If you listen to the anti-gun crowd, what they refer to as “illegal ghost guns” are one of the greatest scourges of Western Civilization.
But what — exactly — is a ghost gun, and is it really illegal?
Well, you may not be surprised to learn that such terminology is not entirely accurate … and maybe even a little dishonest.
Ghost Gun “Terminology”
A term like ghost gun is intended to inflame the senses. It is intended to conjure up images of an uncontrollable, undead entity; a ghoul that will steal into your home and murder someone.
What they are referring to as a ghost gun is none of those things.
Their so-called ghost gun is nothing more than a firearm a private citizen manufactured for his or her own use. But in order to understand what’s really going on here, it is important to understand the legal realities of gun manufacturing in this country.
It is 100 percent legal for a private citizen who is not barred from owning or possessing a
firearm to manufacture a firearm, creating a ghost gun, as long as the resultant firearm does not violate any state or federal laws. This means that as long as you are manufacturing a firearm that would be normally sold over the counter where you live with a standard 4473, and as long as it is legal for you to walk into a store and purchase such a firearm, you are not breaking the law. This has always been the case, and as long as you are not then selling those firearms, you are in the clear. (If you’re looking to manufacture anything more exotic than a regular old pistol, rifle or shotgun, you’d better have your federal NFA paperwork in order and your NFA taxes paid. If not, you’ll end up committing one of the only types of gun-related crime the feds DO, in fact, seem very interested in prosecuting … more on that in a moment.)
Criminals and Ghost Guns
What bothers anti-gun politicians is that, in their minds, this makes for a dangerous loophole: criminals manufacturing their own
firearms. But this is nothing new. The world’s criminals have a long tradition of manufacturing their own firearms. In fact, it seems that every favela in Brazil can churn out open-bolt, fully automatic machine pistols as easily as those little toy helicopters made out of empty beer cans. But at least in this country, if a criminal manufactures a firearm, he or she is breaking existing laws in doing so. Since the individual in question is already a felon, he or she is not allowed to possess a firearm in the first place. Nor is the person allowed to possess ammunition. (As we so often have to remind anti-gun persons, criminals don’t follow laws.) If the individual in question is NOT a felon but intends to build a bunch of firearms and then give or sell them to felons, he or she is also breaking the law. Being in the gun-selling business without being a licensed gun-seller is a crime, as is knowingly transferring a firearm to a prohibited person.
So as usual, the moral panic that anti-gun pols are inciting is not grounded in reality, but rather in political theatrics. We simply already have laws against everything that they claim they’re trying to prevent from happening.
80 Percent Kits
What’s most recently drawn their ire are companies like Polymer80, a company that will sell you what is called an “80 percent” kit. This is a piece of plastic that, as it ships, is not a firearm. As such, you do not need to pass a background check in order to purchase one. Since the bare, stripped frame of a pistol, shotgun or rifle is what the feds technically consider a firearm, a piece of plastic from which the end-user can manufacture a bare, stripped frame and the drill bits and jig with which to do so are the kit’s contents. (It’s “80 percent” completed … get it?) Once you manufacture
your firearm, you can then purchase whichever slide, trigger assembly, barrel, sights and other components you prefer.
An out-of-the-box P80 kit is not a firearm any more than an out-of-the-box automotive oil filter is a suppressor. Sure, that kit can be manufactured into a firearm and that oil filter can be manufactured into a suppressor. But we already have very strict laws about who may and may not do either of those things legally. (Oh, and if you think I’m erroneously referring to those “solvent trap” and “oil filter” kits sold in the shadier corners of the web? Think again. I’m talkin’ about a good
In order for that piece of plastic to become what you or I would consider a firearm, the buyer will need to carefully and precisely drill multiple holes in it and carefully and precisely machine parts off of it, and then install a fire-control group and the rest of the firearm’s innards. The BATFE, on the other hand, considers it a firearm as soon as a single hole is drilled into
it, and whoever so modifies such a kit is, by their math, manufacturing a firearm.
Which is already illegal for a felon to do, just as it is already illegal for me to manufacture a suppressor out of an oil filter unless I have filled out the proper federal paperwork and paid the requisite taxes.
What’s Really Going On With “Ghost” Guns?
This doesn’t mean we need to crack down on those “80 percent suppressors” your local hardware, auto-parts or farm store sells by the thousands every year. In what will quickly become a common refrain if you are new to pro-gun politics, it means we should start enforcing the laws that we already have before we implement any more new ones.
P80 kits are extremely popular with hobbyists. Building a firearm in this fashion is challenging and affords the builder a far deeper understanding of his or her personal firearm than you can get from even detail-stripping your Glock. But the anti-gunners’ brays for action on this have reached a fever pitch and for a very good reason.
Bear in mind, the anti-gun shot-callers — the few at the top who actually decide what the anti-gun narrative will be — aren’t stupid. It’s not like they don’t have access to information. THEY KNOW that almost all criminals get their guns either through theft (especially out of vehicles) or by buying firearms from other criminals who steal them or otherwise procure them illegally. THEY KNOW that for the most part, only law-abiding types fill out paperwork for firearms transactions. And THEY KNOW that even when gun dealers catch criminals lying on the 4473, those attempting to make illegal purchases are almost never punished.
The FBI, in reviewing instant background checks for firearm purchases, detected 112,000 lie-and-try crimes in fiscal 2017 alone, and federal investigators had names and addresses on the filled-out forms. How many were prosecuted? Twelve, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report.
Or maybe it is since those anti-gun shot-callers consider YOU — the law-abiding American citizen — to be “the wrong hands.”
What the Anti-Gun Crowd Wants
Radical fundamentalist anti-gunners demand that all such kits be serialized (they are currently not sold with serial numbers because they aren’t firearms) and that any such kit be only sold through a 4473. The thought of a free citizen manufacturing his or her own firearm is absolutely abhorrent to the radical fundamentalist anti-gun movement because the radical fundamentalist anti-gun movement’s end goal is confiscation of your firearms, ESPECIALLY your most easily carried firearms.
Were those higher-ups really as interested in reducing crime and saving innocent lives as they say they are, they would demand that every last piece of what they like to call “militarized police” equipment be driven, dragged and deployed into and all over the most violent parts of this country. The roughly 5 percent of the U.S. counties in which roughly 70 percent of this nation’s murders occur would be swarmed by armed cops, deputies, troopers and feds, who would root out and arrest those who are responsible for making large swaths of certain cities all but unlivable. They would demand that persons who commit violent crimes be locked up until they were no longer a danger to the law-abiding. And they would make it clear to everyone involved with violence-prone organizations that it’s time to find a new line of work or spend the rest of their lives in cages.
But we all know they will never demand such measures be taken. If we are to judge them by their actions, it would appear obvious that they aren’t interested in preventing crime committed with firearms in the least. After all, as mentioned above, even when someone is caught attempting to illegally purchase a firearm through a gun dealer, our legal system rarely even tries to punish them.
Were they even a little interested in combating what they like to call “gun crime,” we all know exactly how that would begin: by strictly enforcing laws that are already on the books. But that doesn’t actually accomplish what they are looking to get done. What they want is an excuse to catalog every single firearm in this nation. Then, as has happened everywhere else throughout the history of firearms registration, the confiscation phase of the operation can begin.
You, as a free citizen, being allowed to manufacture your own pistol or rifle without any government intrusion really throws a wrench in that plan. And they hate it.
UPDATE (March 7, 2023)
On March 3, Judge Reed O’Connor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction in VanDerStok v. Garland, hindering the ATF from enforcing its unfinished-gun-parts ban against Defense Distributed. The company is now not only exempt from the August 2022 ATF rule, but the preliminary injunction is also a blow to the legality of President Biden’s ban on “ghost guns.”
UPDATE (August 8, 2023)
On August 8, the Supreme Court granted the Biden administration’s July 27 request to reinstate (for now) the federal regulation aimed at reducing privately made guns.