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.
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.