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Our View: ATF or Congress should act to declare ‘ghost guns’ firearms requiring background checks

Our View: ATF or Congress should act to declare ‘ghost guns’ firearms requiring background checks

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Despite state and national laws aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of convicted felons and individuals with identified mental issues, truly questionable thinking on the part of the powers that be at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Department of Justice, to which ATF officials report, allows what the ATF terms hunks of metal or polymer to be transformed into real guns.

These hunks of metal and polymer are sold in kits that, with relatively little work on the part of the owner, are transformed into real guns. They are referred to as “ghost guns” because they are not marked with a manufacturer’s serial number and do not require a background check prior to purchase.

The frame of handguns and the receiver or action of rifles and shotguns created by licensed manufacturers must be marked with a unique serial number. Those purchasing such a firearm must complete a background check designed to keep guns out of the hands of those who, by law, should not have them.

Since the ghost guns are not finished by the company manufacturing them, instead requiring the final manufacturing operations to be completed by the buyer, they are not considered firearms under federal law.

CBS News reported that YouTube videos provide step-by-step instructions on how to transform what the ATF terms hunks of metal or polymer into a real, functioning firearm.

An 18-month investigation by CBS News found the parts needed to fabricate guns were widely available across the country in stores and online. They can be delivered to your door — again, without any background check — much as you would order a meal delivered to your home during the coronavirus pandemic.

One such kit-assembled ghost gun, a .45 semi-automatic, was used by a 16-year-old to kill two fellow students, wound three others and the shooter himself in a mass shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California, last year. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, whose department investigated the Saugus High School shooting, said the number of ghost guns turning up in Los Angeles investigations has increased by 50% over the last year.

Without a serial number or paperwork, the ghost guns are difficult for law enforcement to trace or track.

Thomas Chittum, the ATF’s assistant director of operations, told CBS News he has no idea how many of the ghost guns are on the street.

“They still represent a minority of the firearms that are being used in crimes,” Chittum said. “But we do see that they’re increasing significantly and rapidly.”

CBS News interviewed a California dealer who’s been selling ghost gun parts for 10 years who said between 300,000 and 500,000 individual units have passed through his hand over the past decade. Nationwide, he estimated millions have been created and sold.

California is phasing in a law to regulate ghost gun parts like regular firearms. Three other states and the District of Columbia have passed their own restrictions.

Villanueva, the Los Angeles County sheriff, called for national laws regulating the kits, noting that California residents can, with no national law, go to another state and purchase a kit.

Thomas Brandon, the former acting director of the ATF who retired last spring, said he recommended to his bosses at the Department of Justice that they reclassify certain ghost gun kits as firearms because of the ease in putting them together.

No such action has been taken, and ATF officials said it would be inappropriate to comment on internal discussions.

If the ATF and Justice Department do not take action to classify the ghost guns as firearms subject to background checks prior to purchase, Congress should.

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