During his first address to a joint session of Congress Wednesday night, President Joe Biden reiterated his administration’s efforts to ban “ghost guns.”
Earlier this month, Biden directed the Department of Justice to propose a rule within 30 days to stop the proliferation of these types of guns, a sort of untraceable weapon often made from a kit that currently does not require a background check.
“More than two weeks ago in the Rose Garden, surrounded by some of the bravest people I know – the survivors and families who lost loved ones to gun violence – I laid out several steps the Department of Justice is taking to end this epidemic. One of them is banning so-called ‘ghost guns,'” Biden said in his address Wednesday night.
“The parts have no serial numbers, so when they show up at a crime scene, they can’t be traced,” Biden said in his speech. “The buyers of ghost gun kits aren’t required to pass a background check. Anyone from a criminal to a terrorist could buy this kit and, in as little as 30 minutes, put together a lethal weapon. But not anymore.
“I will do everything in my power to protect the American people from this epidemic of gun violence. But it’s time for Congress to behave as nicely.”
Gun-control advocates have long pointed to “ghost guns” as problematic and a way for someone to obtain a firearm without having to go through the checks they would otherwise face.
“Ghost gun firms have been exploiting the best way that the federal authorities defines ‘firearms’ to argue that the merchandise they’re promoting aren’t guns and keep away from complying with rules like background checks and tracing necessities,” stated David Pucino, a senior legal professional on the gun violence prevention group Giffords.
“It needs to be no shock we’re seeing increasingly of those guns used in crimes. The President directing the Justice Department to deal with this downside ought to go a great distance in stopping the proliferation of those unregulated, lethal guns.”
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Here’s what to know about “ghost guns”:
What are ‘ghost guns’?
“Ghost guns” are guns without serial numbers that are largely untraceable and do not require the typical background checks for purchase.
Also called “package guns” or “80% guns,” they are often purchased in a kit that allows the buyer to assemble the gun at home.
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“You have untraceable, unserialized firearms that exist fully exterior of the regulatory scheme of federal and state regulation,” Nick Suplina, managing director for law and policy at gun violence group Everytown, told USA TODAY. “People who’re prohibited from proudly owning firearms underneath federal or state regulation have prepared entry to make their very own untraceable firearms, and that is very harmful.”
Giffords known as “ghost guns” “harmful” and said they can also be made from mostly plastic parts and 3D printers.
Usually, gunmakers or importers affix a serial number and markings to traditionally manufactured firearms that identify the manufacturer or importer, make, model and caliber, the center said.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives can then trace these guns to their first retail purchaser when investigating a crime.
Those who make “ghost guns” and parts, however, can say they are not selling an actual firearm and are not required to use a serial number under federal law, which makes the chain of custody nearly impossible to track, Giffords said.
Pucino said the lack of a required background check got “ghost guns” can also make it easier for people who are otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm to obtain one.
Have ‘ghost guns’ been used in crimes before?
According to Giffords, “ghost guns” are increasingly part of illegal gun trafficking rings.
Brady, one other gun violence advocacy group, says gross sales and using “ghost guns” have elevated in current years. The group cited a report from KABC-TV in which Carlos A. Canino, the Special Agent in cost of the ATF Los Angeles Field Division, stated in 2020 that “41%, so virtually half our instances we’re coming throughout are these ‘ghost guns.'”
“Ghost guns” have additionally been used in not less than three mass shootings in current years: A 2013 shooting in Santa Monica, California, that left 5 folks useless, a 2017 shooting in Tehama County, California, that left 4 folks useless and a 2019 shooting in Santa Clarita, California, that left two college students at Saugus High School useless.
How are ‘ghost guns’ regulated?
The ATF determines whether a product is a firearm that requires a background check and serial number or if it is an unfinished kit and requires no check or serial number.
Suplina said the federal government considers frames or receivers – which house other parts, including the firing mechanism – the part of the gun that makes it a firearm and requires a serial number and background check to purchase. If a receiver is considered unfinished under federal purview, it is not regulated like a firearm, he said.
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The Undetectable Firearms Act requires, however, that guns are detectable by metal detectors “after removing of grips, shares and magazines” and that X-rays can detect all major components, including “the barrel, the slide or cylinder, or the body or receiver.”
However, according to Giffords, a person could make a gun with largely plastic parts and some metal parts that are easily removable before entering a security area.
Eight states and the District of Columbia have enacted some sort of law addressing “ghost guns,” Giffords reports.
What will the Biden executive orders on guns do?
Biden’s order on “ghost guns” will require the Justice Department within 30 days to “challenge a proposed rule to assist cease the proliferation of ‘ghost guns,'” the White House says.
Pucino praised the action as being able to “reduce off the availability of untraceable firearms at its supply.”
The five other actions Biden plans to take, according to the White House, include:
- Requiring the Justice Department to propose a new rule that would subject pistols with stabilizing braces to the requirements of the National Firearms Act.
- Publishing a model of “purple flag” law for states, which allow courts to temporarily bar people deemed to be a risk to themselves or others from having a firearm.
- Directing five federal agencies to make changes to the 26 different programs to direct vital support to community violence intervention programs.
- Requiring the Justice Department to issue an annual report on firearms trafficking.
- Nominating David Chipman at the head of the ATF.
Contributing: Courtney Subramanian
Follow USA TODAY’s Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller