Washington needs to address the rising tide of ‘ghost guns’

Federal firearm regulators recently met with gun industry representatives to discuss weapons that can be made from parts purchased online, called “ghost guns.” These firearms, manufactured without a serial number, are virtually untraceable — and for that reason, increasingly prevalent. The meeting is an encouraging sign that the Biden administration may be ready to act on one of the most significant emerging threats to public safety in America. 

Just how big a threat? In February, Los Angeles law enforcement officials arrested a suspect who allegedly was manufacturing ghost guns, including high-capacity rifles, and selling them to gang members. Months earlier, a convicted felon in neighboring Compton ambushed Sheriff’s deputies sitting in their car, shooting them in the face and head with a ghost gun.

In recent years, more than four in ten firearms recovered in Los Angeles area criminal investigations have been ghost guns. This is part of a frightening national trend. According to federal officials, 10,000 ghost guns were recovered throughout the nation in 2019.

The rise in these untraceable guns contributes to the recent surge in shootings on L.A.’s streets; indeed, it fuels an increase in gun violence in major cities across America. That’s why my office and Everytown Law, part of Everytown for Gun Safety, have filed a lawsuit against a leading manufacturer of ghost gun components, which made the components for more than 700 of the ghost guns recovered by the LAPD in 2020 alone.

Though cities are doing what we can, the tide of ghost guns is a symptom of the problem underlying so many facets of our gun violence crisis: inaction from Washington.

Federal law requires gun stores and other commercial firearm sellers to conduct background checks before selling a gun, and it prohibits them from selling guns without serial numbers. Ghost gun kit and component sellers are sidestepping these crucial requirements, selling nearly complete guns without a background check or a serial number. In most cases, they’ve shipped these products right to a customer’s doorstep after a few clicks on a website.

Despite how easy it is to assemble these components into a gun — in some cases, it takes less than 30 minutes — the companies flooding cities with ghost gun components are hoping that federal regulators won’t charge them with breaking the law.

Those hopes have largely been fulfilled. Despite growing awareness of the problem, for example, President Trump’s administration refused to act, leaving cities on our own to deal with this growing public safety threat. That’s a daunting challenge as these untraceable guns are fast becoming the weapons of choice for criminals.

We need to grapple with this menace at its roots. Fortunately, for the first time in years, we have national leaders ready to act. Even as Congress is moving forward on long overdue gun violence prevention measures like universal background checks, the White House has made clear it is considering executive action to address the growing ghost guns problem.

President Biden, who acknowledged the need to take on the ghost gun problem during his campaign, should direct the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to reconsider its mistaken position that federal gun laws do not apply to the core components of firearms, including what are called the receivers or frames. A new rule from ATF could address the problem of unserialized, no-background-check ghost guns at its source — and enable ATF agents to exercise their nationwide regulatory and criminal authority against any ghost gun sellers that refuse to comply.

Cities are used to fighting rising gun violence on our own, and my office will continue to do all we can to keep Angelenos safe. This includes continuing to focus upstream in the supply chain, as we’re doing through our lawsuit.

But as the frequent recoveries of ghost guns from our streets make clear, every month that passes without federal action on all facets of the escalating gun violence plaguing urban America — including on ghost guns — leaves our residents less safe.

It’s encouraging to finally have leaders in Washington committed to doing their part. We’re counting on them now to follow through.

Mike Feuer is the Los Angeles City Attorney and Co-Chair of Prosecutors Against Gun Violence, a nonpartisan coalition of prosecutors serving more than 60 million Americans in 24 states.

Tags Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives California crime rate Donald Trump Everytown for Gun Safety Firearms ghost gun Gun crimes gun laws Gun violence in the United States Homemade firearm Joe Biden Los Angeles weapons

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