Unserialized and untraceable: America’s growing threat of ghost guns

World Today

The existence of ghost guns in the United States has created a major public safety issue. These unserialized and untraceable firearms, often assembled from kits bought online, allow individuals to circumvent existing gun regulations, posing significant challenges to law enforcement and exacerbating gun violence in communities across the country.

Ghost gun kits provide individuals, including prohibited purchasers and traffickers, with easy access to firearm components without the need for background checks. These kits are readily available and relatively cheap, making them appealing to those seeking to evade gun regulations. 

Moreover, the intentional marketing of ghost guns as unregulated and untraceable further facilitates their illicit use. This glaring regulatory loophole undermines the effectiveness of existing gun-related policies enacted at the state level.

The rise of ghost guns has been accompanied by a surge in conversion devices that transform legal semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic firearms, reminiscent of the days of Prohibition-era gangsters. The alarming increase in these devices has fueled gun violence and posed significant challenges for law enforcement agencies tasked with maintaining public safety.

“Police officers are facing down fully automatic weapon fire in amounts that haven’t existed in this country since the days of Al Capone and the Tommy gun,” Steve Dettelbach, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, told The Associated Press. “It’s a huge problem.”

According to the most recent ATF data available, police departments have seen a 570% increase in the number of conversion devices collected between 2017 and 2021.

In response to the proliferation of ghost guns, efforts have been made at both the federal and state levels to regulate these firearms. California Attorney General Rob Bonta has joined a coalition urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold ATF regulations aimed at addressing the threat posed by ghost guns. These regulations seek to subject ghost gun kits and parts to the same serialization and background check requirements as conventionally manufactured firearms, closing loopholes that enable their illicit use.

While ghost guns have been implicated in several mass shootings, their impact extends beyond high-profile incidents to everyday gun violence in communities of color. Law enforcement agencies have reported a significant increase in the recovery of homemade guns, highlighting the growing prevalence of ghost guns in criminal activities.

The Biden administration and Congress have taken the initiative to combat ghost guns through the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. Introduced with bipartisan support, the act seeks to close loopholes that allow individuals, including prohibited purchasers and gun traffickers, to acquire these weapons without undergoing background checks. By regulating ghost guns under existing firearm laws, the act aims to enhance public safety and prevent these untraceable weapons from being used in criminal activities.