Untraceable rifles called “ghost guns” are appearing as a black market must have according to The Wall Street Journal‘s Zusha Elinson. Guns with no serial numbers and no chain of ownership are turning up more and more. The guns are most prevalent in California, where firearms restrictions are some of the strictest in the country. Elinson writes:
Graham Barlowe, resident agent in charge at the Sacramento, Calif., ATF field office, said the weapons are “a huge problem in my area.”
About 250 ghost guns were seized or purchased in undercover buys by his Sacramento agents in 2017, he said. While statistics from the previous year weren’t available, Mr. Barlowe noted that his office has seen a rise in the number of busts. The ATF doesn’t keep track of ghost gun seizures nationwide.
“It went from being a niche group of people that were into the gun culture that were the ones making them for themselves,” said Mr. Barlowe. “Now, they’ve become so commonplace we’re buying them from 17-year-old gang-members on the street.”
The starting point for building a ghost gun is an “unfinished receiver,” a metal or polymer piece that houses the firing mechanism. It can be purchased online without a background check, because the ATF doesn’t classify the part as a firearm.
Buyers can finish the receiver with a drill press or a computerized metal-cutting machine and then add the remaining pieces, all of which are readily available online. Some gun parts can also be made using 3-D printers.
A finished receiver is considered a firearm by the ATF.
“There is a loophole under federal law that allows an individual to make a firearm,” said Justin Lee, a federal prosecutor in Sacramento who has handled several ghost gun cases. “That loophole only extends to that person. The person breaks the law as soon as they are transferring that firearm.”
Mr. Galvez, the Los Angeles machinist, now faces up to 10 years in federal prison. His attorney, Lawrence Strauss, said his client wasn’t any sort of illicit gun trafficker and “was just looking for a way to make extra money.”
The prevalence of online retailers and YouTube instructional videos has given ghost guns a boost, according to Mr. Barlowe. He said illicit gun dealers can buy parts for an AR-15 style rifle for about $700, put in a few hours of sweat equity, and sell it on the street for $1,000 to $2,000.
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