‘Ghost’ guns are a gift to criminals. It’s time to ban them

Without the ability to track the chain of custody, law enforcement will have a much harder time solving gun crimes. That’s unacceptable at a time when gun violence is plaguing so many Illinois communities.

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“Ghost guns” are on display at the headquarters of the San Francisco Police Department in 2019. A bill in the Illinois Legislature would regulate them as they proliferate across the country.


Self-built “ghost guns” are a growing threat to Illinois communities. Before the Legislature ends its abbreviated session on April 8, it should ban them.

Ghost guns are firearms purchasers assemble themselves without serial numbers, making them easy to obtain and hard to trace. Some are “printed” on 3-D printers and include no metal, allowing owners to carry them through metal detectors undetected.

It’s just too easy, and too life-threatening.

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Ghost gun assembly is typically simple — the guns are shipped disassembled just enough to get around the law — and the resulting firearms are well-made. They look and operate just like traditional guns, whether they are handguns or assault weapons. And they are every bit as deadly.

Gun manufacturers and importers are required to put on guns serial numbers and markings that identify manufacturer or importer, make, model and caliber. If a gun has been recovered at a crime scene, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives can trace it to the person who originally bought it. Although the original purchaser might no longer own the gun, it helps the ATF and law enforcement agencies track the guns, possibly all the way to the person who used it in a crime. In 2017, the ATF traced more than 408,000 firearms.

It’s an important way to track down gun criminals.

Without the ability to track the chain of custody, law enforcement will have a much harder time solving gun crimes. That’s unacceptable at a time when gun violence is plaguing so many Illinois communities.

Last week, state Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Chicago, introduced a bill to make the transfer, purchase, manufacturing, importation or possession of ghost guns illegal. The bill was endorsed by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. Ten other states and the District of Columbia already have laws to stop the proliferation of ghost guns. Illinois should join them.

Ghost guns are a growing threat. Even individuals who are barred from buying guns can order an easy-to-assemble ghost gun online, using nothing more than a shipping address and payment information, or they can print a less durable one with a 3-D printer. The Giffords Law Center says a 3-D printed assault rifle can fire over 600 rounds, three times the number fired in Florida’s 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, which left 49 dead and 53 wounded. The code for printing up a gun is posted on the internet.

Because there is no limit on how many ghost guns an individual can buy, they can be assembled in mass and sold to others, including criminals. Ownership can be passed from one person to another without a trace.

Young people can order them on a phone without needing an Illinois Firearm Owners Identification Card. That means there is no need for a background check. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence says ghost guns are intentionally marketed to people who want to avoid background checks or who are gun traffickers.

Police say ghost guns are a growing problem. Last year, they confiscated 455 ghost guns in Chicago. In 2019, law enforcement agencies recovered 10,000 ghost guns nationwide. In 2020, 41% of the ATF’s cases in Los Angeles were ghost guns.

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Ghost guns also are becoming the weapons of choice for domestic terrorists, gun safety activists say. Criminals who turn to ghost guns can get around the entire system of federal and state gun laws,

On the federal level, President Joe Biden has announced an executive order to regulate ghost guns. Public comment ended in August, but the rule-making process is dragging along slowly, and even when the rule is finally in place, it can be undone by a future president.

Illinois should not sit by in the face of a new deadly threat. It’s time to send ghost guns on a one-way trip to the graveyard.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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