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Alleged Ghost Guns Rings in Philadelphia Highlights Need for Federal Solution to Growing Tide of Untraceable Guns

March 9, 2021

On Sunday, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner announced the arrest of four individuals who manufactured and sold untraceable guns, frequently called “ghost guns,” in Philadelphia. Unfinished frames and receivers are the core building blocks for untraceable ghost guns, but the ATF has not to date regulated unfinished frames and receivers that are easily converted in operational firearms, so the building blocks can be acquired without a background check and the ghost guns created with these building blocks do not have serial numbers and cannot be traced.

These allegations illustrate the threat posed by ghost guns and the urgent need for federal action. The action in Philadelphia comes as cities across the country see an increase in ghost gun recoveries by local law enforcement. In Philadelphia alone, 99 ghost guns were recovered in all of 2020, while more than 80 ghost guns have been confiscated by law enforcement this year were untraceable, according to WHYY. In 2019, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro declared that the building blocks for ghost guns are considered firearms under Pennsylvania law. This session, Pennsylvania legislators, such as Representative Mike Zabel, and Senators Hughes and Fontana are advocating for bills that further regulate ghost guns, and address this growing problem at the state level.

Philadelphia is not alone in seeing a surge of untraceable, undetectable weapons. Last month, Los Angeles city attorney Mike Feuer and Everytown Law, the litigation arm of Everytown for Gun Safety, announced a lawsuit against the Nevada-based Polymer80—exactly the make of ghost guns confiscated in Philadelphia this past weekend. In line with a nationwide increase, in recent years, ghost guns have represented over 40% of firearms recovered in Los Angeles area crime scene investigations, with over 700 of the ghost guns LAPD recovered in 2020 composed of Polymer80 parts.

As cities have made clear amid a lawsuit against ATF seeking regulation of ghost guns, untraceable guns are being recovered in cities across the country in exponentially increasing numbers.

The surge in untraceable ghost guns is a problem that federal regulators can solve, but because they haven’t yet, cities are left to deal with the consequences. The current lack of regulation and enforcement enables gun traffickers and people who are prohibited from owning firearms, like minors, convicted domestic abusers and those with violent criminal histories, to acquire all the parts necessary to build an untraceable firearm with no background check.

Right now, the Biden-Harris administration can take action on the rising threat of ghost guns and support local officials and keep these untraceable guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them. With executive action, the administration can shut down the no-questions-asked marketplace for ghost gun parts and kits by directing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to ensure the background check system covers all firearms, including the core parts and kits used to build untraceable ghost guns.

If you have any questions about ghost guns and what local, state and federal lawmakers can do to get them off the streets, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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