What are ghost weapons? Why is Biden taking action? – The Boston Globe

What are ghost weapons?

They are privately made firearms without serial numbers.

Firearms made by licensed companies are generally required to have serial numbers, usually displayed on the frame of the gun, that allow officials to trace the gun back to the manufacturer, firearms dealer and original purchaser .

Ghost guns, however, are made from parts and then assembled. The critical component in building an untraceable weapon is what is known as the lower receiver. Some are sold in DIY kits, and the receivers are often made of metal or polymer.

An unfinished receiver, sometimes referred to as an “80 percent receiver”, can be purchased legally online without serial numbers or other markings, no license required. Under current rules, the federal government does not consider unfinished lower receivers to be firearms.

What does the rule do?

It changes the definition of a firearm and will require federal firearms dealers to add serial numbers to ghost guns presented to them.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has said for years that unfinished lower receivers don’t meet the legal definition of a firearm. And there is nothing illegal about building your own firearm.

It is legal to make your own firearm if it is for your personal use and you do not intend to sell it. But if you open a gun dealership, you need a federal firearms license.

Under the new rule, the definition of a firearm would change to include unfinished parts, such as the frame of a pistol or the casing of a long gun. The rule would also require those parts to be licensed and include serial numbers. Dealers would also have to run background checks before a sale, just as they do with other commercially manufactured firearms.

The requirement applies regardless of how the firearm was made, which means it includes ghost guns made from individual parts, kits or 3D printers.

It will also require federally licensed dealers and gunsmiths who receive firearms without serial numbers to add serial numbers. That means, for example, if someone sells a ghost gun to a pawnbroker, or other authorized dealer, the dealer must put a serial number on it before selling the gun to someone else.

How prevalent are ghost guns?

Ghost pistols are not new. But they are becoming a growing problem for law enforcement agencies in the US.

Federal officials have been sounding the alarm about the growing black market for homemade military-style semi-automatic rifles and pistols. And guns without serial numbers have turned up more frequently at crime scenes. They have also been found increasingly when federal agents buy guns in undercover operations from gang members and other criminals.

Ghost guns really burst into the public consciousness in 2013 when a gunman, John Zawahri, opened fire on the campus of Santa Monica College in California. Six people were killed, including Zawahri’s father and brother. The suspect had assembled an AR-15 after failing a background check on an arms dealer.

A gunman who killed his wife and four others in Northern California in 2017 was banned from owning firearms but built his own to evade the warrant before his attack. And in 2019, a teenager used a homemade gun to fatally shoot two classmates and wound three others at a school in suburban Los Angeles.

Ghost gun sales have skyrocketed ever since. It’s hard to say how many are on the streets, in part because in many cases police departments don’t communicate with the government about guns because they can’t be traced.

Statistics from the Justice Department show that nearly 24,000 bogus weapons were recovered by law enforcement at crime scenes and reported to the government between 2016 and 2020. The New York Police Department said officers found 131 firearms without numbers. Serial since January.

What happens next?

The Justice Department said the rule takes effect 120 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register. But the rule is likely to meet strong resistance from armed groups and spark litigation in the coming weeks. Even getting to the point of introducing a rule has taken more than a year. Biden announced plans to impose stricter regulations on ghost guns in April 2021.

Gun Owners of America promised that it would immediately fight the rule and sue the ATF “to stop the implementation of this rule.”


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