The term ghost guns — derived from the fact that these firearms are not serialized, are difficult to trace, and are often invisible to the monitoring and regulation of traditionally manufactured firearms — refers to a wide range of home-made or improvised firearms.
Assembled from parts, including those developed using 3D printing technology, or from kits that include unfinished parts (usually assembled by the recipient), ghost guns require the buyer to be competent only in basic machining in order for the gun to work.
In the United States, current federal firearms regulations do not require manufacturers of such parts or unfinished parts or those who assemble them to include serial numbers, because unassembled parts are not considered firearms. Therefore, ghost gun parts and kits can be purchased online, without being subject to most firearms regulations. Ghost guns present unique challenges to law enforcement agencies and make traditional investigative techniques less effective.
Concerns about the public safety risks posed by ghost guns are on the rise. The ease of transforming parts and kits into functional firearms without having to go through background checks has made these weapons more accessible and probably more common. In addition, because these kits are not currently regulated by federal law, buyers are not required to undergo a check of the finished parts or firearm.Among other features, it is worth noting:
- While ghost guns can be produced through a variety of methods, the most relevant to public safety are those produced using 3D printing.
- Ghost guns can be assembled quickly and in large numbers, creating new avenues for networks and weapons trafficking schemes.
- Ghost guns make it difficult or ineffective to investigate leads or track down firearms.
- Ghost guns do not have serial numbers or other identifiers that are commonly used during the investigation process.
- The number of ghost guns used in crimes increased substantially in 2020 for many U.S. law enforcement agencies. For example, between 2019 and 2020, ghost guns recovered by the Philadelphia and San Diego police departments increased by 163% and 172%, respectively. Likewise, the Prince George’s County Police Department saw a 252% increase in ghost guns recovered between 2019 and 2020.
- Recovered ghost guns should be identified as such and should be processed as much as possible.