UPS Has New Ghost Gun Shipping Rules That Could Disrupt the Industry
« Ghost guns » seized in federal law enforcement actions are displayed at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) field office in Glendale, California on April 18, 2022. (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
Corporate shipping giant UPS has stopped delivering for some American retailers that sell parts for unserialized firearms known as “ghost guns” after pressure from Democrats and the rollout of new federal rules aimed at cracking down on the weapons.
A letter from UPS to a Florida business called Ghost Firearms, which sells components to build AR-15-style rifles, was first reported by the Second Amendment Foundation and posted on other pro-gun news sites. The letter warned the Daytona Beach-based company that any packages found in the UPS system could be “seized and destroyed” because they « may be violating applicable laws concerning the shipment of ‘ghost guns’ to unauthorized locations.”
VICE News verified the authenticity of the letter by speaking with a manager at Ghost Firearms and a UPS spokesperson, who confirmed for the first time publicly that the company has “taken steps to address specific compliance risks” with a new gun policy that affects “a limited number of customers.”
“UPS’s policy now 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,” the company statement said.
Firearms industry sources say UPS has sent similar compliance letters to multiple businesses across the country, including some of the largest online retailers of components used to make ghost guns. And there’s concern that other mail carriers could follow suit, potentially disrupting the supply chain as political blowback builds following a spate of horrific mass shootings.
The full impact of UPS’ new ghost gun policy remains to be seen, and may depend whether other major shippers, including FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service, take similar steps.
Ghost Firearms rebranded in 2018 as Grid Defense, and the company holds a federal firearms license granted by the ATF. The person who answered a phone number associated with the license identified himself as TJ, the operations manager, and said the UPS letter, dated June 20, arrived out of the blue and caused major alarm. An estimated $30,000 worth of products were already out for delivery.
“When somebody writes a letter that says, ‘Hey we’re going to find your packages and destroy them,’ we don’t take it lightly,” TJ said. “We were still shipping [with them], we had packages in their system. There was no, ‘Hey, stop doing this or we’re closing this account.’”
“When somebody writes a letter that says, ‘Hey we’re going to find your packages and destroy them,’ we don’t take it lightly.”
TJ said gun industry colleagues in Florida, Ohio, and Texas also had their accounts frozen by UPS without warning. “It’s a national letter, it’s a blanket thing,” he said, adding that his company would likely have to discontinue some products. He’s worried about the fate of his industry.
“The largest companies have had problems with insurance companies not wanting to underwrite them anymore,” he said. “There are lawsuits that may or may not hold legal weight but you still have to defend them. It appears bleak for the future of ghost guns.”
Grid Defense’s packages were eventually delivered, TJ said, and the company is in talks with UPS’ compliance division to have their account restored. He stressed that his company follows the law, which until recently has left ghost guns mostly unregulated at the federal level.
NYPD Detective John Uske shows ghost gun parts during a press conference at 1 Police Plaza in March. (Barry Williams/New York Daily News/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
On Aug. 24, new rules previously announced by President Joe Biden will take effect attempting to regulate ghost guns. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is expected to start requiring serial numbers and background checks on sales of certain unfinished gun parts.
The move targets so-called “Buy, Build, Shoot” kits that come with other components and tools to complete the home assembly process. But it appears there’s still nothing to stop customers from shopping around and buying all the necessary parts from separate retailers.
The proliferation of so-called “kit guns” and online retailers that sell parts and accessories has led to a major uptick in ghost guns recovered by law enforcement agencies around the country. Exclusive 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. With the rules that take effect next month, the ATF has attempted to clarify how federal regulators define a frame or receiver, and reset the threshold for when an unfinished part or collection of times can be considered a firearm that requires a serial number.
A spokesperson from UPS told VICE News the company has “updated its requirements for firearms shipments to adhere to nationwide regulations… and to address existing laws in a number of states.”
UPS said it will “deliver firearms that are legally in transit,” but they “do not intend to seize or destroy goods unless a shipper intentionally or repeatedly violates UPS policy or federal regulations.”
Another business owner, Jordan Vinroe, CEO of Pennsylvania-based JSD Supply, said his company also received a UPS notice, and that he was aware of others affected in Missouri and Ohio. Vinroe said his company rarely uses UPS and would continue with business as usual—at least for now.
“There’s always that risk no matter what industry you’re in, if the government is not super happy about what you do, I guess they’ll try to figure out a way to stop it in creative ways,” Vinroe said. “We don’t really care which one we use, UPS, FedEx, the Postal Service, whatever—but if they shut those three down, then what do you do?”
In early May, the ATF sent JSD Supply a letter ordering the company to immediately stop “transferring all the components necessary to produce a fully functioning firearm to a single customer in one or multiple transactions.” JSD Supply filed a lawsuit against the ATF, arguing its parts “are entirely unregulated by federal law and completely outside ATF’s authority to control.”
The ATF rescinded its letter and JSD Supply continues to sell firearms parts. Vinroe said the UPS policy is just part of doing business for a gun company in the current political climate.
“It’s just kind of the nature of the beast,” Vinroe said. “Stuff like this has happened before and it’ll happen again. It’ll cool down and be fine, then something will pop up, the chants for ‘Do something, do anything’ will come back and then we’ll have something like this happen again.”
Other firearms industry sources in Texas and California said they had not received UPS letters, and told VICE News the industry would be able to adapt to whatever the marketplace demands, even if that means switching to new shippers or payment processors.
“I’m not nervous about it really,” said Dimitri Karras, who helps run Firearms Unknown, a chain of gun stores in California and Arizona. “People aren’t going to stop buying guns because Visa doesn’t want them to.”
“I’m not nervous about it really. People aren’t going to stop buying guns because Visa doesn’t want them to.”
Major gun and parts retailer Brownells was also reportedly among those affected by the new UPS policy, with the company writing in a since-deleted social media post that the shipper “has made the decision to no longer accept Brownells packages.” A Brownells spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
Mark Oliva, spokesperson for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry trade group, blamed pressure from Senate Democrats for pushing UPS to act on ghost guns.
“It’s unfortunate,” Oliva said. “It seems like this is a reaction to pressure from senators who are specifically anti-gun. These are senators who have never met a gun control idea they didn’t love. It seems they’re putting that could be considered untoward pressure on interstate commerce.”
The UPS move comes after five Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, sent letters on May 19 to the heads of major shipping and freight companies inquiring about gun deliveries during the pandemic and expressing concern that « lax shipping security measures are contributing to the epidemic of gun violence » in the United States.
Markey’s office told VICE News that UPS had already responded to the letter, and that the company’s policy could be interpreted as “effectively prohibiting the shipment of ghost guns.”
“I am pleased that shipping companies are now taking steps to ensure a more responsible shipment of firearms in transit, and to halt the shipment of dangerous ghost guns altogether,” Markey said in a statement. “I will continue to call on these companies to do their part to strengthen security measures and protect communities across our country from the threat of gun violence at the hands of untraceable weapons.”
Other major shippers companies that received letters from Democratic senators regarding their gun policies told VICE News they are also taking the matter seriously. A FedEx spokesperson said the company last year “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 UPS and FedEx are private companies, the U.S. Postal Service is run by the government and thus limited from taking action against gun shipments without approval from Congress and other federal regulators. A spokesperson for the Postal Service said the agency “would defer to ATF’s interpretation” on whether its current gun shipping regulations apply to ghost gun parts.
“Congress has not conferred on us the discretion to restrict use of the mails for policy reasons,” a Postal Service spokesperson said. “With respect to firearms, we implement the Gun Control Act and ATF regulations, and so any such policy decisions would need to be made by Congress and/or ATF.”
Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.