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Ghost Guns: Untraceable firearms in hands of hobbyists, felons and children

Untraceable firearms in hands of hobbyists, felons and children (ABC7)

You can build a gun in your own home, using simple tools, with no serial number for police to trace it, and it’s all legal. Law enforcement veterans say they’re worried about the increasing numbers of untraceable firearms, also known as “ghost guns.”

WHAT IS A 80% LOWER RECEIVER?

The US Gun Control Act of 1968 allows for the assembly of parts leading to the construction of an unregistered weapon. ATF guidelines state that as long as gun parts are not more than 80 percent completed into a working firearm, then they are not legally considered a gun. That allows for retailers to sell nearly complete parts, with easy-to-follow instructions to finish the remaining 20 percent needed to bring the gun parts into a firing condition. Most online retailers ship across state lines using standard delivery companies. A complete Glock 19 kit is among the simplest kits to assemble, costing just more than $600, a few hundred dollars more than a store-bought Glock 19.

Most commercially available firearm’s parts can be purchased. That includes AR-15-variant rifles. Assembly of those rifles involves tools not standard among most homeowners, including a drill press. Assembly of most handguns can be accomplished with standard household tools, including a power drill and power precision sanding tool.

Using printed instructions, a easy to follow plastic jig surrounding the lower receiver part of the handgun, and online instruction videos, people are guided step by step to complete the 80 percent lower receiver of a firearm and attach it to the completed upper firing barrel of a gun.

WHY GHOST GUNS?

One of the leading retailers of these types of firearms, GhostGuns.com, advertises their firearms as “Unserialized. Unregistered.” Some retailers, including GhostGuns.com, do not imprint serial numbers onto their handguns. GhostGuns.com and several other retailers did not respond to requests to comment on this story, but VirginiaCitizens Defense League President Philip Van Cleve defended the practice, “part of that too is because you are making your own, the government doesn’t know you are making them and that’s good. The government doesn’t need to know what guns we all have. Its none of the government’s business and that’s why for example Congress has got laws in place that say like ‘you shall not have a gun registration in America, at least at the federal level’ and because that’s why they don’t think the government should know what guns you have."

Van Cleve added, “I really don’t know where they came out with the term ghost gun. I think it’s really they are trying to say something about the fact that they don’t need to be serialized, as if that would really make a difference with a criminal. The first thing a criminal does when he steals a gun is they get rid of the serial number.”

David Chipman, retired ATF special agent and current policy advisor for former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords’ gun control campaign disagreed, “It's very hard to remove a serial number. We have methods to actually raise serial numbers if they're removed.”

Chipman added, “95 perecent of the guns we recover have serial numbers and a significant majority of those we're able to trace that gun to who originally bought it at a gun store. It's scary because clearly, most people who make a gun for their own personal use, that gun will never be used in crime and most people are just hobbyists. That being said, determined criminals, perhaps even terrorists, would find it very beneficial to have a "clean gun" or what they're calling now, a "ghost gun."

7 ON YOUR SIDE BUILT ITS OWN HANDGUN

After reaching out to multiple owners groups in Virginia and Maryland, no hobbyists agreed to show the ABC7 I-Team the process of building a gun. The I-Team ordered parts from an online retailer that does print serial numbers on its handguns and assembled the parts in a Virginia backyard work shed. Following online instructions, the entire process took around an hour with a power drill, a power sanding tool, metal files and a workbench vice grip. The I-Team did not install firing pins into the Glock 19 handgun, completing it to the point of attaching the upper barrel and trigger and handing the inoperable handgun (legally considered a firearm under ATF rules) to local police.

CRIMINAL ACTS WITH HOME-MADE GUNS

Kevin Neal murdered five people with unserialized rifles he constructed in northern California November 2017. Neal was a felon prohibited from owning firearms.

A New Jersey man was arrested for attempting to illegally sell dozens of guns he assembled in his own home this January.

One day after the Parkland, Florida, school massacre, Montgomery County, Maryland student Alwin Chen was arrested bringing in a home-built gun to his campus at Clarksburg High School. Chen later plead guilty and will spend four months in jail for the crime. Prosecutors say 17-year-old Chen built the handgun at home using tools from a major home improvement store. An AR-15 rifle was also found to be in mid assembly at Chen’s home, according to court testimony. Chen’s handgun did have a serial number on the barrel. Prosecutors say he brought the gun for months to his high school campus.\

CALLS TO CHANGE LAWS ON GHOST GUNS

The ABC7 I-Team found many lawmakers are unfamiliar with 80 percent lower receivers, or ghost guns, and their legal standing. The I-Team reached out to federal and state lawmakers, showing them video of ABC7 easily building its own firearm.

"I don’t think we have the right answer for this yet and we’re going to have to as the stories about this are increasing. We’re going to have to figure out what’s the right way to get a hold of this problem,” said Virginia Democratic US Senator Tim Kaine.

Alwin Chen’s former high school, Clarksburg, is in Maryland state delegate Kathleen Dumais’ district (D-15th District).

"I think that next year we would look at that and I know I will personally. I have to admit, I hadn’t really heard of ghost guns,” said Del. Dumais.

New Jersey may be the first state in the country to limit or prohibit sales of 80 percent lower receivers of firearms.


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