Will ghost guns haunt us in the future?
a look at recent legislation and what ghost guns are
The term’ ghost gun’ has been in the media cycle a lot. But how much of a danger do they really pose to us? In this article, we will be looking at recent legislation that has been both proposed and enacted regarding ‘ghost guns’ and talk about what a ‘ghost gun’ actually are. We will then investigate what dangers they have already posed.
Shortly after the high-profile mass shooting that happened at a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, that claimed the lives of ten of our neighbors, the White House released a Fact Sheet detailing the Biden-Harris Administration’s initial actions to address the gun violence public health epidemic. The mass shooting in Boulder was referenced in the second sentence of the briefing.
The briefing went on to reference a proposed rule to help stop the proliferation of ‘ghost guns’;
“The Justice Department, within 30 days, will issue a proposed rule to help stop the proliferation of ‘ghost guns.’ We are experiencing a growing problem: criminals are buying kits containing nearly all of the components and directions for finishing a firearm within as little as 30 minutes and using these firearms to commit crimes. When these firearms turn up at crime scenes, they often cannot be traced by law enforcement due to the lack of a serial number. The Justice Department will issue a proposed rule to help stop the proliferation of these firearms.”
The action, which was proposed by Boulder’s U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, will also make pistols used with stabilizing braces subject to the National Firearms Act, which also regulates sawed-off shotguns and silencers, requiring a federal license, a $200 tax, and a more thorough application process.
Neguse, one of seven lawmakers who attended Biden’s announcement in the White House Rose Garden, said he was “grateful” the administration had included the request in its executive actions.
But What is a Ghost Gun Exactly?
Many people are not quite sure exactly what a ghost gun is and why it is seen by many as a rising threat. So, I thought it might be informative to discuss precisely what is a ghost gun and why they are seen by many as such an urgent issue.
I found a great breakdown of what a ghost gun is in an article written by Annie Karni in the New York Times. In the article, she writes:
“Traditional firearms are made by licensed companies and then bought from licensed gun dealers. All guns manufactured in the United States, as well as those imported from abroad, are legally required to have serial numbers that are typically displayed on the back of the frame.
In contrast, a ghost gun is manufactured in parts and can be assembled at the home of an unlicensed buyer. There is no need to pass a background check to obtain the components of a ghost gun. They are sold online as D.I.Y. kits and typically shipped as “80 percent receivers.” That means the gun is 80 percent complete, and buyers have to assemble the final 20 percent themselves.
The key selling point for many buyers is that ghost guns do not have serial numbers, the critical piece of information that law enforcement agencies use to trace the gun from the manufacturer to the gun dealer to the original buyer. Ghost guns are untraceable, and because of how they are sold — as parts that need to be assembled — under current rules, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives does not treat them as it would traditional firearms.”
They are touted by marketing as cheap to buy and easy to put together (within a couple of hours.)
Some guns also considered ‘ghost guns’ can be printed (at least in part) via common 3D printers. Printed guns have been around since 2013. Introduced to the world mainly by Cody Wilson, an American gun rights activist described as both crypto and free-market anarchist.
Wilson is best known as founder and director of Defense Distributed, a non-profit that designs and publishes print files used in printed firearms. In 2019 Wilson pleaded guilty to a third-degree felony charge after police claimed he had a paid sexual encounter with a minor.
It is also interesting to note that in 2017 Wilson launched a website to provide crowdfunding and credit card payment processing for many extremist and hate groups, including Richard Spencer. A few months after Hatreon’s launch, Visa suspended the site’s financial services.
While printed ghost guns have been in their infancy and relatively unreliable, they are, as with all things involving technology, rapidly evolving and becoming easier to produce at home and pushing the limits of design, as can be seen in a VICE News video released last year. Many of the designs look like something out of a science fiction anime film.
There has been local news about ghost guns, both in Denver and here in Larimer County. In January, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock signed a bill banning ghost guns. Under the new law, ghost gun owners could be fined $1,000 and up to 300 days in jail. The new law passed the city council with ten to one.
Our own sheriff here in Larimer County, Justin Smith has also weighed in on the ghost gun issue but fell on the other side of the issue. In a Facebook post dated Feb. 4, he stated;
“When it comes to creating the villain, they again reach into the grab bag and predictably come out with guns as problem. So-called ghost guns (aka home assembled firearms) seem to be the preferred target. It polls well. They know emotion always trumps facts, so they only need create a plausible narrative the crime wave can be blamed on American’s access to firearms and they create another opportunity to enact more gun control measures.”
I reached out to the Larimer County Sheriff Departments Public Information Officer to see if they had any data on how many incidents of gun violence have involved ghost guns and see if I could speak on the subject with Sheriff Smith. However, I received no response to my inquiry.
I also reached out to the Town of Estes Park, and according to their response, we have had no incidents in which ghost guns were used in criminal activity.
It should be noted that according to a notice issued by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, from 2016 through 2020, less than 2% of the firearms used in homicides or attempted homicides nationwide were homemade.
It is not how the state of things is currently that worries me. It is what may arise. We have seen now a violent and armed insurrection at the US Capitol Building, and others at State Capitols and now close to 800 people have been arrested and charged. That means we may have an increase in gun owners that are no longer allowed to own firearms legally. Might they turn to ghost guns?
Violent extremists have already begun getting in legal trouble with ghost guns, as we have seen with last week’s prosecution of a California man connected to the ‘Boogaloo Boys’ extremist group who was sentenced in New York to four years in prison for hoarding homemade ghost guns in a Manhattan Airbnb.
According to a Wired article by Andy Greenberg written in 2020, ‘The ‘Boogaloo Boys’ were also mentioned by the FBI as having been customers of Timothy Watson, who has been accused of selling more than 600 3d printed plastic components through his website, portablewallhanger.com. The devices were thinly disguised as wall hooks but were 3d printed “drop-in auto sears” that easily convert a legal AR-15 into an illegal fully automatic machine gun.
Part of that article reads:
“According to the FBI, Watson’s customers included multiple members of the Boogaloo movement, a heavily armed extremist anti-government group whose adherents have allegedly wounded and killed multiple law enforcement officials in incidents across the US. The so-called Boogaloo Boys have aimed to incite violence amidst racial justice protests like those that followed the police killing of George Floyd, reportedly in an effort to start a civil war they call the Boogaloo.”
Only time will tell what the actual danger is of ghost guns in America.