Ghost Guns in Charm City: Mayor & City Council of Baltimore v. Polymer80, Inc.

*Paige Boyer

I. Introduction

    Ghost guns haunt cities across America.[1] They are as spooky as they sound—ghost guns are untraceable because they lack a serial number and often the purchaser assembles them.[2] In the first four months of 2022, Baltimore Police Department (BPD) recovered 131 ghost guns, double the amount recovered in the same time in 2021.[3] A shocking ninety-one percent of ghost guns BPD recovered came from a Nevada corporation known as Polymer80.[4] Polymer80 is a major ghost gun manufacturer and sells unassembled guns across America.[5]

    Polymer80 describes itself as providing its customers with firearms and accessories “to participate in the build process, while expressing their right to bear arms.”[6] The company’s motto is: “Engage Your Freedom.”[7] Polymer80 claims to sell legally across America because its guns are never more than eighty percent complete and therefore do not meet the manufacturing standards of the Gun Control Act of 1968 to qualify as a firearm.[8] However, Polymer80 sells build kits with all the necessary parts and instructions for assembly of a one-hundred percent complete gun.[9] Consider Polymer80 the “IKEA of firearms.”

    II. Challenges to Polymer80

      A few jurisdictions have enacted legislation or filed suit against Polymer80.[10] Nevada enacted legislation outlawing the sale and possession of ghost guns.[11] Polymer80 quickly filed suit against Nevada, winning and striking down the part of the statute that essentially prohibited Polymer80 sales.[12] With such a defeat, it may seem daunting to go up against Polymer80, but the District of Columbia (D.C.), the City of Los Angeles (L.A.), and the City of Baltimore are up for the challenge.[13]

      Baltimore is the most recent jurisdiction to file suit, after L.A. and D.C. respectively.[14] L.A. initially filed suit on February 17, 2021.[15] Recently, on February 22, 2022, L.A. filed a motion to compel—perhaps signaling that Polymer80 is not eager to cooperate.[16] On August 10, 2022, after over two years of litigation, D.C. was granted summary judgment against Polymer80, and the court awarded a permanent injunction and damages.[17]

      III. District of Columbia v. Polymer80

        On June 24, 2020, D.C. filed suit against Polymer80 for violations under D.C.’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA) and D.C.’s Firearm Control Regulations Act of 1975 (FCRA).[18] D.C. alleged that Polymer80 incorrectly asserted that its products are legal in D.C. when its products violate the FCRA, thereby violating the CPPA and misleading consumers on a material fact.[19] The FCRA prohibits the sale of any unregistrable firearm and the possession of any unregistered firearms, which Polymer80’s unmarked ghost guns violate.[20]

        In opposition to D.C.’s motion for summary judgment D.C. on March 21, 2022, Polymer80 claimed that not only were its goods not firearms under the FCRA but that new legislation on ghost guns puts the burden on the consumer to serialize and register Polymer80’s products.[21] The court found Polymer80’s arguments unconvincing and granted summary judgement in part for misrepresentation under the CPPA and selling illegal firearms to D.C. consumers under the FRCA.[22] The court denied the motion for summary judgement in part as it pertains to the element of material fact under the CPPA.[23] The court granted a permanent injunction and payment of four million dollars in relief.[24] After the case in Nevada, this win in D.C. offers Baltimore motivation and persuasive authority in its legal pursuit against Polymer80.[25]

        IV. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore v. Polymer80

          On June 1, 2022, Maryland banned the sale of any unfinished or unserialized firearm frames and receivers.[26] Immediately following the enactment of this legislation, Baltimore filed suit against Polymer80 for public nuisance, negligence, and violations of the Maryland Consumer Protection Act.[27]

          In its complaint, Baltimore alleged that Polymer80 “intentionally undermines federal and state firearms laws,” such as the Federal Gun Control Act and recent Maryland firearm laws, by selling its firearms and knowingly selling to those prohibited from owning firearms, including felons and children.[28] Baltimore claimed that Polymer80’s negligence and their misleading advertisements created a public health crisis.[29] The City alleged that not only were its violations of the law predictable, but the violations foreseeably escalated gun violence in Baltimore.[30] Further, Polymer80 is alleged to have supplied known criminals with its building kits without conducting minimal requisite background checks—furthering violence and crime in the city.[31]

          Baltimore has requested a permanent injunction, damages, and an abatement fund to remedy the harms Polymer80 has inflicted on the city.[32] After Polymer80 was ordered to pay damages to D.C. in their previous case, Baltimore’s relief requests seem more likely to be granted.

          V. Conclusion

          The addition of negligence claims in Baltimore’s suit is a shift from D.C.’s strategy of consumer protection and gun law violations, but it may increase the damages awarded to Baltimore.[33] While D.C.’s win on summary judgment may offer persuasive legal authority, L.A.’s hurdles in discovery with Polymer80 indicates a win for Baltimore will not come easy.[34] These legal battles and attempts to curb the epidemic of ghost guns may push Congress to ban them for good—an outcome that would benefit all cities involved.[35] Gun control, crime, and violence have continued to plague Baltimore and its residents, but Charm City is fighting back.[36]

          *Paige Boyer is a second-year evening student and Staff Editor for the University of Baltimore Law Review. Paige has been a member of the University of Baltimore community since 2019. She graduated with her Master of Public Administration in December 2021 and is currently working for the University’s Office of Human Resources. After graduating with her J.D., Paige is interested in pursuing a legal career in child advocacy and public interest law. 

          [1] Anjeanette Damon, Why Outlawing Ghost Guns Didn’t Stop America’s Largest Maker of Ghost Gun Parts, ProPublica, (Aug. 24, 2022)  

          [2] Ghost Guns, Meriam-Webster Online Dictionary, (last visited Jan. 3, 2023).

          [3] Mayor & City Council of Baltimore v. Polymer80, Inc., No. 24-C-22-002482, 2022 WL 1810013 (Md. Cir. Ct. filed June 1, 2022) (trial pleading).

          [4] Id.

          [5] About Polymer80, Polymer80, (last visited Jan. 3, 2023).

          [6] Id.

          [7] Id.

          [8] District of Columbia v. Polymer80, Inc., No. 2020 CA 002878 B., 2020 WL 13526473 (D.C. Super. Ct. 2020) (trial pleading).

          [9] Id.

          [10] Damon, supra note 1.

          [11] Id.

          [12] Id.

          [13] Id.

          [14] Damon, supra note 1.

          [15] People of the State of California v. Polymer80, Inc., No. 21STCV0657 (Super. Ct. Cal. L.A. filed Feb. 17, 2021) (complaint).

          [16] People of the State of California v. Polymer80, Inc., No. 21STCV0657 (Super. Ct. Cal. L.A. filed Feb. 22, 2022) (motion to compel).

          [17] See infra Part III.

          [18] District of Columbia v. Polymer80, Inc., No. 2020 CA 002878 B., 2020 WL 13526473 (D.C. Super. Ct. 2020) (trial pleading).

          [19] Id.

          [20] D.C. Code § 7-2504.01(b); D.C. Code § 7-2502.02.

          [21] District of Columbia v. Polymer80, Inc., No. 2020 CA 002878 B., 2022 WL 3336386 (D.C. Super. Ct. Aug. 10, 2022) (trial order).

          [22] Id.

          [23] Id.

          [24] Id.

          [25] Damon, supra note 1.

          [26] Md. Code. Ann., Pub. Safety § 5-703(a)(1) (West 2022). A firearm frame is the part of a gun that house the gun structure including “the hammer, striker, bolt, or similar primary energized component prior to…the firing sequence.” 27 C.F.R. § 478.12(a)(1) (2022). A firearm receiver is the part of a gun “that provides housing or a structure for the primary component designed to block or seal the breech prior to…the firing sequence.” 27 C.F.R. § 478.12(a)(2) (2022). Both structures vary depending on the type of firearm in question. See 27 C.F.R. § 478.12 (2022).

          [27] Mayor & City Council of Baltimore v. Polymer80, Inc., No. 24-C-22-002482, 2022 WL 1810013 (Md. Cir. Ct. filed June 1, 2022) (trial pleading).

          [28] Id. at ¶ 2.

          [29] Id. at ¶ 53.

          [30] Id. at ¶ 53–8.

          [31] Id.

          [32] Id.

          [33] See supra Part III.

          [34] See supra note 15 and accompanying text.

          [35] See Damon, supra note 1.

          [36] See supra Part IV.

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