Ghost gun

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A ghost gun is a firearm without serial numbers. The term is used by gun control advocates, gun rights advocates, law enforcement, and some in the firearm industry.[1][2][3][4] By making the gun themselves, owners may legally bypass background checks and registration regulations.[1][5] Under U.S. federal law, the creation and possession of ghost guns is permitted, but a license is required to manufacture firearms for sale or distribution.[6]


The lower receiver, which in the United States is the only part legally considered a "gun" (other components may be unregulated), can be completed from an "80% receiver", one which is 80% completed before being sold legally without background or identity checks. The remaining 20% of the work may then be done using common drill press or Dremel machine tools or available hand tools.[7][8] Companies sell kits including drill bits, stencils, and jigs to aid the process, but some proficiency with the equipment may be required.[1] More recently it has been possible to produce the receiver from scratch using plastic or more durable metal in a 3D printer, though the variety of materials and methods can create challenges in ensuring the resulting receiver is suitable for use.[1] More recently Defense Distributed introduced a CNC mill called the "Ghost Gunner" which is optimized for the purpose of carving the lower receiver from an aluminum unfinished receiver.[1]

Some ghost guns are AR-15 style firearms.[1] AR-15s are modular firearms and the serial number is applied to the lower receiver, which holds the trigger group.[1] Once an individual has an AR-15 lower receiver, they can assemble a complete weapon using widely available components, such as barrels, stocks, magazines, and upper receivers.[1] Other ghost guns include pistols and AK-47 style semi-automatic rifles.[9] The Philippines is a center of ghost gun production, especially .45 caliber semi-automatic pistols.[5]

Political issues[edit]

Due to their lack of serial numbers, tracing ghost guns used in crimes is much harder than tracing serialized weapons.[7] There are no manufacturer or sales records to check.[10] The difficulty means local law enforcement officers often do not even attempt traces of ghost guns.[10]

California, especially Sacramento, has been a hub of ghost gun production.[11] The ATF speculated in 2014 that there are tens of thousands of ghost guns in California alone.[10] Four noted crimes in California were committed with ghost guns: a murder-suicide involving college students in Walnut Creek, a shootout between hostage-taking bank robbers and Stockton police officers, a mass shooting at Santa Monica College in 2013 by a student who was prohibited from owning a gun, and a shooting spree at Rancho Tehama Reserve in 2017 by a man who was served a restraining order that barred him from possessing guns.[3][12][13][14]

Proponents of ghost guns include gun rights activists and anarchists.[15] They say that making weapons is the right of every American which maintains the privacy of gun owners.[10] Individuals have organized "build parties" where equipment and expertise are shared to help create ghost guns. Advocates say that ghost guns are used in crime rarely despite widespread ownership.[13] Gun rights advocates and law enforcement say that, because of the cost and effort needed to create ghost guns, criminals are more likely to use commercial weapons instead.[12]

Two U.S. shipping companies, Federal Express and United Parcel Service, have refused to transport Ghost Gunner branded computer numerical control (CNC) milling machines.[16]

Legal issues[edit]

United States federal law[edit]

Under U.S. federal law owning a ghost gun is allowed, assuming that no other impediments exist.[1] The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) officials characterize this as a loophole.[10] The U.S. State Department has sued to take computer files to control 3D-printers off the internet under the grounds their publication constituted export of a munition under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.[15] With a legal case pending United States Supreme Court action,[17][18] Defense Distributed removed the files, but the censored blueprints remain accessible via The Pirate Bay's "Physibles" section.[19][20] The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported in 2013 that it had seized hundreds of ghost guns, including a machine gun,[9] and unregistered silencers.[7] The FBI does not generally track the use of homemade firearms.[12] ATF agents say that ghost guns are sold at a $1,000 premium due to being untraceable.[21] According to the FBI, the popularity of ghost guns grew following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, which sparked fears of new gun control measures.[7]

In a 2014 raid of Ares Armor, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms confiscated 6,000 receiver blanks which they said were too close to finished units.[10] After a lawsuit, all but 18 of the seized guns were returned and placed for sale to purchasers in 47 states.[22] In a similar case, EG Armory of California was raided, but agreed to forfeit 3800 lower receivers without admission of any wrongdoing.[22] In Sacramento the owner of C&G Tool Inc. pled guilty to illegal manufacture of firearms. Prosecutors argued that he "advertised his shop as a place where people could make guns in 20 minutes by pressing a few buttons on a computerized machine", rejecting his position that buyers created their own guns.[9]

California state law[edit]

In 2014, California attempted to enact a law to require serial numbers on unfinished receivers and all other firearms, including antique guns,[23] but it was vetoed by the governor.[24] However, in 2016, it passed a measure requiring anyone planning to build a homemade firearm to obtain a serial number from the state (de facto registration) and pass a background check.[25]

New York State law[edit]

In 2015, during the state of New York's first prosecution for sale of ghost guns, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said it is "easy" for "criminals to make completely untraceable, military-grade firearms."[26]

Further reading[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Greenberg, Andy (June 3, 2015). "I Made an Untraceable AR-15 Ghost Gun in My Office And It Was Easy". Wired. Archived from the original on October 20, 2016. Retrieved October 17, 2016.
  2. ^ Steele, Chandra (October 1, 2014). "'Ghost Gunner' Makes Untraceable Guns Using a PC".
  3. ^ a b Melendez, Lyanne (August 4, 2015). "Walnut Creek Police Say 'Ghost Gun' Used In Murder-Suicide". KGO-TV San Francisco, ABC News. Archived from the original on October 20, 2016.
  4. ^ Lee, Henry K. (August 4, 2015). "Walnut Creek murder-suicide suspect used "ghost guns," police say". SFGATE.COM. Archived from the original on October 20, 2016. Retrieved October 17, 2016.
  5. ^ a b "GHOST GUNS". National Geographic. Archived from the original on October 20, 2016.
  6. ^ "Does an individual need a license to make a firearm for personal use? | Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives". Archived from the original on October 1, 2017. Retrieved October 3, 2017.
  7. ^ a b c d Sam Stanton; Denny Walsh (December 19, 2015). "California black market surges for ghost guns". Sacramento Bee.
  8. ^ Blackman, Josh (June 14, 2014). "The 1st Amendment, 2nd Amendment, And 3d Printed Guns". 81 Tennessee Law Review 479 (2014). p. 511. SSRN 2450663.
  9. ^ a b c "Illegal Firearm Maker Dr. Death Helped Create Untraceable Ghost Guns". CBS SF Bay Area. May 19, 2016. Archived from the original on October 20, 2016. Retrieved October 17, 2016.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Horwitz, Sara (May 13, 2014). "Unfinished receivers, a gun part that is sold separately, lets some get around the law". Washington Post. Archived from the original on October 20, 2016. Retrieved October 17, 2016.
  11. ^ "Sacramento At Center Of Untraceable 'Ghost Gun' Surge". CBS Sacramento. May 16, 2016. Archived from the original on October 20, 2016. Retrieved October 17, 2016.
  12. ^ a b c Hurd, Rick (August 12, 2016). "Homemade gun in Stanford student's murder-suicide spurs question on 'ghost guns'". The Mercury News. Archived from the original on October 20, 2016. Retrieved October 17, 2016.
  13. ^ a b Hurd, Rick (August 7, 2015). "Police Eye 'Ghost Gun' In Recent Slaying: With The Rise Of Homemade Firearms, Legislation Sought To Make It Easier To Trace Them". San Jose Mercury News. p. A1.
  14. ^ "Shooting rampage in California highlights "ghost guns" and their dangers". CBS News. November 16, 2017. Archived from the original on November 17, 2017. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
  15. ^ a b Moody, Oliver (June 25, 2016). "Anarchist will supply kit to build your own assault rifle". The Times [London (UK)].
  16. ^ Greenberg, Andy. "FedEx And UPS Refuse to Ship a Digital Mill That Can Make Untraceable Guns". Wired. Archived from the original on October 20, 2016. Retrieved October 17, 2016.
  17. ^ "Defense Distributed, of 3D-Printed Gun Fame, Requests Rehearing on Denial of Its Injunction Against the State Department for Crushing Its Free Speech Rights". 2016-11-07. Retrieved 2017-08-14.
  18. ^ "Can a Court Arbitrarily Conclude That 'Security' Overrules the First Amendment?". 2017-08-14. Retrieved 2017-08-14.
  19. ^ Ernesto (2013-05-10). "Pirate Bay Takes Over Distribution of Censored 3D Printable Gun". TorrentFreak.
  20. ^ "Physibles". The Pirate Bay.
  21. ^ Luery, Mike (October 15, 2015). "8 Northern California men indicted for making 'ghost guns': More than 230 illegal guns seized by federal agents". KCRA. Archived from the original on October 1, 2016. Retrieved October 17, 2016.
  22. ^ a b Chris Eger (2017-01-30). "Controversial once-seized 80 percent lowers now up for grabs (VIDEO)".
  23. ^ Eger, Chris (September 14, 2014). "California Ghost Gun Bill creeps onto governor's desk". Archived from the original on October 20, 2016. Retrieved October 17, 2016.
  24. ^ "California Governor Jerry Brown Vetoes "Ghost Gun" Ban, Signs Three Other Gun Control Bills". Archived from the original on October 1, 2017. Retrieved October 1, 2017.
  25. ^ Dobuzinski, Alex (July 23, 2016). "California governor signs bill to require registration of 'ghost guns'". Reuters. Archived from the original on October 20, 2016. Retrieved October 17, 2016.
  26. ^ Bolger, Timothy (June 26, 2015). "Long Island Trio Charged in NY's First Ghost Gun Bust". Long Island Press. Archived from the original on October 20, 2016. Retrieved October 17, 2016.