‘Ghost guns’ are seemingly flooding the country, being used in all sorts of horrible crimes from drug dealing to murder to robbery. The ghost gun earned its name because it bears no serial number, making it nearly impossible to trace.
Typically, the ghost gun is made at home, by an amateur gunsmith, using parts purchased in a state where they are legal. For many years (long before “ghost guns” was a term of art), people across the country combined gun parts to build guns as a hobby. Of course, even a self-made gun assembled in another state requires that it bear a serial number. This is typically done by a licensed firearms dealer or the ATF.
Are Ghost Guns Legal in New York State?
In New York State, ghost guns are not legal, and to combat them, the NY State Legislature has enacted several amendments on ghost gun kits to the Penal Law. Right now, possession of a major gun component is a class A misdemeanor. While this is not an overly aggressive step toward eliminating ghost guns, the real deterrent is how local prosecutors handle these cases compared to cases involving conventional, factory-made guns. It seems that as a result of recent news articles and stories (including a 60 Minutes episode , on NPR, and on NBC News) prosecutors see untraceable ghost guns as an easy target, so to speak, and treat the accused more harshly than in the typical illegal possession case. Keep in mind that every case is different and varying motives in making or possessing ghost guns must be considered. It’s one thing if you sell ghost guns to street gangs or use them while committing crimes and another thing to build them as a hobby and never even fire them.
Is the Increase of Ghost Guns a New Phenomenon? Not Really…
The sudden appearance of the ghost gun is not really so sudden. New York has long criminalized possession of a defaced weapon; that is where the serial number has been somehow removed. And ghost guns by another name have been around for many years. However, recently they have become more prevalent due to new technology that makes ghost gun assembly easy for anyone. They can be assembled using a kit or even a 3-D printer. All totally legal in many states. And that is concerning. For a first-time assembler, it should take about one hour or so to complete assembly. Experienced ghost gun-makers can put one together in about half that time.
How Simple Is It to Obtain Parts to Assemble a Ghost Gun?
The deceptive part about the ghost gun is not only the gun itself (although plenty of deception is involved) but the manner in which the assembler obtains the various parts needed. Even though it is illegal to possess the individual parts needed to assemble a ghost gun and to possess a gun without a serial number, gun dealers in the 46 states where it is legal to possess ghost guns and their component parts make no bones about shipping them to states where their possession is illegal. There-in lies the problem.
For example, I recently did a Google search to find a ghost gun dealer. I found many on the first try, easier than finding a pizzeria. I went to one of their websites to see what was for sale. There was an option to chat by instant message with a representative. I asked if they sold ghost guns and if they shipped them. The rep responded affirmatively. Then I asked them if they shipped to New York and got the same answer: yes. I then asked if they are legal in New York City and got yet another “yes.” I then told the dealer that he was wrong and probably committing fraud by lying to people who rely upon his/her representations. Hopefully the dealer did not have caller ID and was not in possession of his own ghost gun.
If prosecutors from the states where ghost guns are illegal are truly serious about reducing gun violence, they should be more aggressive in going after the out-of-state dealers both civilly and criminally. It may take federal prosecutors to pursue an interstate crime where a dealer in Pennsylvania, for example, ships a ghost gun kit or individual parts to New York. But the New York Attorney General can take civil action against ghost gun dealers in other states, especially those who defraud private New Yorkers who don’t know any better and are falsely led to believe that they are not breaking the law in New York.
If you’ve been accused of possessing ghost guns or their components, feel free to contact me.