the current gun violence epidemic. Attorney General Herring joined a coalition of 22 attorneys general in filing the comments.
In March, Attorney General Herring joined a coalition of 18 attorneys general in sending a letter calling on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to close the loophole in the ATF interpretation of the federal Gun Control Act that allows criminals, domestic abusers, and other prohibited purchasers of firearms to evade common-sense gun laws and purchase 80 percent receivers, which can be easily assembled into un-serialized and untraceable ghost guns.
“Ghost guns are almost virtually impossible to trace, making it much easier for dangerous individuals to get their hands on them,” said Attorney General Herring. “This loophole allows for more untraceable guns on our streets and in our communities, potentially putting Virginians and their families in danger. As attorney general, my top priority is always protecting Virginians, which is why I will continue this fight to stop the proliferation of these untraceable guns.”
The proposed rule, Definition of ‘Frame or Receiver’ and Identification of Firearms, updates the ATF’s interpretations of “firearm” and “frame or receiver” as used in the Gun Control Act of 1968 to clarify weapon kits and incomplete weapon parts, both of which can be easily converted into functioning guns, are covered by the Act. The ATF’s current regulations allow for the sale of weapon parts kits and certain weapon parts with no federal oversight, a loophole that certain manufacturers and gun dealers have eagerly exploited.
As the coalition of attorneys general explained: “Certain firearm dealers have capitalized on … loopholes [in the existing regulations] to market so-called ‘ghost guns’—meaning weapons kits or partially complete receivers that can easily be converted into un-serialized, operable weapons—outside the Gun Control Act’s framework. As dealers highlight in their marketing, these ghost guns are unregulated and can be purchased by anyone.”
Attorney General Herring and his colleagues argue that the ATF’s current interpretation of these definitions under the Gun Control Act does not properly enforce the Act, therefore contributing to gun violence in Virginia. Law enforcement intelligence makes clear that ghost guns are fast becoming the weapon of choice for many groups responsible for neighborhood violence. This is because current regulations allow felons, violent criminals, and others who cannot legally purchase a firearm to buy ghost guns.
The attorney’s general goes on to say in their comments: “For the Gun Control Act to work as Congress envisioned, the manufacture, transfer, and possession of firearms must all occur within the Act’s strictures. When any of that activity happens beyond the Act’s parameters, the Gun Control Act is ineffectual at ‘keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and others who should not have them and assisting law enforcement authorities in investigating serious crimes.’ … The Bureau’s non-enforcement of certain portions of the Gun Control Act has effectively created room for firearm manufacturers to openly defy the statute.”
The group of attorneys general explained that to maintain the integrity of the Gun Control Act, the ATF must revise its regulations so that they encompass modern gun designs. The group also offered the ATF several suggestions to clarify the proposed rule and prevent future abuses by gun manufacturers.
In December 2020, Attorney General Herring filed an amicus brief urging the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to compel the ATF to properly regulate untraceable, partially assembled “ghost guns.” In their amicus brief, Attorney General Herring and 18 other attorneys general argued that the ATF must correct its unlawful 2015 interpretation of the GCA and that ATF’s improper reading of the GCA effectively gave the green light for unlicensed online retailers to sell nearly-complete firearms that can easily be converted into fully-functioning weapons. They further argued that these “ghost guns” endanger residents and impede law enforcement’s ability to investigate and prosecute criminal activity.
From the 1980s through the early 2000s, ATF classified the core components of handguns and rifles—frames and receivers—as “firearms” subject to federal regulation if the components could be quickly and easily converted into functioning guns. In 2015, the ATF reversed course. Without offering any explanation for changing its position, ATF issued an interpretive rule stating that these rifle receivers and handgun frames were not considered firearms. As a result of this unlawful misinterpretation, an industry has sprung up in which unlicensed online retailers sell nearly complete guns directly to consumers. These weapons, sometimes called ghost guns because they lack serial numbers and identifying marks, are untraceable and sold without background checks.
On August 26, 2020, Everytown for Gun Safety and four municipalities filed a suit against the ATF and the U.S. Department of Justice alleging that those agencies unlawfully concluded that ghost guns are not “firearms” under the GCA. In an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues are urging the court to force ATF to properly regulate ghost guns because:
• Ghost guns are prohibited by federal law: The GCA requires “firearms” to include serial numbers and purchasers of those weapons to pass a background check, among other requirements. Specifically, the statute defines “firearm” as “any weapon which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive” or “the frame or receiver of any such weapon.” This clearly describes the nearly assembled guns these companies are selling, which are sold without background checks and not marked with serial numbers.
• Untraceable weapons threaten public safety: ATF’s unexplained interpretation emboldened the ghost gun industry and allowed it to rapidly expand across the country. Ghost guns were virtually absent from many jurisdictions prior to the adoption of the new interpretation. Now, according to a recent report, there are 80 online sellers of partially unfinished frames and receivers, and the increase in ghost un sales is readily apparent on the local level.
• Ghost gun dealers are using the ATF’s rule to mislead consumers: Companies that sell ghost guns have pointed to the ATF’s rule to claim their products are legal, disregarding numerous state laws that specifically ban the sale of these firearms.
Joining Attorney General Herring in sending the comments are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.
Celebrate smart, safe & sober this July 4th holiday weekend
Independence Day traditions include backyard barbecues, festivals, family gatherings, and fireworks. To keep all those living, working, visiting, and traveling through Virginia safe during the extended holiday weekend, the Virginia State Police is encouraging Virginians to play it smart and plan ahead to ensure everyone on the road is safe and sober.
“Summer days are filled with celebrations, vacations, outdoor festivals, and backyard cookouts, but no matter where your plans take you, please make safety your priority,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “With fatal traffic crashes on pace this year to mimic last year’s record number, I urge all Virginians to buckle up, eliminate distractions and never drive buzzed, drunk, or under the influence. Together we can make this Independence Day the safest on record!”
If planning to drink alcohol at a July 4 function, plan ahead and arrange a designated driver, use a rideshare service or taxi, or utilize public transportation to be certain you get home safely. Party hosts are encouraged to serve non-alcoholic beverage options, and to help prevent any guests from drinking and driving home from their event.
As part of its ongoing efforts to increase safety and reduce traffic fatalities on Virginia’s highways during the coming holiday weekend, Virginia State Police will increase patrols from 12:01 am Friday (July 1, 2022) through midnight Monday (July 4, 2022) as part of the Operation Crash Awareness Reduction Effort (C.A.R.E.). Operation C.A.R.E. is a state-sponsored, national program intended to reduce crashes, fatalities, and injuries due to impaired driving, speed, and failing to wear a seat belt.
During last year’s four-day Independence Day Operation C.A.R.E initiative, there were 12 traffic deaths on Virginia highways. Virginia troopers arrested 61 drivers operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs, cited 4,025 speeders and 1,434 reckless drivers, and issued 510 citations to individuals for failing to obey the law and buckle up. Troopers also assisted 1,550 disabled/stranded motorists.
With increased holiday patrols, Virginia State Police also reminds drivers of Virginia’s “Move Over” law, which requires motorists to move over when approaching an emergency vehicle stopped alongside the road. If unable to move over, then drivers are required to cautiously pass the emergency vehicle. The law also applies to workers in vehicles equipped with amber lights.
DMV reminds Virginians to make a plan before celebrating this Fourth of July
The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) reminds Virginians to celebrate responsibly and designate a sober driver before the Fourth of July festivities begin.
Last year, during the Fourth of July holiday period (July 2-July 5, 2021) there were 105 crashes, 56 injuries, and two deaths related to alcohol on the Commonwealth’s roads.
“Preventing an alcohol-related tragedy is simple – do not drive after drinking any alcohol, period,” said Acting DMV Commissioner Linda Ford, the Governor’s Highway Safety Representative. “Even one drink can impair judgment on the road. And if your holiday celebrations involve alcohol, be sure to designate a sober driver before the party begins to ensure a safe ride home.”
Celebrate this Fourth of July weekend responsibly:
- If you are planning to drink at an event, plan a safe ride home before even arriving.
- If someone you know has been drinking, do not let that person get behind the wheel.
- If you do decide to drink, do not drive for any reason. Arrange a ride from a sober friend, a taxi, or a ride-sharing service.
- If you are serving alcohol at your party, make sure all guests leave with a sober driver.
- Everyone in the vehicle should be wearing a seat belt – it’s your best defense against impaired drivers.
- Slow down and if you see an impaired driver on the road, contact law enforcement – your actions could save a life.
Virginia’s annual crime analysis report now available on Virginia State Police website
Virginia’s official and only comprehensive report on local and statewide crime figures for 2021, titled Crime in Virginia, is now available online at the Virginia State Police website on the VSP CJIS Data Analysis & Reporting Team page. Crime in Virginia continues to provide precise rates and occurrences of crimes committed in towns, cities and counties across the Commonwealth. The report breaks down criminal offenses and arrests by reporting agency.
Violent crime includes the offenses of murder, forcible sex offenses (rape, sodomy and sexual assault with an object per the FBI’s updated rape definition), robbery and aggravated assault. Overall, the violent crime rate increased in 2021 to 194.4 (per 100,000 population) from 183.0 in 2020. There were 16,823 violent crime offenses reported in 2021 compared to 15,713 violent crime offenses reported in 2020, representing a 7.1% increase.
The following 2021 crime figures in Virginia are presented in the report:
- The number of reported homicides increased from 528 to 562 (6.4%). The murder/non-negligent manslaughter rate increased from 6.15 in 2020 to 6.49 in 2021 (per 100,000 population). Victims and offenders tended to be younger males; 38.6% of homicide victims were men between 18 and 34 and 55.7% of known offenders were men between 18 and 34. Nearly half (47.5%) of all homicides occurred at a residence/home.
- Motor vehicle thefts and attempted thefts increased 3.8% compared to 2020. During 2021, there were 11,638 motor vehicles reported stolen in 11,249 offenses. In 2021, 7,589 motor vehicles were recovered (vehicles may have been stolen prior to 2021). Of all motor vehicles stolen, 35.4% were taken from the residence/home. The reported value of all motor vehicles stolen was $131,738,135.
- Drug arrests decreased by nearly half (46.7%) with the largest percentage decrease in arrestees under age 25 (67.6%). The number of reports of drugs seized decreased for nearly all drug types, especially marijuana (67%), due in part to decriminalization of possessing less than 1 ounce of the drug effective July 1, 2020 and Code of Virginia §18.2-250.1 being repealed July 1, 2021.
- Burglary decreased by 8.3% between 2020 and 2021. In fact, burglaries and attempted burglaries have steadily declined over the past ten years. In 2021, there were 10,464 burglaries and attempted burglaries whereas in 2011 there were 27,872, representing a decreased burglary rate in the last decade from 344.24 to 120.89 per 100,000 population.
- Fraud offenses increased 8.4% compared to 2020. Nearly 80% of victims (79.9%) were individuals while 11.3% were businesses. Nearly a quarter (23.2%) of fraud victims were over the age 65.
- Of the known weapons reported for violent crimes, firearms were used in 82.1% of homicides and 48.6% of robberies. Firearms were used in more than one-third (38.7%) of aggravated assault cases.
- There were 123 hate crime offenses, involving 106 victims, reported in 2021. This represents a 35.3% decrease compared to 2020. Most hate crimes (69.8%) were racially or ethnically motivated. Bias toward sexual orientation and religion were next highest (19.0%, 8.7%, respectively). Of all reported bias motivated crimes, 75.6% were assault offenses (aggravated assault, simple assault) or destruction/damage/vandalism of property.
The report employs an Incident Based Reporting (IBR) method for calculating offenses, thus allowing for greater accuracy. IBR divides crimes into two categories: Group A for serious offenses including violent crimes (murder, forcible sex offenses, robbery and aggravated assault), property crimes and drug offenses, and Group B for what are considered less serious offenses such as trespassing, disorderly conduct, and liquor law violations where an arrest has occurred.
Per state mandate, the Department of Virginia State Police serves as the primary collector of crime data from participating Virginia state and local police departments and sheriff’s offices. The data are collected by the Virginia State Police Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division via a secured internet system. This information is then compiled into Crime in Virginia, an annual report for use by law enforcement, elected officials, media and the general public. These data become the official crime statistics for the Commonwealth and are sent to the FBI for incorporation into their annual report, Crime in the United States.
Statement of the Lieutenant Governor Earle-Sears – Dobbs v. Jackson Decision
The Lieutenant Governor supports the Governor’s actions to ensure the safety of the Supreme Court justices and their loved ones. “We support the First Amendment and the right to protest peacefully but not at the expense of the safety of others. We are a civilized society. The baby in the womb wants to live. We ask for God’s protection for our commonwealth and our country”, stated Winsome Earle-Sears in the decision for Dobbs v. Jackson.
Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization argued this term before the Supreme Court, will determine the constitutionality of a state’s right to make laws allowing or prohibiting abortion. This case was heard in reference to legislation passed by the state of Mississippi: the Gestational Age Act (HB 1510), prohibiting most abortions at 15 weeks of pregnancy.
“Today, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Dobbs, giving power back to the states to make decisions on abortion. The court has recognized that the 1973 decision was an example of judicial and federal overreach. The important question of abortion has now been returned to statehouses across the country, in order for them to make their own policy decisions- which is exactly what the founding fathers envision when they wrote the 10th amendment to the Constitution. I applaud the Court for recognizing this wrong and having the courage to correct it. I look forward to working with the Governor and the General Assembly in the next legislative session on legislation that respects life,” the Lieutenant Governor added.
“The 10th Amendment to the Constitution says, ‘The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.’ This ruling supports this amendment.”
Governor Glenn Youngkin statement on Supreme Court’s Dobbs Ruling announcement
RICHMOND, VA – Governor Glenn Youngkin released the following statement today on the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling announcement:
“The Supreme Court of the United States has rightfully returned power to the people and their elected representatives in the states. I’m proud to be a pro-life Governor and plan to take every action I can to protect life. The truth is, Virginians want fewer abortions, not more abortions. We can build a bipartisan consensus on protecting the life of unborn children, especially when they begin to feel pain in the womb, and importantly supporting mothers and families who choose life. That’s why I’ve asked Senator Siobhan Dunnavant, Senator Steve Newman, Delegate Kathy Byron and Delegate Margaret Ransone to join us in an effort to bring together legislators and advocates from across the Commonwealth on this issue to find areas where we can agree and chart the most successful path forward. I’ve asked them to do the important work needed and be prepared to introduce legislation when the General Assembly returns in January,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin.
Attorney General Miyares argues Congress to take action to protect children on THC look-alike products
Attorney General Jason Miyares submitted a bipartisan letter to Congress, joined by 21 other attorneys general, urging them to take action regarding copycat tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly knowns as THC, food, and edibles. These products are designed to look like popular snack items and have increased accidental THC consumption by children.
On June 16, the FDA issued a warning that between Jan. 1 – May 31, 2022, the National Poison Control Center received 10,448 single substance exposure cases involving edible products containing THC. Of these cases 77% involved patients 19 years of age or younger.
THC is a psychoactive substance found in Cannabis plants. Widely available, and easily mistaken for name-brand snacks such as Oreo cookies, Doritos chips, Cheetos, NERDs, and more, THC copycat products often are unintentionally given to children or mistaken by children for the brand name snack products, resulting in unsuspecting children ingesting large amounts of THC.
“As THC-infused edibles become commonplace, some distributors have started advertising their products to look like popular candy and snack items. Their deceiving appearance and packaging can confuse young children who come across them and have led to an increase in accidental consumption, putting their health at risk. To address this growing issue, I’m urging Congress, with a bipartisan coalition, for a comprehensive legislative solution,” said Attorney General Miyares.
“As states across the country, including my own, take steps to legalize and regulate cannabis, rules have been put in place to protect children from unwitting consumption,” said co-lead Nevada Attorney General Ford. “However, there are those who attempt to work around these rules. Copycat products that mimic snacks and candy trademarks can entice children, leading to situations that can threaten their health and safety. We urge Congress to pass legislation granting these trademark holders the legal tools needed to hold these counterfeiters accountable.”
“Tackling the proliferation of online THC copycat edible sales and their potential harm to children requires a layered approach from all stakeholders, from law enforcement and policymakers to regulators and consumer groups, to be effective in reining in this health and safety issue. Consumer Brands welcomes the dedicated efforts of Attorney General Miyares to be a leader in bringing attention and action to this issue,” said Stacy Papadopoulous, Consumer Brand Association.
The attorneys general state that while they do not all agree on the best regulatory scheme for cannabis and THC, they all agree on one thing: copycat THC edibles pose a grave risk to the health, safety, and welfare of our children.
The attorneys general believe that Congress should immediately enact legislation authorizing trademark holders of well-known and trusted consumer packaged goods to hold accountable those malicious actors who are marketing illicit copycat THC edibles to children.
Attorneys General from Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, and Washington joined Attorney General Miyares’ letter.