Ghost guns: What are they and what’s happening at the state and federal level?

NC AG Stein filed an amicus brief supporting new rules on firearm kits, background checks

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Monday, April 11, 2022, as Mia Tretta , President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris listen before Biden announces a final version of the administration's ghost gun rule, which comes with the White House and the Justice Department under growing pressure to crack down on gun deaths. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

RALEIGH — In the past few years, media outlets and politicians have increasingly used the term “ghost guns” when referring to firearms built by private citizens using legal do-it-yourself type kits for their own personal use.  

Building one’s own firearm is legal provided so long as the gun does not violate state and federal laws and meets standards of a firearm that one might purchase at a legally run gun store. In terms of meeting legal standards, the part of a firearm that is regulated is the receiver, which is the portion of the gun that holds the chamber, magazine and trigger together. 

The term “ghost gun” has been credited to California state Sen. Kevin de Leon, who made the reference while talking to the press in 2014. At that time, de Leon said that an AR-15 could “disperse with 30 bullets within half a second.” That claim was quickly debunked, as the AR-15 is a semi-automatic firearm with a known fire rate of 45 rounds per minute. 

Politicians nationally have characterized “ghost guns” as a loophole for criminals can make their own weapons. This move ignores laws on the books already barring felons attempting from owning a gun and laws making it illegal for anyone to build firearms to sell or give to a felon. 

In April of this year, President Joe Biden announced new rules for “ghost guns” that includes serial numbers on receivers and background checks on anyone buying a do-it-yourself gun kit.  

“The final rule will also help turn some ghost guns already in circulation into serialized firearms,” said the White House in a statement. “Through this rule, the Justice Department is requiring federally licensed dealers and gunsmiths taking any un-serialized firearm into inventory to serialize that weapon.” 

The White House gave an example that if an individual builds a firearm at home and then sells it to a pawn broker or another federally licensed dealer, that dealer must put a serial number on the weapon before selling it to a customer. 

Additionally, the White House claimed there were around “20,000 suspected ghost guns” reported to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in criminal investigations last year. 

The emphasis on so-called ghost guns is mostly a political ruse,” Dan Zimmerman, Managing Editor of The Truth About Guns, said in an email to North State Journal. “VERY few crimes are actually committed with actual non-serialized firearms built from kits…no matter what the President and other gun rights foes claim.” 

Zimmerman continued, “What most politicians – and even many police departments - refer to as “ghost guns” are actually regular manufactured firearms that have had their serial numbers illegally obliterated.” 

The final rule issued by the U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ) was publicized in a July 11 newsletter from the Biden administration.  

“As the final rule explains, from January 2016 to December 2021, ATF received approximately 45,240 reports of suspected privately made firearms recovered by law enforcement, including in 692 homicide or attempted homicide investigations,” reads the related April press release from the USDOJ.  

This is another means of adding to the illegal gun registry being compiled by the BATFE,” Grassroots North Carolina president Paul Valone told North State Journal.  “Gun Owners of America is doing a lot on this after a congressional FOIA request revealed that ATF has amassed 920 million transaction records (with 865 million digitized and searchable) that can only be from NICS, which is required to expunge transaction records within 72 hours.” 

Valone also said the ATF is “prohibited by both the 1986 Firearms Owners Protection Act and the 1993 Brady Act from compiling a registry. Below is what I ran on my radio show a few months ago.” 

“The entire ‘ghost gun’ scam is intended to ensure a means of registering privately made firearms,” said Valone. 

The same day as the Biden administration’s July 11 newsletter went out, North Carolina Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein announced he had filed an amicus brief in support of a new federal rule to close the so-called loopholes on “ghost guns.”  

In his press release, Stein characterized “ghost guns” as “weapons without serial numbers” that are “purchased without background checks.” 

“With gun violence on the rise, we must do everything in our power to keep our communities safe,” Stein said in his release. “That includes closing this loophole that gives people who are a threat to public safety, such as violent felons and domestic abusers, the ability to get untraceable guns without a background check. This action is critical and long overdue.” 

Joining Stein on his amicus brief were the Attorneys General of New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin. 

“The consequence of this spreading demonization of ‘ghost guns’ is that the laws that are being proposed and passed are making it more difficult, expensive, and sometimes impossible for law-abiding individuals to build their own homemade firearms, something that has been legal in this country since before the Founding,” Zimmerman said in his email.  

“If politicians like Josh Stein and others were really concerned with reducing ‘gun violence,’ they’d concentrate more on catching, prosecuting and jailing repeat offenders who — the vast majority of the time — commit their crimes with guns they are legally prohibited from possessing,” wrote Zimmerman. “Not that little things like gun control laws stop many career criminals from getting and using firearms.” 

About A.P. Dillon 1213 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_