Fact check: False claim that House bill outlaws disassembling and cleaning of guns

·5 min read

The claim: The House voted to criminalize the disassembling, cleaning and reassembling of a gun

Following a series of mass shootings that have reignited the national debate about guns, the House of Representatives passed a bill on June 8 that included limitations on so-called "ghost guns."

Some social media posts are misinterpreting that portion of the bill, which addresses the untraceable guns that are sometimes made from a kit.

An Instagram post shared June 9 by conservative group Turning Point USA shows a screenshot of a June 8 tweet from Gun Owners of America, a pro-Second Amendment lobbying group.

"U.S. House of Reps. votes 226-194 to criminalize disassembling, cleaning, and re-assembling your gun without a firearm manufacturer's license, including 8 Republicans!" the tweet says.

The post generated over 37,000 interactions in less than a week. The original tweet amassed over 11,000 likes. Similar posts have spread widely on Reddit and Twitter.

But the claim is false.

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The post appears to refer to Title III of H.R. 7910, which is labeled "Untraceable Firearms.'' Gun law experts told USA TODAY that Title III won't criminalize basic actions by gun owners. It bans gun manufacturers from selling or distributing the privately made, untraceable firearm, known as ghost guns.

USA TODAY reached out to Turning Point USA and the social media users who shared the claim for comment.

House did not vote to criminalize cleaning of firearms

The post's claim is based on a misinterpretation of a section of Title III that extends the definition of a gun manufacturer, experts told USA TODAY. This section of the bill does not apply to gun owners disassembling and cleaning their firearms.

The current definition of the term "manufacturer" is "any person engaged in the business of manufacturing firearms or ammunition for purposes of sale or distribution," according to paragraph 10 of U.S. Code 921 Title 18.

H.R. 7910, which has not advanced in the Senate, expands this definition to "include assembling a functional firearm or molding, machining, or 3D printing a frame or receiver, and shall not include making or fitting special barrels, stocks, or trigger mechanisms to firearms."

In other words, the bill would extend the definition to include anyone who is assembling functional firearms and regularly selling or distributing them to other people, according to Dru Stevenson, a statutory interpretation expert at South Texas College of Law Houston.

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Daniel Webster, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, agreed.

"What this is doing is making it a crime to sell ghost guns because ghost guns don’t have a serial number and (buyers) haven’t been subject to background check and record-keeping requirements," Webster said in an email.

He said the bill could have been worded more clearly, but it won't affect gun owners' actions with private weapons.

"It is beyond my wildest imagination that anyone would ever be charged under this statute for disassembling and assembling his or her firearm to clean it," Webster said.

Stevenson said the bill's provisions would be merged into existing statutes that already say they apply only to those engaged in the business of selling firearms.

"People that are spreading this information (that) is false," Stevenson said. "What they're doing is they're taking it out of context and looking at it apart from the existing statute."

Other action taken on ghost guns

The House bill is one of several federal actions addressing ghost guns in recent years. Webster said the guns skirt federal and state laws and are a growing problem.

"Ghost guns have been used in many serious crimes including mass shootings, school shootings, and used by extremists groups," Webster said. "Ghost guns used in crimes has been growing at an exponential rate and account for more than a third of guns recovered by law enforcement in California."

The Biden administration announced federal regulations in April that define firearms in a way that includes gun kits that allow people to easily assemble a firearm, Webster said. Under these regulations, any licensed firearm seller would have to ensure the kits have serial numbers, he said.

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Biden's regulations also include putting serial numbers on ghost guns already in circulation. The Justice Department "will require licensed dealers and gunsmiths taking any unserialized firearm into inventory to add a serial number to that weapon," USA TODAY reported.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which enforces gun laws in the U.S., proposed a rule in May 2021 that would amend the federal definition of a firearm to include parts used to assemble ghost guns, USA TODAY previously reported. The final rule was issued in April.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that the House voted to criminalize the disassembling, cleaning and reassembling of a gun. Title III of the bill will ban manufacturers from assembling ghost guns for sale or distribution. This provision does not impact average gun owners taking apart their own guns.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: False claim that House bill outlaws gun cleaning, assembly