▶ Watch Video: ATF director on sweeping report tracking ghost guns

Washington — Justice Samuel Alito on Friday temporarily paused a lower court order that invalidated the Biden administration’s restrictions on so-called “ghost guns,” reviving a regulation from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for now.

In a brief order, Alito issued an administrative stay that will remain in place until 5 p.m. on August 4. He gave the group of gun owners, manufacturers and firearms advocacy organizations challenging the rule from the ATF until Wednesday at 5 p.m. to respond to the administration’s request to reinstate the regulation.

The Biden administration sought emergency relief from the Supreme Court on Thursday and asked the high court to put on hold a ruling from a federal district court in Texas that tossed out the rule governing ghost guns.

The measure from ATF, which took effect in August 2022, updated its regulations regarding the definition of a “firearm” under the Gun Control Act to address the proliferation of ghost guns. The rule defined “firearm” to “include a weapon parts kit that is designed to or may readily be completed, assembled, restored, or otherwise converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive.”

The regulation also clarified the definition of “frames or receivers,” which are also sold in kits, to include a “partially complete, disassembled, or nonfunctional frame or receiver, including a frame or receiver parts kit,” that can become functional. 

Under the law as interpreted in the new regulation, manufacturers and sellers of certain kits have to obtain licenses, mark their products with serial numbers, conduct background checks and maintain records to allow law enforcement to trace the firearms when used in crimes. 

The dispute before the Supreme Court was brought last year by two gun owners, two advocacy groups and entities that make or sell the products covered by the rule, which challenged portions of ATF’s restrictions— the inclusion of weapons parts kits under the definition of “firearm” and updated interpretation of “frame or receiver” — as unlawful.

A federal district court blocked the challenged provisions, prohibiting the Biden administration from enforcing them, but declined to issue a nationwide injunction.

Then, earlier this summer U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and blocked the regulation nationwide, finding ATF acted beyond the scope of its statutory authority. The Biden administration asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to halt the lower court’s decision, and the appeals court declined to do so, regarding the two challenged provisions.

The 5th Circuit expedited the Biden administration’s appeal and is set to hear arguments in September.

But the Biden administration turned to the Supreme Court and requested it to put the district court’s order on hold. If it declines to do so, the administration asked the Supreme Court to take up the case and hear arguments in the fall.

“The district court’s universal vacatur is irreparably harming the public and the government by reopening the floodgates to the tide of untraceable ghost guns flowing into our Nation’s communities,” Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote. “Once those guns are sold, the damage is done: Some will already be in the hands of criminals and other prohibited persons — and when they are inevitably used in crimes, they are untraceable. “