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A House proposal does not criminalize gun owners for performing maintenance on their guns
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A portion of the Protecting Our Kids Act’s goal is to prohibit “ghost guns,” or guns that aren’t legally registered with a serial number, and prevent people from skirting the law by buying gun parts to assemble into nonregistered firearms.
Experts said that while the bill contains a vague definition of what “manufacturing” a gun constitutes, it would not include regulating gun owners for disassembling their guns to perform maintenance.
The Democratic-led U.S. House passed a bill restricting access to firearms on many fronts in response to the May mass shooting that left 19 children and two adults dead in Uvalde, Texas.
The Protecting Our Kids Act includes regulations against selling firearms to people under 21, criminal offenses for gun trafficking, and more. It’s almost certain not to progress in the U.S. Senate, where lawmakers are working on a less restrictive set of proposals.
An organization that supports easier access to firearms raised alarms about the House legislation, though the group overstated how far the measure would really go.
"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!" tweeted Gun Owners of America.
The group’s claim received thousands of retweets and comments, and a screenshot was shared on Instagram and Facebook.
The post wasn’t specific about what legislation it was referencing. But when we reached out to Gun Owners of America, a spokesperson there pointed us to the Protecting Our Kids Act, or H.R. 7910. That full bill passed by a 223-204 vote, with five Republicans voting in favor, but a portion of the bill dealing specifically with "ghost guns" did receive a 226-194 vote with eight Republicans in favor.
But does that bill really ban someone from cleaning their gun without a manufacturer’s license?
In a word, no. The bill aims to stop a workaround for people who haven’t passed background checks from assembling their own from untraceable parts.
Walter Smoloski, spokesperson for Gun Owners of America, directed us to Title III of the bill, which requires that all firearms be traceable with a serial number. This is an effort to prohibit "ghost guns," or, according to a definition in the legislation, guns that lack "a unique serial number engraved or cast on the frame or receiver by a licensed manufacturer or importer." Practically speaking, "ghost guns" are often assembled at home from a kit or from a 3D printer.
The finished gun often "lacks a serial number or other identifying information that is typically required for traditionally manufactured guns," said Alex McCourt, director of legal research at the Center for Gun Violence Solutions at Johns Hopkins University. "So it’s a privately made, untraceable gun."
Ghost guns have been a point of contention for lawmakers — in April 2022, the Justice Department announced a rule to better regulate ghost guns. The Biden administration said that last year the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reported about 20,000 ghost guns had been recovered by law enforcement during criminal investigations — a tenfold increase from 2016.
But Smoloski said the House’s bill would regulate parts of a gun that aren’t usually serialized, like the "upper receiver of an AR-15," and thus label the entire firearm as a ghost gun.
It’s true that AR-15 weapons typically have serial numbers on the lower part of the firearm’s receiver. But McCourt said if people bought this type of firearm legally, they are not the target of this bill.
"The target is not to trick people into committing a crime," McCourt said.
Gun Owners of America also takes issue with the bill’s definition of manufacturing a gun, which includes "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."
"H.R. 7910 prohibits anyone from ‘manufactur(ing) a ghost gun,'" Smoloski said, "even though ‘manufacturing firearms’ includes anyone disassembling, cleaning, and then ‘assembling’ common gun parts back into ‘a functional firearm.’"
Rukmani Bhatia, senior federal affairs manager at the Giffords anti-gun violence organization, told fact-checkers at The Associated Press that this is not so: "There is nothing in Title III that would bar a law-abiding gun owner who has a firearm that is serialized from taking that gun apart, cleaning it, and putting it back together in their home."
McCourt also said this section isn’t meant for private owners. "I think the bill is pretty clearly talking about making ghost guns from kits or other individual parts that lack serial numbers and/or more people that are engaged in the business of firearm manufacturing," he said.
John Donohue, a law professor at Stanford University and a statistical analyst on topics such as guns and crime, said the Gun Owners of America suggests the worst-possible scenario of what could happen under the bill. The definition of what manufacturing a gun means may be vague, he said, but the scenario that gun owners would be criminalized for cleaning their weapons would be unlikely.
Ultimately, the bill’s goal is to prevent people who could not pass a background check from skirting the law and buying gun parts to assemble into a working firearm.
"Obviously, if you bought the gun and went through a background check, there wouldn’t be any problem about taking it apart and putting it back together," Donohue said. "Judges would understand this and would presumably apply the law appropriately."
If there was any fear about ambiguity in the law, Donohue said, a simple tweak would solve it.
"Of course there is plenty of opportunity to provide that tweak because the House bill would not go into effect unless the Senate passed a similar bill," he said.
House Judiciary Committee spokesman Dan Rubin said that the purpose of Title III is to prevent people from building guns at home that lack the "proper, legal tracking mechanism" — like a serial number — that every other legal firearm has.
"So, if you currently own a gun that you purchased legally from a federally licensed gun store, it is not a ghost gun and has absolutely nothing to do with this title, and you could clean it, disassemble it or do whatever else you want (in accordance with state and federal laws, of course), and this bill in no way would affect that," Rubin said.
We found no instances in which Democrats said the measure would ban gun-cleaning.
On June 12, a bipartisan group of senators announced it had agreed on the framework for a package that would encourage states to pass "red flag" laws to remove firearms from possibly dangerous people, as well as provide finances for mental health resources and school security.
A tweet from Gun Owners of America said, "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 Protecting Our Kids Act passed by a 223-204 vote, with five Republicans in favor; a portion dealing with ghost guns was approved 226-194, with eight Republicans in favor. The bill is unlikely to take effect. As written, it would prevent people who can’t pass a background check from buying untraceable firearm parts and assembling them into a ghost gun.
Legal experts said it’s a misreading to suggest the bill would criminalize disassembling, cleaning, and reassembling a gun.
We rate this claim False.
Congress.gov, H.R.7910 - Protecting Our Kids Act, accessed June 10, 2022
Gun Owners of America archived Twitter post, June 8, 2022
HR 7910, Title III (page 11), accessed June 10, 2022
Politico, Senators strike bipartisan gun safety agreement, June 12, 2022
PolitiFact, What is in the Senate’s gun legislation proposal after the Uvalde shooting?, June 15, 2022
Interview with Walter Smoloski, spokesperson for Gun Owners of America, June 10, 2022
Interview with John Donahue, professor of law at Stanford University and statistical analyst, June 10, 2022
Interview with Daniel Rubin, communications director for the House Judiciary Committee, June 11, 2022
Interview with Alex McCourt, legal research director at the Center for Gun Violence Solutions at Johns Hopkins University, June 16, 2022
Bootleg, Inc., Serial Numbers — The Difference Between AR 15 Uppers and Lowers, accessed June 16, 2022
Associated Press, Bill would not criminalize disassembling and cleaning your gun, June 10, 2022
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A House proposal does not criminalize gun owners for performing maintenance on their guns
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