Gun Rights

California Already Tried Biden's Ghost Gun Ban. It Didn't Work.

Two years after California banned them, the ATF was complaining that 41 percent of guns they came across in L.A. were the very guns already banned

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In President Joe Biden's address to Congress tonight, he repeated his intention to, in a manner still unspecified, ban so-called "ghost guns" made from kits that have no serial numbers and which you can buy without the background checks required in buying assembled guns from licensed dealers.

In a recent Reason TV video, Cody Wilson, a major entrepreneur in this currently legal space with Defense Distributed, guesses that the method Biden will go for is requiring serialization and background check for buying more of the component parts that go into making these finished homemade weapons.

This would mean that people dedicated to anonymously making homemade guns would have a harder time acquiring materials, yet the proliferation of home milling tools and software to guide them means that while Biden might be able to make home fabricating harder and more expensive (depending on the price of aluminum blocks), he cannot eliminate it. At a certain point, the feds could complicate the homemade scene such that people go back to just buying on the black market, which is stocked with non-homemade weapons.

California is ahead of Biden's game in banning ghost guns, having since 2018, as the Center for American Progress summed up, "require[d] all self-assembled firearms to contain a unique serial number from the California Department of Justice. Furthermore, owners of newly serialized firearms must provide identification information to the California Department of Justice. Under California law, self-assembled firearms cannot be sold or transferred."

At the same time, California has remained a place media calls on to scare you about the still growing threat of ghost guns, such as the claim made to ABC News last year by Carlos A. Canino, the special agent in charge of the A.T.F. Los Angeles field division, that "Forty-one percent, so almost half our cases we're coming across, are these 'ghost guns." Last year was two years after California banned them in just the way Biden plans to. Not a promising sign for the efficacy of his bold initiative.

Various cities have reported scary-sounding percentage increases in captured ghost guns in the past few years as the hobby has spread, though, again, one could eliminate every homemade gun and still have plenty of traditional firearms to go around for both crooks and peaceful citizens. As J.D. Tuccille and Jacob Sullum have argued at Reason, Biden's effort might make life harder on hobbyists and conceivably make punishing someone for a crime already committed easier in some marginal cases, but it can't possibly be expected to make a serious dent in overall gun violence. Likely its only real goal is to satisfy some of Biden's political constituents.

NEXT: If Biden Is Serious About Criminal Justice Reform, He Needs To Get Serious About Qualified Immunity

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  1. This is like the war on drugs. Just give it a little time and the results will come.

    1. Reason in 20 years: “War on Guns is racist, studies say”

      1. Actually, Reason (and many others) have been documenting the racist roots of the gun control movement for decades.

        1. Documenting? No. Sensationalizing? Yes.

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    2. I thought it was like socialism– they just didn’t do it right the last time.

  2. “Forty-one percent, so almost half our cases we’re coming across, are these ‘ghost guns.”

    So, ghost guns ARE heavily used in crimes?

    1. Yeah. I wonder what percentage of those guns are merely updated versions of a “zip gun?” I wonder about those stats. It seems, from my vantage point, that the most popular “ghost guns” are AR type rifles. That being said, the number of long guns used in crimes is a tiny portion of overall usage. But then, the ATF and the State of California would never misrepresent the facts, would they?

      1. It seems, from my vantage point, that the most popular “ghost guns” are AR type rifles.

        The big issue here is the free-and-easy conflation of hobbyist-makes-one-from-semi-prepared-parts guns and criminal-enterprise-sets-up-a-basement-production-line guns under the category “ghost guns”. The former tend to be long guns and are very rarely used in crimes, the latter are fairly common street guns.

        1. Yeah. I did consider that. But does ATF make the distinction? A breakdown of the actual type and usage of the “ghost guns” might be interesting. Barring that, I will revert to my position, drawn from the cover page in my first textbook on statistics:

          “There are lies, big lies, and statistics.”

        2. criminal-enterprise-sets-up-a-basement-production-line guns under the category “ghost guns”

          Why basement? Since your warehouses in Mexico, Columbia, or Peru where you used to house all the manpower and machinery used to process your weed is now empty, why not buy some plastic, put the machinery in the empty warehouse, and start cranking out glock parts?

      2. You’re right. Specifics here, and some help with their definitions, would be helpful.

        I’m wondering if most of the ‘crime-related’ guns recovered are things like Poly80 Glock frames?

        1. That would be my guess. With the jigs included with the P80 kits and the simplicity of the Glock design (especially if you buy a pre-assembled slide/barrel set), anyone with a moderate amount of skill with tools, a youtube account, and a credit/debit card can build what’s basically a 3rd generation glock with parts that can all be legally purchased online and delivered through the mail.

          Once they’re built, compliance with the requirement to register with DOJ for a serial number is entirely on the honor system.

          1. I’m mildly surprised they haven’t started insisting on serializing slides and barrels. It’s a bit tougher to make those, for now.

            Mail-ordering replacement parts is, IIRC, how a few recent mass shootings in Europe were helped along. Thinking of things like a German school shooting or two. Though I think that there, (again, IIRC) even the serialized frame could be ordered, and wasn’t illegal to order in that particular country, versus importing a completely assembled firearm.

            1. There must be places that do require markings on slides and barrels, considering how many manufacturers are numbering those parts to match the frames.

              It’s simple enough to swap the barrels that I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s never happened that someone doing illegal things got an after-market barrel for a glock so their stock barrel wouldn’t match up on a forensic ballistics investigation.

    2. I think ghost guns also includes those that have been deserialized. And not just DIY/3D printer guns.

      1. That is quite possible, as well.

        1. It’s almost impossible to deserialize a gun with a serial number stamped in by the manufacturer.

          The way it’s done, the density of the metal is affected through it’s entire thickness so the serial number can nearly always be recovered by an acid wash.

          About the only way to do it effectively is to replace all the parts stamped with a serial number with new parts that never had a serial number stamped in.

          1. That’s true of metal framed weapons. Polymer frames often have a stamped plate embedded in the body (with something like a dremel, it’s probably possible to grind out enough of that plate to make the marking on the frame unrecoverable). Semiautomatic pistols frequently have serial numbers on the slides and barrels, but those parts can usually be replaced with non-serialized parts without any background checks.

            1. “…but those parts can usually be replaced with non-serialized parts without any background checks.”

              For now. Which will be annoying. Especially if it carries over to rifle land. Imagine having to go through an FFL everytime you needed to rebarrel something like a 26 Nosler. Or the 6.5×300 Weatherby I saw.

          2. Sometimes numbers can be recovered. The vast majority of the time, they can’t.

    3. It’s just a self-fulfilling prophecy at work

      Simply put, if they come across a ‘ghost gun’ in Texas where they aren’t banned, no crime, no case, move along, nothing to see here. When one is found in Cali however it is a crime so there is a case to investigate. It doesn’t mean it was used in a crime just that the mere existence of it has created a crime that only exists in Cali.

      That’s why there hasn’t been an explosion of ‘crime’ anywhere where ‘ghost guns’ are legal to make or own. The use of ‘ghost guns’ in any other crime is vanishingly rare even in California simply because it’s far easier and much cheaper to buy a black market gun. It’s just like a TV, cheaper and easier to buy one than to build one.

      1. +

      2. This is all true. However, I don’t imagine the ATF is widely seizing guns from people who aren’t attracting attention somehow. It’s possible (although it seems unlikely) that they’re seizing a number of these from black-market dealers rather than from people who have used them illegally. Widespread seizures from raids of hobbyists homes who build them for protection/collecting (or just to build them) don’t seem like a thing they’d be up to without getting some kind of coverage.

        It wouldn’t make much business sense for black market dealers to go for ghost guns over stolen ones; the upper slide/barrel assemblies needed to complete a P80 glock (or for converting a pistol to fire different calibers or for a long slide configuration) were about as expensive as an off-the-shelf factory pistol in the pre-pandemic years. I haven’t looked into the prices now to see if they’d increased in price the way legal firearms have in the last year.

        With the protracted “safer at home”/lockdowns in CA this last year, it’s possible that the supply of stolen firearms has shrunk along with the smaller number of burglaries and home robberies at the same time that the legal firearms business has been limited by supply chain disruptions/backorders (and occasionally attempts by the state/local authorities to just shut them down entirely). That combination of factors might be enough to force the black market to get into the likely less profitable (and no less risky) use of “ghost guns”.

        1. It wouldn’t make much business sense for black market dealers to go for ghost guns over stolen ones; the upper slide/barrel assemblies needed to complete a P80 glock (or for converting a pistol to fire different calibers or for a long slide configuration) were about as expensive as an off-the-shelf factory pistol in the pre-pandemic years. I haven’t looked into the prices now to see if they’d increased in price the way legal firearms have in the last year.

          Unless you were a cartel, had access to worldwide (Chinese) production and distribution channels and thought making your own untraceable guns for your own gang members was worth giving up your 7th and 8th nightly hookers.

          1. China has been mass-producing (and distributing) AK-47s for many decades. Why would anyone go to them and ask for a bunch of P80 Glock pistols instead?

            Seems kind of analogous to asking Toyota to make a bunch of knock-off Chevy Aveos instead of just buying the higher-quality and comparably priced models they already have factories making by the thousands.

        2. Let’s not forget that Cali has gone to great lengths to con people into registering their DIY firearms, because handguns need to be registered as do semi-auto rifles with the evil features. Oops, did you forget this one little obscure detail in the law? Sorry, confiscation for you. They’ve been doing it for quite a while in Cali.

          Here’s Joel Persinger back in 2019.

          1. Just to reiterate, these aren’t guns used in crime, these are people who are trying their hardest to comply with the law but made one small mistake. That mistake being trying to comply with the law because you effectively can’t comply.

    4. That quote alone tells us nothing. It could be that 41% of the local ATF’s cases are “ghost guns” because they are prosecuting hobbyists. In CA, merely having one of these is a crime. But that’s not what most people think when they hear “used in crimes”.

      Alternatively, it could be that CA has lots of gun crimes but they are preferentially choosing to escalate those involving “ghost guns” to the ATF.

      Or it could be that the ATF is conflating hobbyist-created guns like those described above with old-fashioned “zip guns” made from whatever materials are handy.

      It is theoretically possible that hobbyist-created guns like those described in the article are heavily used in crimes but the cost makes that seem extremely unlikely.

      1. +

      2. It’s definitely possible, but doesn’t seem likely.

        Hobbyists with a few P80 Glocks wouldn’t be drawing a ton of attention to themselves, and the rate of “return” vs effort by ATF seems very small if they’re raiding hundreds or thousands of private homes just to sieze a few weapons at each site from people who have no other criminal history (or likely criminal future).

        Also, it seems unlikely that the feds would be doing raids in residential neighborhoods with any frequency (at a time when most people aren’t leaving home on a daily basis) and not getting some kind of attention in the news; either the right-leaning outlets complaining about a crackdown on “average citizens”, or the left-leaning ones crowing about how much potential danger the heroes of the government are protecting everyone else from.

    5. It’s the Bullwinkle’s hat of nihilism/agnosticism. Just like with immigration, no serial numbers means you can make up whatever bullshit stories and laws that you want.

      I wonder how many unserialized glocks the cartels pump out every year.

      1. The cartels operate in places that the Chinese and ISO will happily flood with AKs. I wouldn’t question that they easily could mass produce glocks, I just wonder if they would have any real need to do so.

        1. Not yet, at least.
          The good news is that IF the gun abolitionists actually somehow manage to ban all guns in the USA, the drug cartels will happily step up to supply the black market in the USA with all sorts of guns including completed ghost guns.
          They’ll set up “build houses” just like they do with “grow houses.” It’ll be easier, in fact, since running a CNC mill in a garage won’t draw as much electrical power as a bunch of grow lights.

          They can’t stop the black market–economics FTW!

    6. The “ghost gun” has been redefined. It now includes any gun missing a serial number. Steal a gun and file off the SN and you now have a ghost gun. Considering many guns used in the commission of a crime have had the serial number destroyed, virtually nothing has changed.

  3. Criminals don’t follow laws.

  4. When we use their moral panic terms, we’re carrying water for them.

    “Ghost gun” is an even more ridiculous term than “assault weapon”.

    We’re talking about DIY kits.

    If you grow your own tomatoes at home, it isn’t a ghost tomato. If you make your own pizza dough, it isn’t a ghost pizza. If you build your own motorcycle, it isn’t a ghost bike. If you build your own shelves, they don’t become ghost shelves.

    People want to ban assault weapons without knowing what they are because they sound scary. Of course they want to ban ghost guns, but what we’re really talking about is enthusiasts building their own from kits.

    Brewing your own beer at home doesn’t make it a phantom menace.

    If we could convince average people to start referring to Electronic Dance Music as “rape rock”, we’d be more than half the way to having it banned. I will not use the term “ghost gun” except to mock it and the moral panic they’re trying to create in the media.

    1. Like all panic porn terms, I suspect most people use “ghost gun” whenever convenient, and for any kind of gun they consider illegal. Strict definition (and etymology) have nothing to do with it.

    2. I recently learned that the term rock and roll, before it was the accepted term for a type of music, was slang for sex.
      It kinda explains why the old folk were initially so opposed to the children running around talking about how they loved it.

      1. It kinda explains why the old folk were initially so opposed to the children running around talking about how they loved it.

        Put another dime in the juke box baby!

    3. “Ghost gun” is an even more ridiculous term than “assault weapon”.

      We’re talking about DIY kits.

      If you grow your own tomatoes at home, it isn’t a ghost tomato. If you make your own pizza dough, it isn’t a ghost pizza. If you build your own motorcycle, it isn’t a ghost bike. If you build your own shelves, they don’t become ghost shelves.

      Ghost immigrants! Except, rather pointedly, ghost guns, ghost tomatoes, and ghost bikes don’t show up on voter roles and collect unemployment benefits using dead people’s SSNs.

      1. Ghost peppers show up the next day when you’re on the can.

    4. I like the term “ghost gun,” because any time any gun control freak says it, I can turn to them and say in my most patronizing voice: “everybody knows ghosts aren’t real” and turn away contemptuously.

  5. “This would mean that people dedicated to anonymously making homemade guns would have a harder time acquiring materials, yet the proliferation of home milling tools and software to guide them means that while Biden might be able to make home fabricating harder and more expensive (depending on the price of aluminum blocks), he cannot eliminate it.”

    Sure he can. Once the serfs are prohibited from owning metal objects, home gun making will be righteously impossible.

    And that wooden spoon better be under 4 inches long.

  6. Occupation by the Japanese couldn’t stop Filipinos from making their own shotguns, and occupation by the Nazis couldn’t stop Poles from making their own submachine guns, but these idiots think you can somehow stop the production of homemade guns in a free country?

    1. +

    2. Back in the 70’s, I believe in Arizona, authorities uncovered a “zip-gun” factory, turning out a couple of weapons a week — inside a federal prison.

    3. On top of that, they can’t stop people from making bombs, which is what the people will switch to if oppressed enough.

  7. How can the government’s war on ghost guns work when the prosecutors don’t in most cases prosecute the possession of and the us if illegal guns in commission of crimes. The illegal possession of an illegal gun is generally bargained away just to get the criminal to admit to a crime lesser that they would have been charged with. Even when illegal weapons charges are prosecuted the penalty is a concurrent with any other crime they have been charge with. Almost at not time are the penalties consecutive.

  8. Math is simple folks. Eventually, you will only be able to buy your firearms from stores that insist upon a background check. All the loopholes will eventually be removed. It doesn’t matter if ghost guns are a small percentage of the guns used. We should be happy to register for a license and get our firearms instead of trying to hide our purchases.

    1. I really hope this is sarcasm.

    2. What business is it of the federal government who owns firearms?

  9. Eventually, you will only be able to buy your firearms from stores that insist upon a background check.

    You’re at least missing a comma. All firearms purchased from stores already insist upon a background check.

  10. This is just the price we pay to stop MEAN TWEETS.

  11. What these fools leave out is the delay from DOJ for the paperwork for a UNSA. I got my first on on Dec of 2020 in two weeks. I have been waiting 8 weeks now for a second. Why does it take 8 weeks for my 2nd in less than a year. Dude at gun shop says ALL CFARs applications are closer to 5 months. Complete crap. they took my application fee right away of course and didn’t not respond to e-mails. I wonder how many just get tired of waiting?

  12. What these fools leave out is the delay from DOJ for the paperwork for a UNSA. I got my first on on Dec of 2020 in two weeks. I have been waiting 8 weeks now for a second. Why does it take 8 weeks for my 2nd in less than a year.

  13. Career criminals gotta have a hobby too, right? Like – mug, rob, assault 9-5, 7 days a week? Building Ghost Guns is recreational, mentally stimulating – and practical too. Just how many begin a Life of Crime with a Ghost Gun? We’ll never know…

  14. 1), the ATF only gets involved in gun cases when local law enforcement asks for help — for instance, if the cops want a gun traced.

    2), the ATF considers any firearm without a legible serial number to be a “ghost gun,” including production firearms with defaced or removed serial numbers.

    3), the first thing that a criminal does to a stolen gun is obliterate the serial number.

    Thus, the local cops are calling the ATF for help to trace guns with numbers ground off, and the ATF is reporting these as “ghost guns.”

  15. BTW, if you will be prosecuted for failing to register your homemade pistol, what is the incentive to not download the drawings to machine something like a STEN Gun?

  16. Kind of a non-sequitur but does anyone else wonder why Kel-Tec does not have a pro team?

    1. It’d be a fantastic opportunity for a manufacturing quality specialist, wouldn’t it? Someone experienced with setting up a production line, establishing process quality gates, etc…

      Unbelievably creative shop, with some of the shittiest manufacturing this side of Kerala.

  17. Until the NFA in 1934 the right of the people to keep and bear arms was sacrosanct, but because of its narrow scope, it seems to have gone unopposed because the average American really “has no need for a machine gun.” While this may be true outside the context of the militia, the right to own such weapons ought not be subject to the whims of the federal bureaucracy. That is expressly prohibited by the Constitution.

    It is ironic that the gang violence that was the impetus for the ban on automatic weapons was the direct result of a Constitutional amendment banning the manufacture and sale of sprits, beer, and wine, thus creating a lucrative and powerful black market.

    The GCA was the general government’s next foray into regulating firearms after the assassination of King and Kennedy. The method is always the same. Use a high profile crime to infringe upon the rights of the law abiding.

    The powers that be know the second amendment will never be repealed so they will use every tool at their disposal to dilute the right and to make the keeping and bearing of arms inconvenient, expensive, fraught with pitfalls that could result in criminal prosecution.

  18. The radical left will not stop until the people are debarred the use of arms. It is a necessary step in their plan to assume totaletarian control.

  19. This is a means to an end. They seek to establish a federal registry of all firearms so that it will be easier for the SS to go door to door and confiscate those that were not surrendered after the order was issued.

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