“Ghost Guns” Back in the News

05/2024

There have been several high-profile reports of ghost guns in the news recently. None of them were used in the commission of a crime, although most were discovered during arrests of criminals for other offenses. Before we get into the news stories, let’s review exactly what a ghost gun is and why they are newsworthy.

What is a Ghost Gun?

A “ghost gun” is a term used to describe a firearm that is typically homemade or assembled from parts, often using kits or components that can be purchased without background checks or serial numbers. These firearms are called “ghost guns” because they lack serial numbers, making them difficult to trace by law enforcement authorities.

The term gained popularity due to the increasing availability of kits and parts that allow individuals to assemble their own firearms at home, often without the need for specialized tools or skills. These kits usually include unfinished receivers, which are the primary component of a firearm that houses the firing mechanism and to which other parts such as the barrel, trigger assembly, and stock are attached.

Since these receivers are not yet fully functional firearms, they can be legally sold without background checks or serial numbers under federal law in many countries, including the United States. Once the receiver is finished and assembled with other components, however, the resulting firearm becomes fully operational.

Advancements in technology, such as 3D printing, have also contributed to the rise of ghost guns. With a 3D printer and the necessary files, individuals can manufacture firearm components, including receivers, in their own homes. This raises concerns about the potential for unregulated access to firearms by individuals who may not be legally eligible to possess them.

The proliferation of ghost guns has sparked debates about firearm regulations, public safety, and law enforcement. Proponents argue that the ability to build firearms at home is a fundamental right and a way to bypass restrictive gun laws, while opponents raise concerns about the lack of oversight and the potential for these untraceable firearms to be used in crimes.

Legal Situation

The legality of making homemade guns from kits or 3D printers is at best fluid, and at worst a complete mess. The ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) are constantly changing the description of what constitutes a “gun”, and the rules and laws related to guns. Do not take this article as any form of legal opinion.

Right now, the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA) requires anyone “engaged in the business” of selling or distributing firearms to have a Federal Firearms License (FFL). However, nothing in the GCA prohibits a person from making a homemade gun for personal use, as long as they are not otherwise prohibited from owning a gun. A homemade gun does not need to be registered with the ATF, although states and local jurisdictions may have other requirements.

Ghost Guns in the News

Syracuse, New York, 4/30/2024

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced that three Central New York men and one South Carolina man were charged with 35 crimes related to gun trafficking and ghost guns.

After an investigation led by AG’s Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF), 31 firearms and receivers were recovered including 18 ghost guns and parts to make ghost guns.

New York State has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country.

The following was seized in the arrest:

  • Nine Polymer80 and AR-15 style unfinished frames/receivers, used to assemble ghost guns
  • Nine unserialized and unregistered Polymer80 ghost gun pistols
  • Nine serialized unregistered firearms
  • Three AR-15-style rifles
  • One 7.62 assault rifle
  • Dozens of magazines, including several extended magazines classified as high-capacity ammunition feeding devices
  • Hundreds of rounds of ammunition

The investigation has been ongoing since June of 2022 and involved illegal firearms trafficking in the Syracuse area.

Manchester, Connecticut, 5/1/2024

According to Manchester Police, two suspects with active warrants were arrested when they were “tailed by police”. The police were part of the Greater Hartford Regional Auto Theft Task Force, and recognized one of the individuals as he was getting into the car.

Upon investigation, police discovered a ghost gun and an extended-capacity magazine (illegal in the state of CT.)

Both suspects were charged with various crimes including resisting arrest and interfering with an officer. Further charges related to the firearms are expected.

Champaign, Illinois, 4/29/2024

A 19-year-old Illinois man was found to be in possession of a ghost gun after ramming a Sheriff’s vehicle while fleeing a traffic stop.

After fleeing the stop, the suspect rammed a Champaign County Sheriff’s vehicle on I-74 before colliding with a semi-truck and becoming disabled.

During the investigation, two handguns, a rifle, and an extended magazine were discovered in the vehicle. One of the firearms was an unserialized “ghost gun”, another was a handgun with the serial number defaced, making it illegal in the state of Illinois.

The suspect was arrested for Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon and Aggravated Fleeing & Eluding and was taken to the Champaign County Jail. Also taken into custody was a female, juvenile passenger who was later released to her parent.

Solvang, California, 4/29/2024

Solvang, northwest of Santa Barbara, was the scene of a DUI arrest early Sunday morning, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.

The 23-year-old suspect was stopped for a missing front license plate and through investigation determined to be under the influence of alcohol.

During the search of his vehicle subsequent to his arrest, an unserialized rifle was discovered, along with narcotics.

The suspect was formally charged with misdemeanor DUI as well as the following felony charges:

  • transportation of narcotics for sales
  • possession of a controlled substance for sales
  • illegal possession of an assault weapon
  • manufacturing a short-barrelled rifle
  • felon in possession of a firearm
  • prohibited person carrying a loaded firearm
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