Criminals have Ghost Guns on City Streets

Police arrest teenagers with homemade guns without serial numbers

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Democrats are coming for ghost guns from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. The ATF is fast tracking President Joe Biden’s order to churn out new regulations for the homemade guns. The Senate held a hearing this week to pressure gun manufacturers to lay down their arms.

The question in Washington now is whether ghost guns are a legitimate cause of crime and whether regulating them can help police stop bad guys. It’s not an open and shut case. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who has taken over the chairmanship of the Subcommittee on the Constitution from Sen. Ted Cruz, held a hearing on Tuesday to reintroduce his “Untraceable Firearms Act.”  He said his bill would close, what he calls, the “ghost guns loophole” (the gun control crew love loopholes!) and make permanent the rules that the Justice Department and ATF proposed last week.  

“They look like guns. They shoot like guns. They kill like guns. They are guns, except under federal law,” the Connecticut Democrat declared. “These weapons are becoming the preferred instruments for criminals and violent extremists — the fastest growing gun violence menace in the nation.”  

Blumenthal pointed to a photo next to him him of two guns (screen grab is above.) One apparently was a ghost gun and one was not.

“The so-called ghost guns that we’re talking about are nothing but homemade firearms. There’s nothing special about them. There’s nothing weird about them,” countered Cruz. He added that the term ghost gun was being used “to make people think that certain firearms are more dangerous than others - that certain firearms are beyond the reach of current law. That’s nonsense.”

The government does not use the term “ghost gun” in any regulation or law. (I’m not putting quotation marks around ghost gun for simplicity and because the online dealers don’t use them.)

But since the Justice Department just proposed new rules to regulate them, the best I can do to define one their way as this: a gun that does not have a serial number and is privately made. In comparison, a regular, functional gun from a manufacturer has a serial number that a licensed dealer records when selling it and runs a background check.

DC Tracks Ghost Guns

Perhaps Blumenthal got his prop poster from the D.C. police because it looks a lot like the ones that are released in their “weekly firearm recoveries.”  I recently noticed DC is citing ghost guns on its recovery list. The police don’t give the criteria they use to differentiate a ghost gun — whether it’s made of Polymer80 parts or just has no serial number. 

I suspect the new listing format  has to do with the city’s lawsuit against against Polymer80, Inc., which manufactures most of the kits for the homemade guns because it alleges that the company’s “illegal ghost guns contribute to violence in the District.”

To get a sense of how many ghost guns are part of city crime, I took the data from the most recent two weeks. I found that ghost guns were 18% of the total guns taken off the streets in DC. (Details below under “DC’s Ghost Guns Specifics.”)

I also talked to an officer in a different large police department. He has access to the firearms recovered and shared it with me. So far this year, the ghost guns are about one out of five recovered, which is the same as DC. (He asked for anonymity since he’s not authorized to talk to the media.)

This police officer said his department defined ghost guns as ones that had parts made by Polymer80.  He did not include the guns that had serial numbers clearly obliterated.  He also said that the about half the arrests with ghost guns had drugs on them. Half were prohibited persons, mostly underage or felons. 

The Baltimore police commissioner, Michael Harrison, said at the Senate hearing that Charm City has recovered 83 ghost guns so far this year. Harrison said that a “majority are being transported around the city in vehicles and are being used to commit shootings and homicides.” He didn’t break down the stats, so it’s not clear how many of those 42 ghost guns were found in cars or at shootings. I doubt very much that any were used in a homicide because he would have mentioned it.

DC’s Ghost Guns Specifics

I wanted to take a closer look at the ghost guns used by criminals, and DC provides specifics. For recovered firearms from April 26 to May 3, ghost guns were eight of the 33 total. The week before -  April 19 to 26 -- DC police found 35 firearms and four were labeled as  ghost guns.

Let’s look at those 12 ghost guns. Two were found on the street with no arrests, so it’s not clear how they were used. Two were found on young men dealing drugs. One is a rifle found when a group of men were arrested and charged with multiple counts including dealing drugs and “Felon in Possession,” which means he could not have passed the FBI background check. They had two handguns and what is labeled as a .223 caliber “Ghost Gun assault rifle” which you can see in the tiny photo below.

The other seven ghost guns were found on teenagers under 18 years old who are prohibited by federal law from buying a gun. (Note, I added photos if DC police provided them.)There were two guns found on separate cases of arresting 17-year-olds. Here’s one of their 9mm ghost guns.

A 9mm ghost gun and a Taurus Millennium G2 PT-111 9mm, both with extended magazines, were found on a 16-year-old and 17-year-old. Among the multiple charges against the boys is “Possession of a Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device” which DC law means it has a magazine over 10 rounds.

Another bunch of teenagers had three of the 12 ghost guns found in the last two weeks. The two .40 caliber and one 9mm and a Glock 43 9mm are in the photos below. See if you can figure out which of the four below is not the ghost gun. You can try blowing them up on the link. There were 18 and 19-year-olds in this crew who were charged as adults with multiple firearms crimes.

The final ghost gun was found on a 14-year-old “of no fixed address” [WHERE ARE HIS PARENTS?] and a 20-year-old who were arrested together. They also had a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm. Again, the tiny photos are below. I assume the M&P is black but tell me if I’m wrong.

Now, forget about which of the guns is from a manufacturer and think about that 14-year-old boy. He has no home, no involved parents and is running around with an adult with guns and now has a record.

It’s a shame that the Baltimore Police Commissioner was so focused on the guns themselves. He missed his own point when he said that “nearly one-fourth of all the ghost guns recovered by Baltimore police were from individuals who were not old enough to obtain a firearm - including a 14-year-old.”

Both DC and Baltimore are arresting young teenagers with guns. Where is the outrage that these boys have no adult supervision and running around with criminals? The 14-year-olds who have already give up hope of an education and law-abiding life and instead cling to older drug dealers. Sadly, nothing in the proposed ATF rules nor in Blumenthal’s bill goes to helping children who are being abused and neglected at home.

Gun Control Laws and Ghost Guns

As you know if you’ve been reading my reporting for the last 10 years, I’m a strong Second Amendment supporter. I know that most people make ghost guns from kits for a hobby.

But the Democrats are correct that more criminals are using ghost guns now. They are misguided in their proposed gun control laws. The 3D printer guns are not being used in crimes (if they are functional at all.) The lack of serial numbers is not stopping crimes from being solved by police. Guns used in crimes have circulated on the streets for about 10 years and most were stolen at some point.

The gun control laws on the books should be prosecuted before adding new ones.

The police don’t believe that the kids are somehow buying kits and making their own guns. Law enforcement assumes that adults are buying the parts, assembling them and then selling for a profit on the streets. That is breaking multiple federal laws: trafficking firearms across state lines, transfering firearms to prohibited individuals (felons and anyone under 21) and selling without a license —which is a huge hurdle. As I wrote in my book Emily Gets Her Gun:

If you want to buy or sell guns as a business, you have to apply to the ATF to be a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL). To do that, you send in an application, photo fingerprint cards, and a $200 fee and submit yourself to a qualification inspection by ATF. Once you get the license and can do business you are required to keep record of all sales in a bound book… (page 87)

Sen. Cruz said in the hearing that, “Democrats don't want to talk about the consistently proven empirical failure of gun control laws. They don't work and they make crime worse. And they want to scapegoat law-abiding citizens.” Ted is right. The overwhelming majority of ghost guns are made and used by law-abiding people as a hobby.

However, the parts are also being bought by criminals to make guns and get around a background check they can’t pass.  Unfortunately, regulating these parts will just make the bad guys go back to regular guns. 

If Democrats want to do something productive for society, they would figure out how to intervene in these urban kids’ lives early so they don’t turn to dealing drugs and crime. Biden and Blumenthal are shooting at the wrong target.

Leave a comment

I will be writing more about “ghost guns” as the new ATF rules are considered. So let me know in the comments what you think about the issue raised and what else I should investigate.

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