Ghost Guns and the Law
What is a ghost gun?
A ghost gun is a gun that is:
- Without a serial number
These three things can be achieved when the gun is sold either in individual parts or as a disassembled kit with a single unfinished part like the receiver or the frame of the gun. When a gun is sold this way, it does not require a serial number because it is technically non-functional; therefore, it is not considered a “firearm.” However, with some minor adjustments (likely requiring simple drilling), these can become a fully functional weapon or ghost gun. This loophole in federal gun regulations is creating a huge problem for law enforcement, as these types of weapons do not require a background check, making them an attractive option for felons and a growing network of underground dealers or gun traffickers.
Shockingly, statistics show that 30% of all guns recovered by law enforcement in the State of California are ghost guns.
Why are ghost guns so dangerous?
Building a gun has become significantly easier with the availability of parts, and kits, and 3D printers right at the fingertips of anyone who has access to a computer and the internet, including criminals and gun traffickers. Felons who are banned from purchasing a weapon legally now have a way to easily obtain the makings of a ghost gun. Ghost guns are also incredibly dangerous due to the fact that they provide criminals, terrorists, and extremist groups the ability to stockpile weapons without the knowledge of law enforcement and the government.
According to the ATF, approximately 10,000 ghost guns were recovered across the country in 2019.
What makes a gun traceable?
The serial number is what makes it possible to trace a gun. A serial number will tell law enforcement who the gun’s original manufacturer or importer was. It can then identify the chain of wholesale and resale distribution all the way to the first person that purchased the firearm. Ghost guns do not have serial numbers, which make them untraceable.
Is a gun required to have a serial number?
A gun without a serial number is considered an illegal weapon. One who possesses or carries a gun without a serial number is breaking the law. In cases where a serial number has been tampered with or destroyed, the National Tracing Center can enlist the assistance of forensic experts who utilize specialized technology in order to identify where the gun came from.
Are ghost guns reliable weapons?
It used to take a skilled and knowledgeable craftsman with proper tools and machinery to be able to make a gun. Now, nearly anyone can obtain and make a gun – even a minor. It has been proven that “3D printers can be used to print out frames and receivers and combine them with metal parts in order to complete the assembly of ghost guns. Even though the pieces are made of plastic, they are easily able to shoot at least 1,000 to 2,000 rounds.”
The use of ghost guns in shootings nationwide is continually increasing.
Here are five instances ranging from 2013 to 2020 in which ghost guns were used in violent crimes.
- In July 2020, an individual who was prohibited from possessing guns allegedly murdered two people in Pennsylvania using a homemade 9mm handgun. ref 1
- In November 2019, a 16-year-old shot five of his classmates at Saugus High School in California—two of them fatally—using a homemade handgun, before fatally shooting himself. ref 2
- In August 2019, a shooter used a homemade gun kit to build a .223-caliber firearm that he later used to fire 41 shots in 32 seconds in a bar in Dayton, Ohio, shooting 26 people and killing nine. ref 3
- In 2017, in Northern California, a man prohibited from possessing firearms ordered kits to build AR-15-style rifles. On November 13, he initiated a series of shootings that began with fatally shooting his wife at home, followed by a rampage the next day during which he fired at multiple people in several different locations, including an elementary school, killing five people and injuring dozens more. ref 4
- In 2013, a shooter opened fire in Santa Monica, California, shooting 100 rounds, killing five people, and injuring several others at a community college using a homemade AR-15 rifle. Reporting indicates the shooter had previously tried to purchase a firearm from a licensed gun dealer and failed a background check, potentially indicating why he opted to order parts to build a gun instead. ref 5
As of January 1, 2022, a Nevada law will go into effect that bans the sale and possession of unassembled weapons sold in kits or made with 3D printers that, in their unfinished state, are not classified as weapons and do not require serial numbers, otherwise referred to as “ghost” guns. In particular, the law targets those who are legally prohibited from owning firearms since ghost guns are currently readily available to anyone.
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