This Nov. 27, 2019, file photo shows “ghost guns” on display at the headquarters of the San Francisco Police Department in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Haven Daley, File)
UPDATE 8/17/22 10 pm ET: After publication, a FedEx spokesperson told VICE News the company would change its policy “to make it clear that unserialized frames and receivers … are prohibited consistent with the new rule going into effect on Wednesday, August 24, 2022.”
Barely a month after UPS announced it would stop shipping packages for companies that sell parts used to make untraceable firearms known as “ghost guns,” one of the nation’s most prominent gun control advocacy groups is demanding FedEx follow suit.
The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the organization associated with former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, sent a letter Tuesday asking the president and CEO of FedEx to adopt “a policy of refusing to ship dangerous firearm products that are fueling the epidemic of gun violence in America.”
“Ghost gun manufacturers are known to be irresponsible actors employing questionable business practices with deadly irreversible consequences. FedEx should not choose to do business with these companies,” said the letter, first obtained and reported by VICE News.
The letter comes ahead of a federal rule change on ghost guns set to take effect Aug. 24 that reclassifies some gun parts called frames and receivers as firearms under the law, requiring a serial number and a background check on the purchaser.
Until recently, online retailers have been able to sell partially completed parts with all the tools needed for home assembly of guns such as Glock pistols and AR-15 rifles, with no background check or serial number required, making it nearly impossible for authorities to determine where a gun was made or sold when investigating crimes. Data compiled by VICE News from public records requests identified nearly 10,500 unserialized guns collected by police in major cities since 2016, while federal authorities put the total at 45,000, including in 692 guns linked to murder or attempted homicide investigations.
Only 11 states and Washington, D.C., have laws regulating or requiring registration of ghost guns. Last month, VICE News reported that in anticipation of the federal rule change, UPS had abruptly halted business with several companies that sell firearms parts, warning retailers that their packages could be “seized and destroyed” because they “may be violating applicable laws concerning the shipment of ‘ghost guns’ to unauthorized locations.”
UPS said in a statement that its new policy “clarifies that the company does not accept any firearms, frames or receivers, or partially complete, disassembled, or nonfunctional frames or receivers (as defined by the new federal regulation) unless those items have been identified and given a serial number in compliance with federal requirements.”
In the letter sent Tuesday to FedEx, Adam Skaggs, chief counsel and policy director for the Giffords Law Center, called for copying the move by its largest competitor, describing ghost guns as “a rapidly growing threat to public safety.”
“UPS’s stance reflects the values held by most Americans, specifically their desires to be safe and secure in their communities,” the Giffords letter says. “FedEx should uphold these same values and make the same commitment to refrain from shipping un-serialized ghost gun parts.”
A spokesperson for FedEx said a statement sent last month to VICE News on the company’s ghost gun policy still stands. The company said it had “implemented even stricter requirements than required by law for the shipment of firearms through our networks.”
“FedEx prohibits customers from tendering specific firearm accessories such as bump fire stocks, rapid-fire trigger activators, unserialized firearms or ‘ghost guns’ and any other firearms manufactured using 3D printing,” the FedEx statement said. “As federal, state and local laws change, we will comply with those new regulations as well to protect the safety of our team members and the communities that we serve.”
While FedEx says its policies already ban ghost guns, David Pucino, deputy chief counsel at Giffords Law Center, told VICE News it leaves the door open for shipping a collection of parts that can be turned into a functioning ghost gun with relative ease. Pucino said FedEx would not have to make case-by-case decisions on whether a package contains parts that cross the threshold to be legally considered a gun; rather Giffords wants the company to cease business entirely with retailers known to cater to ghost gun builders.
“What we’re really looking at here are a number of actors in the industry, bad actors in the industry, frankly, who are selling these ghost kits,” Pucino said. “It’s not really as difficult a matter to distinguish on a package like package basis. Really, you can distinguish this on a business by business basis.”
The Giffords letter was sent on behalf of Bryan Muehlberger, whose 15-year-old daughter, Gracie Anne Muehlberger, was one of two students killed in a school shooting in 2019 by a classmate wielding a ghost gun. Muehlberger was part of a lawsuit against the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) seeking to get the agency to classify ghost gun kits as firearms, which ultimately happened with the recent rule change.
After his daughter’s death, the Giffords letter says, Muehlberger ordered a ghost gun kit to be delivered in Gracie Anne’s name to the family’s home in order to prove a point about how the online retailer was not conducting even cursory background checks on customers.
“The company accepted the order and delivered the kit addressed to his daughter, despite the fact that she had been killed and that, had she still been alive, she would have been far too young to legally purchase a gun,” the Giffords letter says.
When UPS took action last month, some longtime customers were caught off guard. The operations manager of Grid Defense, a Florida company that specializes in AR-15-style receivers, told VICE News that they had $30,000 worth of products already out for delivery when they received the notice saying their packages could be seized and destroyed. The manager, who identified himself as TJ and declined to give a last name, said this week that they have since switched to using the U.S. Postal Service and business is back to normal.
“We’re fine,” he said. “You can’t stop the post office.”
While his company initially asked UPS to restore their account, TJ said he and others in the firearms industry are now essentially boycotting—if their accounts haven’t already been canceled. He wasn’t surprised to learn FedEx is the next target.
“It’s expected that the anti-gun campaign is anti anything gun,” he said. “I think UPS picking a side was the wrong decision. I would caution companies making these decisions.”
A spokesperson for UPS declined to comment on the Giffords letter to FedEx, or say whether the ghost gun policy change has affected the company’s bottom line. “We don’t comment on specific package volume with specific customer types since we don’t publicly report in that manner,” they said.
On the side of the gun companies, Mark Oliva, a spokesperson for the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), told VICE News his trade association “is working with our members to determine the impacts to their business and resolution to these new restrictions.”
Oliva blamed a recent push by Senate Democrats to make shipping companies tighten rules on firearms, and warned of unintended consequences that could impact the broader gun industry and affect people trying to buy parts for factory-made weapons.
“The restrictions on shipping gun parts doesn’t just affect privately-made firearms or what have been termed as ‘ghost guns,’” Oliva said. “These restrictions potentially have impacts on replacement parts, repair items, and accessories.”
A spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service said its policy on ghost guns has not changed, deferring to the ATF on when a collection of parts becomes a gun that is not legally shippable.
“The mailer is responsible for ensuring that all Postal Service requirements, as well as all federal and state laws and local ordinances that apply to the shipment of hazardous, restricted, and perishable matter, have been met,” Postal Service spokesperson David Partenheimer said in a statement to VICE News.
The Postal Service offered no indication that its policies would change, but at the Giffords Law Center, Pucino said the new rules taking effect next week should prompt changes, but it all depends on how federal officials decide to carry out enforcement.
“My expectation is that USPS policy is going to track that rule, and they are going to cease delivering these products,” Pucino said. “The effectiveness of the rule is going to depend on ATF implementing it.”
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