Three things to know about the ‘ghost’ weapons Joe Biden is attacking

They can be made at home, sometimes in minutes, for a few hundred dollars and using an internet connection. “They” are the so-called “ghost” weapons whose sale has just been reframed on Monday by US President Joe Biden. The stated objective of this new regulation? Stem the flow of illegal weapons that has contributed to rising violence in the United States.

Several cities, including San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles had already adopted texts limiting or banning the sale of these weapons in kit form. And the White House is getting involved, via an executive order subjecting these weapons to the same requirements as the firearms already mounted available for purchase. Sellers of these parts kits will now be required to conduct background checks on potential buyers as well as include a serial number on the component parts of these firearms. Here’s what to know about these hard-to-trace weapons.

What is a “ghost” weapon?

Most guns sold in the United States are produced by licensed manufacturers or imported from abroad. These two types of weapons are distributed by authorized sellers and must bear a serial number, generally engraved on the weapon.

Thanks to this serial number, law enforcement can trace any weapon linked to a crime. Kit weapons, also known as “80% weapons”, are sold partially assembled, with the rest of the assembly to be done by the buyer. They do not have a serial number and, since they are not considered weapons throughout the sale process, do not require a license to carry a weapon or submit the buyer to a control criminal and psychiatric history.

The decree regulating the sale of so-called weapons
The executive order regulating the sale of so-called “ghost weapons” in the United States, signed on April 10, 2022. – Ron Adar/Shutterstock

Easy to obtain online, they quickly became an ideal solution for people who are otherwise prohibited from buying a weapon for reasons of criminal record or age.

Is it difficult to get one?

An investigation by Everytown for Gun Safety, which campaigns for better firearms regulation, concluded that a kit to make an AR-15 assault rifle [l’une des armes les plus populaires aux Etats-Unis, et souvent en cause lors des fusillades les plus meurtrières] can cost less than $400.

The study indicates that the weapon is touted online as very easy to mount. “The assembly (…) does not take very long. You can try it on the shooting range after an hour or two. And tutorials boasting hundreds of thousands of views are easy to find on YouTube.

Do we know how many “phantom” weapons are in circulation?

We do not have any figures on the question, due to the absence of serial numbers and non-existent regulations. But US law enforcement is reporting a sharp rise in seizures of these “ghost” weapons. Los Angeles Deputy Chief of Police Kris Pitcher said he confiscated 800 kit guns in 2020 alone. And according to the federal firearms agency, two-thirds of those guns were seized in California.

This southwestern state “is kind of the epicenter” of this trend, says Adam Skaggs, legal director of the Giffords Law Center [une ONG ainsi nommée d’après l’ancienne élue Gabby Giffords, qui a survécu après être grièvement blessée d’une balle à la tête en 2011]. Law enforcement officials across the country say mentions of “ghost” weapons in police reports have doubled between 2020 and 2021.

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