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France 24 had published this article on April 9, 2021. “Ghost weapons”, these “homemade” pistols or rifles without a serial number, were then one of the priorities of the plan to combat gun violence unveiled Thursday by US President Joe Biden. Weapons that are increasingly worrying for the authorities.
“Ghost weapons” are in Joe Biden’s crosshairs. The American president has made the fight against their proliferation one of the priorities of the plan against the “epidemic” of violence by firearm, unveiled Thursday, April 8.
Joe Biden has given the Department of Justice thirty days to find a solution to the problem of these “phantom weapons”. Their name comes from the fact that they are not traceable and do not currently exist under the law.
Assembly of the kits in a few hours
Yet these weapons are very real. These are homemade firearms, from spare parts sent by a manufacturer or using a 3D printer. Once assembled or “printed”, these pistols or rifles are similar to weapons sold on the market except for one detail: they have no serial number, which makes them “invisible” to the authorities, unable to identify them. identify the origin. You don’t need to pass a background check to get one either. Two “benefits” that “make them particularly attractive to gangs and criminals”, writes the legal blog Lawfare.
The most common “ghost weapons” are those that come in kit form. Nicknamed “80% receivers”, these packages contain spare parts representing 80% of the finished product, just “below the threshold for it to be considered firearms under the law”, wrote Josh Shapiro, the prosecutor General of Pennsylvania, in his March 21 letter to the Department of Justice demanding action against these kits.
Because once the buyer has received a kit, “it’s relatively easy and fun to put together,” notes the New York Times, which experienced it. The journalist who sourced the parts online for a few hundred dollars took “six hours to finish the job, but it can be done much faster by someone who has a habit of tinkering,” writes- he.
Legal 3D prints
The other technique is to use a 3D printer. This method owes much to the efforts of Cody Wilson, a libertarian Texan who was the first, in 2013, to demonstrate that it was possible to make an assault rifle in his garage. Since then, the diagrams to give birth to all kinds of weapons have multiplied online. The process gained further popularity after a court ruling in 2018 recognized the legality of this controversial use of 3D printers.
Closing the loophole allowing anyone, with or without a criminal record, to get a gun is a longstanding demand from activists for tougher gun ownership laws in the United States. But why did Joe Biden decide to make it one of the priorities of his plan?
The magnitude of the problem is difficult to assess. By definition, the number of these “phantom weapons” in circulation is impossible to establish, since they are not registered anywhere. The scarce data available suggests that this “craft” represents a drop in the ocean of the nearly 40 million weapons sold in the United States in 2020. There were thus only 10,000 “phantom weapons” confiscated in 2019 as part of police investigations across the United States, according to figures from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF, the agency that enforces firearms regulations).
A growing phenomenon
But it is the dynamic that worries the authorities. In California, for example, more than 40% of guns implicated in criminal cases were “homemade” in 2019, California police said. Five years earlier, there were almost none. The same trend in Washington, where authorities have found that the number of “phantom weapons” seized has more than tripled between 2018 and 2019, then doubled again in 2020.
It would also seem that the “phantom weapons” have benefited from a pandemic effect. More than a dozen manufacturers of “80% receivers” have admitted to being overwhelmed by demand since March 2020, according to the authors of a study on the threat of these weapons, published by Everytown, the association against the proliferation firearms founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Interviewed by the site Vice, one of these sellers of spare parts of weapons compared the beginning of the pandemic to a “long Black Friday” for the sector and put this craze on the account of the need to “feel protected in this period of great uncertainty”.
Another source of concern, these firearms have been used in at least three mass shootings since 2013. The shooting at a high school in Santa Clarita, California in November 2019 is the latest example of the danger of these ” phantom weapons”. The teenager who killed three high school students before taking his own life had stolen the weapon that his father, considered too mentally unstable to have the right to buy a weapon, had made.
Joe Biden therefore chose a media-supporting theme to promote his plan. And the fact that the phenomenon is still marginal with regard to all the weapons sold can be an advantage for him, wants to believe the Lawfare blog. Republicans might more easily rally around a cause that isn’t all about guns.
Nevertheless, the very influential National Rifle Association (NRA) keeps a close eye on the subject. She had thus opposed, in February 2021, a bill in the State of New York to regulate “phantom weapons”, judging that it was “a term invented to scare” and ” of an imaginary problem”. It doesn’t matter if the victims are anything but imaginary.