Since November 2021, four school shootings in the United States have had something in common: the perpetrators used “ghost guns” to shoot their victims and terrorize students. What’s a ghost gun? It’s a gun that is bought as a kit and assembled from parts or made with a 3D printer — making it easy for anyone in the country to buy, make, and use firearms without a trace. They’re especially dangerous because people who can’t pass a background check can get them — and that includes kids — and they can be assembled in as little as 30 minutes.
President Joe Biden is starting the week by following through with a campaign promise: to attempt to curb school shootings and firearm violence with tighter gun control; this next step is related to these gun kits and ghost guns.
The new federal gun regulations specifically target “ghost guns,” requiring background checks on anyone purchasing a kit (to make them harder for people to obtain) and requiring serial numbers on some of the components (to make them easier to track). In addition, firearms dealers will be required by law to add serial numbers to any ghost guns that turn up at their shops.
The official White House statement included strong words from President Biden to ghost gun manufacturers and illegal users who don’t abide by the new laws: “Not only are state and local prosecutors going to come after you, but expect federal charges and federal prosecution as well.”
"If you can put together an IKEA dresser, you can build a ghost gun," wrote teen Mia Tretta, who was shot with a ghost gun in a California school shooting three years ago. "Unfortunately, it is that easy to get a weapon that has not only changed my life but has done the same thing to thousands of others. Finalizing this rule is a critical step to making sure no one else has to go through what my family has had to go through."
Tretta was shot in the stomach. Her best friend died beside her.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told ABC News that the number of "privately made firearms" or PMF recovered from crime scenes went from 1,750 in 2016 to a staggering 8,712 in 2020.
In November 2021, a 15-year-old student allegedly shot and wounded a fellow student with a ghost gun at Cesar Chavez High School in Phoenix. In January, a 17-year-old student used a ghost gun to critically wound a classmate at Magruder High School in Rockville, Maryland. In February, a 14-year-old boy has been charged with murder after using a ghost gun on another student at West Mesa High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico. And in early March, an 18-year-old at Olathe East High School in Kansas used a ghost gun to wound two teachers and a student.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared gun violence a "serious public health threat" last year, but Biden has had difficultly making significant steps toward gun control since moves like banning assault rifles or changing background checks will require widespread support from Congress.
Until today, only nine states and a handful of cities have taken steps to regulate ghost guns. New York State passed legislation after it saw a 478% increase in ghost gun seizures in just three years.
Today, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland wrote an op-ed in USA Today declaring “ghost guns are real guns.”
“These changes are long overdue,” he writes. “Despite changes in technology, federal regulations that define what a ‘firearm’ is have not been updated in more than 50 years. Meanwhile, since 2016, there has been a more than tenfold increase in the annual number of ghost guns recovered by law enforcement in criminal investigations... These changes represent only one part of the Justice Department’s efforts to double down on the fight to protect our communities from violent crime and from the gun violence that often drives it.”