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‘Ghost’ Guns are on the Rise

Criminals have found a way to avoid background checks to get guns. According to the Wall Street Journal, there is a black gun market where criminals are easily acquiring rifle parts and then assembling them for buyers willing to pay big money for these undocumented weapons.

“Axel Galvez had a deal: $7,500 for five untraceable semiautomatic rifles. And he had a buyer: a felon who planned to ship them overseas. Now, he just needed weapons that would be invisible to regulators,” writes Wall Street Journal. “To avoid background checks, Mr. Galvez bought rifle parts, then assembled the five guns at the Los Angeles machine shop where he worked. He offered to build his buyer 100 more for $130,000.”

These guns are built without background checks and serial numbers, making it almost impossible for these weapons to be traced by police. Hence, the name “ghost guns.”

“There is a loophole under federal law that allows an individual to make a firearm,” said Justin Lee, a federal prosecutor in Sacramento. “That loophole only extends to that person. The person breaks the law as soon as they are transferring that firearm.”

It is also difficult to estimate the number of these guns that are out there.

So far, authorities have seized them in mostly California, where the stricter laws on assault weapons make it challenging for buyers to get these guns. They have also been found in New York, Texas, Arizona, and Maryland.

Ghost guns have been used in several recent crimes.

“Ghost guns have been in the spotlight since a Northern California man, who was prohibited from possessing firearms because of a restraining order, killed five people in a November rampage using semiautomatic rifles that he made himself, police say. Other gunmen have employed the weapons as well. In 2016, a Baltimore man fired at police with a homemade AR-15, and Santa Monica shooter John Zawahri used a ghost gun in his shooting spree that killed five in 2013,” writes WSJ.

These guns are especially attractive to individuals who have been legally barred from owning a gun due to committing a crime.

“For example, the gunman who killed his wife and four other people last month in Tehama County in Northern California, and shot into a locked school, did so with one or more ghost guns, officials said,” writes the Register-Guard. “Kevin Neal previously had been ordered to surrender all his guns because of a restraining order issued after he was charged with assaulting two women. So he availed himself of one of the hundreds of online sites selling ghost guns.”

Unfortunately, the ghost gun black market is growing in popularity.

“It went from being a niche group of people that were into the gun culture that were the ones making them for themselves,” said Graham Barlowe, an agent in Sacramento, California where 250 ghost guns were seized in an undercover sting. “Now, they’ve become so commonplace we’re buying them from 17-year-old gang-members on the street.”

The market is thriving partly due to the increase of online retailers. There is even a website called ghostguns.com with parts kits available for purchase.

Not to mention, there are abundant how-to YouTube videos giving instructions on building firearms.

So what does this mean for gun laws? Will pro-gun and gun control supporters be able to come to an agreement to address this issue?

“The California State Legislature passed a bill in 2016 that would have defined unfinished receivers as firearms requiring background checks. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the legislation, saying the wording of the bill was vague and could have unintended consequences, but he signed a separate law that will make California the first state to require anyone who owns a firearm without a serial number to apply for one by 2019. The National Rifle Association opposed the legislation,” writes WSJ.

Author’s note: Also, how does this impact the Second Amendment, which is “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms?” Should it instead “be the right to keep and bear arms only with a serial number?” These individuals need especially tough prosecution to detour more from buying and selling these weapons.

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