More “ghost” guns — firearms built without serial numbers — are being used in crimes, leading some lawmakers to believe that kits to make these guns are becoming more popular, especially during the pandemic. But a handful of Democratic senators want those kits and the parts within them to be classified as firearms under federal law.
The Untraceable Firearms Act of 2020 would expand the definition of firearm to include unfinished frames and receivers, parts that are commonly sold in gun kits, frequently online. The gun parts in these kits lack serial numbers and don’t require background checks, but when fully constructed, function the same as regular firearms.
The bill would subject kit makers, sellers and buyers to the same federal regulations as fully-manufactured firearm sales and purchases. It would also ban firearms that can be easily modified to pass through metal detectors undetected.
“Right now, anyone, including convicted felons, domestic abusers, and terrorists can get their hands on ghost guns legally, even if it means they have to build it themselves,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who introduced the bill. “Congress should act to stop these homemade guns which right now are becoming more and more popular.”
“Flying Off Virtual Shelves”
Blumenthal referenced a recent study from Everytown for Gun Safety and reporting from 60 Minutes and VICE News as evidence of a surge not only in gun sales during the pandemic, but specifically an increase in DIY gun kit sales.
“The guns are flying off virtual shelves,” Blumenthal said.
While the prevalence of ghost guns used in crimes varies from state to state, more local, state and federal law enforcement agencies are coming across these types of untraceable guns.
Earlier this year, lawmakers in Washington D.C. banned gun-making kits through a temporary emergency measure, citing a sharp increase of ghost guns used in crimes–up from three in 2017 to 116 in 2019, and four recent fatal shootings.
Last year, a teenager from Connecticut was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for making and selling guns, including selling four AR-15 style rifles he built using parts purchased on the internet to an undercover federal agent.
And in California, where the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) says 30 percent of all guns recovered by agents in the state are unserialized, a 16-year-old fatally shot two high school students using a ghost gun.
Keeping Up With Technology
Over the years, the ATF has regulated firearm frames and receivers at varying degrees but as it stands, the unfinished parts remain unregulated because they don’t “provide housing for the hammer, bolt or breechblock, and firing mechanism” under the federal Gun Control Act.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who co-sponsored the bill, said the legislation is aimed at addressing technological advances that have made building guns more accessible to more people.
“We’re not seeking to rewrite the essential premise of American gun statutes,” Murphy said. “Which is guns should have a serial number attached to them so that if they’re used to commit a crime we could trace them and that they be sold with a background check attached to them.”
“For the individuals who enjoy buying these kits and assembling them, they have nothing to fear … the only people that are going to have anything to worry about are the individuals who are intentionally going around federally licensed gun dealers to buy these gun kits in order to commit crimes with an untraceable gun.”
In addition to Blumenthal and Murphy, the legislation was co-sponsored in the Senate by Democratic U.S. Senators Bob Casey, Dianne Feinstein, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Mazie Hirono, Amy Klobuchar, Edward J. Markey, Robert Menendez, Jack Reed, Chuck Schumer, Chris Van Hollen, Elizabeth Warren, and Sheldon Whitehouse.
Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.