‘Ghost Guns’ Increase Threat of Right-Wing Violence: Researcher

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"American Patriot" rally, Grand Rapids, MI., May 2020. Photo by Jlohn Rothwell via Flickr

Untraceable “ghost guns” that can be manufactured in bulk at home using machines obtainable through the Internet are emerging as favored weapons of violent extremists, warns a leading firearms researcher.

At least three assaults by an adherent of the right-wing Boogaloo group on law enforcement officers in California, with one fatality, allegedly involved the use of home-made clandestine weaponry; and the men arrested last October in a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer were found with ghost guns in their possession, writes Garen J. Wintemute of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California-Davis.

“The potential for large-scale, clandestine firearm manufacture in support of armed extremist groups is cause for great concern,” Wintemute writes in a commentary posted this week in the Injury Epidemiology journal.

“The ability to produce their own undocumented firearms or acquire them readily from others increases the threat they pose to the nation’s health and security.”

According to Wintemute, a computer-controlled milling machine about the size of a desktop laser printer, which allows a buyer “to manufacture firearms with comfort and ease, in the privacy of (their) home,” is available for sale on the Internet for $2,100.

The machine can produce finished lower receivers for AR-type rifles or frames for Glock-type pistols at the rate of one every 35 minutes.

Receiver blanks that do not meet the definition of a “firearm” are not subject to regulation under the Gun Control Act (GCA). In the top photo above, the receiver has a solid, un-machined fire-control cavity area with no holes or dimples for the selector, trigger, or hammer pins; the middle photo show a receiver with a solid, un-machined fire-control cavity area. Neither meets the GCA definition of a firearm. The receiver in the bottom photo has a partially machined fire-control cavity and does meet the GCA definition of a firearm. (Courtesy ATF)


Home manufacturing of firearms is legal under current federal law, and is a growing segment of the firearm industry, but Wintemute notes that there is no requirement to have serial numbers or other identifiers on home-produced weapons―one of several loopholes he says authorities need to close in order to monitor the use and production of lethal weaponry.

“The firearm industry operates under a regulatory structure that was largely set in place more than 50 years ago,” he wrote. “Time and technology have moved on.”

Wintemute’s recommendations include:

      • Federal and state bans on unlicensed manufacture of firearms;
      • Extending current purchase restrictions on weaponry to precursor parts;
      • Unique serial numbers for all precursor parts;
      • Owners of existing homemade weapons or precursor parts should register them within a fixed period or face penalties.

Although there are no reliable estimates of the number of ghost guns now in circulation, Wintemute cites a Colorado researcher who estimated that “hundreds of thousands” of unfinished receivers were sold by 2017.

In December, a filing from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) disclosed that law enforcement agencies recovered some 10,000 ghost guns in 2019. ATF also reported that 30 percent of the firearms recovered in California trafficking investigations had no serial numbers―although that figure may also include stolen guns where serial numbers had been defaced or erased.

Additional reading: How Do We Stop the Parade of Gun Deaths?

The complete commentary can be downloaded here.

3 thoughts on “‘Ghost Guns’ Increase Threat of Right-Wing Violence: Researcher

  1. Regulation will not change things, it is already illegal for a Non Licensed individual to produce firearms for sale. If one looks at Brazil and the Philippines, both have a thriving illegal gun industry that can supply you with firearms ranging from a simple single shot shotgun to Select fires Machine guns; all made with basic tools in poor conditions. Here in the USA ANY auto shop has the tools to produce decent quality illegal firearms or you can buy them at Harbor Freight for less than a 500 dollars.
    Instead of going “We passed a law! We are doing something!!!!” lets get aggressive in enforcing the current ones!

  2. A horribly biased hit piece. You take at face value the subjective opinions of one guy who provides little evidence to support his contention; fails to seek out additional experts who could address alternative viewpoints; and does not discuss the clear constitutional/legislative/practical hurdles involved with Wintemute’s recommendations. One of the few things you got right is that home manufacture is a growing trend, which is clear evidence for its popularity and probable evidence for the concern of many for authoritarian moves like Wintemute’s recommendations.

  3. What about Left-Wing violence? Do the Antifa folks have a creed that only firearms with serial numbers are allowed to be used to destroy our communities? This article is hateful. It obviously is intended to perpetuates the narrative that all Republicans and conservatives are violent.

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