If you’ve noticed an uptick in media reports decrying the dangers of “ghost guns,” there’s a reason: gun control advocates have launched a nationwide campaign to gin up support for a new bill that would severely restrict not only unserialized firearms but also kits designed to build firearms from serialized receivers.
“We need national laws from Congress that covers a total ban on the creation or selling of these ghost gun kits,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in an episode of 60 Minutes that aired over the weekend.
Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal is happy to oblige. Politico reported today that the senator plans to reintroduce legislation that would restrict both the 80 percent lower receivers commonly used to build “ghost guns” as well as kits designed to assemble firearms from serialized receivers.
“There has been a tremendous proliferation of firearm sales generally, but most particularly for these types of untraceable weapons that essentially provide ‘crime guns’ that are really dangerous,” Blumenthal said, trying to connect his legislation to the coronavirus pandemic. “They are clearly a means to evade the current federal laws.”
Millions of build-it-yourself gun kits have been sold in the last decade, according to Dimitrios Karras. Karras runs a gun shop in California that specializes in the kits, and he told 60 Minutes that he’s sold between 300,000 and 500,000 individual units since 2010.
Despite the proliferation of “ghost guns,” Villanueva rejects the idea that the majority of buyers are harmless hobbyists.
“The only people interested in that are not enthusiasts who like to tinker around with machines,” he told 60 Minutes. “They’re not hobbyists. These are people that should never have a firearm, and that’s how they found a way to get one.”
Blumenthal’s most recent bill has not yet been introduced, but a failed 2018 version would classify an “unfinished receiver” as a “firearm” as well as “any combination of parts designed or intended for use in converting any device into a firearm and from which a firearm may be readily assembled.”
Classifying these components as firearms would subject them to the same restrictions as complete, functioning weapons.
The bill may also ban anyone who does not hold a federal firearms license from building a firearm from a parts kit—even if that kit requires a complete, serialized receiver:
“The term ‘manufacturing firearms’ shall include assembling a functional firearm from a frame or receiver or molding, machining, or 3D printing a frame or receiver, and shall not include making or fitting special barrels, stocks, or trigger mechanisms to firearms,” the bill states.
In other words, the bill allows a person to swap a trigger on an AR-15, but it may ban that person from swapping any of the other components of a lower receiver without the appropriate license.
The specifics of how this bill would apply to individuals not “engaged in the business” of manufacturing firearms is difficult to determine. But it would doubtless have a chilling effect on the cottage industry of hobbyists who build their own AR-15’s, Glock’s, and 1911’s.
The anti-gun group Giffords has also joined the campaign. They recently launched a “ghost guns initiative” to “bring national attention to the alarming rise in the use of dangerous, untraceable do-it-yourself weapons.”
“During a time of surging gun sales, it’s imperative that we pay more attention to ghost guns,” Giffords Executive Director Peter Ambler said in a statement. “Because these aren’t just tools for hobbyists. These do-it-yourself guns are untraceable, making it easier for people who are not legally allowed to own a firearm to obtain one and more difficult for law enforcement officers to do their jobs.”
The ATF does not know how many “ghost guns” are actually being used in crime, ATF Assistant Director of Field Operations Thomas Chittum told 60 Minutes.
While there is anecdotal evidence from some precincts that the prevalence is rising, even the 60 Minutes investigation wasn’t able to provide specific data.