Illinois Democrats join Biden in taking aim at specter of elusive ‘ghost guns’

The Illinois measure — which is on its way to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk — requires all firearms, including 3D printed guns, to have serial numbers, which would effectively ban ghost guns. It’s the lack of those identifying numbers that has made the guns undetectable.

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A ghost gun is displayed in the Rose Garden of the White House in April.

A ghost gun is displayed before the start of an event about gun violence in the Rose Garden of the White House on Monday.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Illinois is poised to become the first state in the Midwest to ban “ghost guns,” as Democrats respond to election-year pressure to curb violent crime and President Joe Biden wages a national war on the “do-it-yourself” firearms.

Holding up a ghost gun in the White House Rose Garden on Monday and warning that “anyone” can make a gun, Biden said “a domestic abuser can go from a gun kit to a gun in as little as 30 minutes.”

Sitting in the audience was Chicago Police Supt. David Brown, whose department is fighting its own battle against the easy-to-assemble but hard-to-trace firearms.

Biden and the U.S Justice Department announced a rule that makes it illegal for businesses to manufacture the gun kits without a serial number and for licensed gun dealers to sell them without a background check.

The federal action comes just days after Illinois Democrats — with no GOP votes — passed legislation to outlaw ghost guns in the waning hours of the legislative session late last week.

The Illinois measure — which was sponsored by state Sen. Jacqueline Collins, D-Chicago, and State Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Chicago — requires all firearms, including 3D printed guns, to have serial numbers, which would effectively ban ghost guns. It’s the lack of those identifying numbers that has made the guns undetectable.

Felons who can’t legally buy firearms have gravitated to ghost guns, according to police officials across the country — including in Illinois.

President Joe Biden holds pieces of a 9mm pistol as he speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on Monday.

President Joe Biden holds pieces of a 9mm pistol as he speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on Monday.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

In Chicago, 72 ghost guns were recovered by Chicago police officers in 2019. That rose to 130 ghost guns in 2020 and 458 last year. So far this year, officers have recovered at least 166 of the guns, according to police figures obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

By comparison, Chicago Police recovered more than 12,000 guns of all types last year, including some that were gathered during gun turn-ins, police officials say.

Source: Chicago Police Department

Source: Chicago Police Department

Chicago Sun-Times graphic.

In January, Brown addressed the proliferation of ghost guns, saying his officers had recovered “two polymer molds that could produce 80 guns.”

“Imagine if these guns had hit the streets of Chicago,” Chicago’s top cop said in a tweet.

Under the Illinois bill, people who own ghost gun kits would have to get them stamped with serial numbers within 180 days of the effective date of the law, and anyone with a firearm or gun kit without a serial number found in violation of the law would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor for a first violation. A second violation would be a Class 3 felony.

State Sen. Jacqueline Collins, sponsor of the bill targeting ghost guns, attends an event on the Near North Side last year.

State Sen. Jacqueline Collins, sponsor of the bill targeting ghost guns, attends an event on the Near North Side last year.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

That measure, on its way to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk, was supported by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and national gun safety groups.

The bill passed the state Senate 31-19 late Friday and 66-36 in the House hours later, with all Republicans lawmakers who were present in both chambers voting against it or not voting at all.

Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin was one of six GOP House members who did not vote. A spokesperson said Republicans voted no over “concerns about constitutionality.”

Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin speaks on the House floor last year.

Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin speaks on the House floor last year.

BlueRoomStream

Illinois State Rifle Association executive director Richard Pearson told the Sun-Times the legislation left “some gaps” and was unnecessary. He said he wouldn’t rule out a future lawsuit about the bill.

“It’s a political bill. That’s what that is, but it’ll get lots of law-abiding citizens in trouble,” Pearson said. “You think the gangbangers care if they get arrested for having those guns? They let them go anyway.”

Democrats are under fire during a heated midterm election year in which Republicans are blaming the majority party for rising crime during the pandemic and what the GOP considers too lenient sentencing options.

Pritzker was under considerable pressure to pass crime-fighting legislation during the shortened legislative session as his GOP rivals blame his policies for an uptick in violence.

The state Senate sponsor of the bill, Collins is running in a crowded primary race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., and House sponsor Buckner is considering a run for Chicago mayor.

State Rep. Kam Buckner speaks at a newsconference at Navy Pier in September.

State Rep. Kam Buckner speaks at a newsconference at Navy Pier in September.

Mark Capapas/Sun-Times file

While other states have banned ghost guns, Illinois would become the only Midwestern state to do so.

In Maryland, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan decided not to veto a ghost gun measure last week, making the East Coast state the 11th in the nation to enact a law that addresses the do-it-yourself guns.

Other cities also have seen a rise in ghost guns. In San Diego, for instance, the police department recovered about 400 ghost guns in the first 10 months of 2021, about double the total of all of 2020, according to a New York Times report.

About 10,000 ghost guns were recovered by law-enforcement agencies across the country in 2019, according to a U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives affidavit for a warrant to search a Nevada company that was selling gun-kit components.

And last year, about 20,000 suspected ghost guns were recovered by law enforcement agencies in criminal investigations — a ten-fold increase from 2016, according to a White House statement issued Monday.

A 9mm pistol build kit with a commercial slide and barrel with a polymer frame is displayed during an event in the Rose Garden of the White House on Monday.

A 9mm pistol build kit with a commercial slide and barrel with a polymer frame is displayed during an event in the Rose Garden of the White House on Monday.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

The Justice Department’s final rule bans the business of manufacturing what the White House called the most accessible ghost guns — “buy-build-shoot” kits that can be found online or a store without a background check.

The rule qualifies the kits as firearms under the Gun Control Act and the manufacturers of the kits must become licensed and include serial numbers on the kits’ frame or receivers, the White House said.

The new Justice Department rule also will prohibit licensed gun dealers from destroying purchase records after 20 years, which they were previously allowed to do.

In his March 1 State of the Union address, Biden said, “I will keep doing everything in my power to crack down on gun trafficking and ghost guns you can buy online and make at home.”

Last month, the National Rifle Association bashed the proposed ghost-gun rule, tweeting that it would “do nothing to address violent crime while further burdening law-abiding gun owners and the lawful firearm industry with overbroad regulations.”

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