Ghost guns –– unserialized, untraceable homemade firearms that can be obtained without a background check –– are one of the fastest growing threats to public safety in the ever-worsening gun violence epidemic devastating communities across the country. They have become a weapon of choice for violent criminals, gun traffickers, and dangerous extremists.
Massachusetts has long been a national gun safety leader by passing strong laws that have contributed to the Commonwealth having one of the lowest rates of gun violence in the nation. State legislatures across the country have taken swift action by passing bills to combat this rising threat. Legislators in Massachusetts have the opportunity to build on their successful record and do the same this year.
Pending bills before the Legislature (H.2439 by Rep. Marjorie Decker and H.2491 by Rep. David Linsky) would address the dangers of ghost guns by ensuring that any homemade firearms are marked with unique serial numbers, prohibiting 3-D printed and undetectable firearms, and taking steps to ensure these weapons don’t wind up in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.
What other states have done to mitigate the threat of ghost guns:
In New York, The New York State Legislature passed two bills last week that would place strong, comprehensive regulations on the possession and sale of ghost guns. Both have been sent to Governor Cuomo for his signature.
- The Jose Webster Untraceable Firearms Act, and the Scott J. Beigel Unfinished Receiver Act, would generally prohibit the possession and sale of unserialized ghost guns and of unfinished frames and receivers, the building blocks used to make ghost guns, which are widely available online and can be purchased without a background check.
In Delaware, The Delaware General Assembly passed a bill this week pertaining to the manufacture and sale of ghost guns. The bill is heading to Governor Carney’s desk for signature.
- HB 125 would prohibit undetectable guns which are not identifiable by walk-through metal detectors, and also prohibit disguised guns which are fully functioning firearms that resemble everyday objects, like smart phones, lighters, canes, etc. The bill also prohibits anyone who is not a federally licensed firearms dealer from selling, transferring, or possessing an untraceable or unserialized firearm or firearm receiver. The bill would also prohibit unlicensed individuals from manufacturing or distributing firearms using a 3D printer, including 3D printing computer code.
In Nevada, Governor Sisolak signed into law last week a comprehensive bill strongly regulating ghost guns in the state. It was previously passed by both houses of the Nevada Legislature.
- AB 286 criminalizes the possession, sale, offer to sell, transfer, purchase, transport, receipt, manufacture, or cause to be manufactured of unfinished frames or receivers without serial numbers and unserialized firearms.
California, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, and Washington D.C. have all passed laws to regulate ghost guns in recent years as well.
What the ATF says about ghost guns:
Officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) recently estimated that, in 2019, approximately 10,000 ghost guns were recovered across the U.S. Due to pandemic-related panic-buying, ghost gun building blocks have been flying off the shelves. In fact, the first few weeks after the pandemic began, more than a dozen online ghost gun sellers reported shipping delays and depleted stock.
Recently, President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice, through the ATF, issued a proposed rule to stop the proliferation of deadly, untraceable ghost guns –– a move that Everytown first called for from the ATF in December 2019 and called for from the Biden Administration in December 2020. The proposed rule is now subject to a 90 day public comment period that will end on August 19, 2021.
Though this proposed rule is an important step to create nationwide regulations, much of the work of enforcing ghost gun prohibitions will fall to state and local law enforcement agencies. Since those agencies generally enforce state, not federal laws, the existence of strong state laws is vital to combating this growing public safety threat.