Most Populous Counties In U.S. Hope To Stop ‘Ghost Gun Epidemic’

October 18, 2021

By Biometrica staffer

The two most populous counties in the country — Los Angeles County, California, and Cook County, Illinois — are moving to tackle the problem of “ghost guns,” as law enforcement and the government continue to grapple with an ongoing rise in violent crime and homicides, more of which include a firearm than ever before. 

Late last week, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) released a report that said the spread of homemade “ghost guns” has begun to resemble an “epidemic,” with such weapons contributing to over 100 violent crimes so far this year. The LAPD says that they have linked 24 murders to the untraceable weapons, in addition to eight attempted homicides, and dozens of armed assaults and robberies.

Ghost guns are self-assembled firearms with parts that do not include serial numbers. Essentially, a person can use a kit to put together their own weapon that is untraceable and that technically does not require background checks due to the fact that they are handmade. Because of their lack of an audit trail, ghost guns are increasingly being used in violent crimes.

The LAPD report also said that between January and June this year, it confiscated an estimated 863 ghost guns, representing a whopping 400% increase over the same period last year, when it confiscated 217 such firearms. Police say that the sharp rise indicates that the problem is only going to get worse, unless stymied in some way. 

To combat this rising tide, earlier this month, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law that adds ghost guns to the list of weapons that are legally allowed to be seized under “red flag” laws, which enable police, family members, colleagues, employers, and teachers to ask judges to take away firearms of anyone believed to pose a credible threat to themselves or others.

The state of California has also joined a lawsuit against three gunmakers — Blackhawk Manufacturing Corp., MDX Corporation, and GS Performance, LLC — who manufacture and sell ghost gun kits. State Attorney General Rob Bonta had this to say about the suit: “When firearms are built at home by individuals who have not passed a background check and have not had their guns properly serialized, it leaves law enforcement in the dark, and the public less safe.”

Similarly, in Illinois, some lawmakers and law enforcement officials are pushing for a ban on ghost guns in Cook County, which includes the city of Chicago. The sheriff, Tom Dart, said at a news conference that his department is witnessing an “explosion” in the number of ghost guns flooding the streets. This, he says, has led him to partner with State Senator Jacqueline Collins on the proposed legislation.

Sen. Collins added that gun violence is “plaguing Illinois’ Black and brown communities,” and that “the proliferation of guns in our country and in our state drives this problem. Getting nonserialized ghost guns off the streets is a step forward in addressing violence so we can start healing our communities.”

Other anti-crime proposals in the state legislature are looking to increase the penalties for those found to be possessing illegal guns, as well as for criminals who are found to have bought a gun for someone who is not allowed to own one (i.e., “straw purchasing”).

Although the Chicago Police Department (CPD) does not specifically track the number of ghost guns recovered, it does track the number of confiscated guns that do not have serial numbers. In the first half of this year, CPD reportedly confiscated 245 guns without serial numbers — more than the annual total seized in each of the years between 2016 and 2020.

After President Joe Biden called on the Justice Department (DOJ) in April to craft a law to close the ghost gun loophole, the DOJ released a proposed rule in May that would, for the first time since 1968, revise the legal definition of a “firearm” to include ghost guns. In addition, the rule would require individual components in gun-assembling kits to have a serial number that can be traced. 

At that time, the DOJ said that between 2016 and 2020 more than 23,000 unserialized firearms were reported to have been recovered by law enforcement from potential crime scenes — including in connection with 325 homicides or attempted homicides. Per the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the number of ghost guns recovered by law enforcement increased nearly 400% over that same period.

In a statement, Attorney General Merrick Garland said, “Criminals and others barred from owning a gun should not be able to exploit a loophole to evade background checks and to escape detection by law enforcement […]. This proposed rule would help keep guns out of the wrong hands and make it easier for law enforcement to trace guns used to commit violent crimes, while protecting the rights of law-abiding Americans.”