You’re About To Hear A Lot More About “Ghost Guns” — Here’s Why

Lydia Wang
·2 min read

When Joe Biden was inaugurated, he became the president with the most comprehensive gun control plan and background in U.S. history. On Thursday, he unveiled his first action against gun violence: tighter restrictions on homemade “ghost guns” that allow gun owners to sidestep actions including background checks. “This is not a partisan issue among the American people. This is a view by the American people as an American issue,” Biden said in his remarks. “And I’m willing to work with anyone to get these done. And it’s long past time that we act.”

But, what exactly are “ghost guns”? The term describes firearms that owners can make themselves using parts, kits, and instruction manuals. Sometimes, these kits include guns that are basically whole: According to Everytown for Gun Safety, unfinished frames and receivers are often marketed as “80%” finished, and according to a former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) special agent, they’re as easy to build as IKEA furniture.

What’s especially dangerous is that, because these kits and parts aren’t legally classified as guns, buyers aren’t obligated to undergo a background check. And because these aren’t sold as guns, they aren’t engraved or stamped with a serial number. This means that they’re completely untraceable, hence the “ghost” part of their name.

Biden wants “to see these kits treated as firearms” under the Gun Control Act, and will direct the Department of Justice to take action within 30 days. He didn’t outline exactly how this action will work but said that he wants manufacturers to add serial numbers to kits and run background checks on buyers.

In 2019, the ATF reported that around 30% of guns recovered in California didn’t have serial numbers. More than 2,500 ghost guns were linked to criminal cases from 2010 to 2020. “This is not just something for enthusiasts. This has become something for people that are actual practitioners of violence,” Graham Barlowe, an ATF agent, told The Trace.

Biden also outlined some of his other priorities, including enacting a nationwide “red flag” law. Under this legislation, a gun owner’s family can petition a court to have their firearms removed if they believe the owner poses a threat to people’s lives, or to their own. “We know red flag laws can have a significant effect in protecting women from domestic violence. And we know red flag laws can stop mass shooters before they can act out their violent plans,” he said. Studies have shown that these laws also help prevent deaths by suicide.

Finally, Biden also pushed Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, close the “Charleston” loophole, and pass new background check laws. “This is just a start,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

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