- The gunman who killed five people in Northern California this week used what’s called a ‘ghost gun,’ which he build at home.
- Ghost guns, which are unlicensed and unregistered, are becoming increasingly widespread as more criminals try to get around government tracking and regulation.
- Law enforcement is growing more concerned about these firearms.
The gunman who killed his wife and four others in Northern California earlier this week is part of a growing trend of gun owners making their own firearms without serial numbers, known as “ghost guns.”
“Most of the people doing this are legitimate gun owners doing it as a hobby,” Rick Vasquez, an ATF technical expert, told NBC News. “But as with any type of device, they also can be used in a criminal activity by bad actors who are looking for ways to acquire firearms without any traceability. It’s past the point of no return.”
Kevin Neal, who has been identified as the shooter, possessed two high-powered rifles that he made himself at home. He used these so-called “ghost guns” — named for law enforcement’s inability to trace these guns since they do not include serial or registration numbers — to carry out his attack.
A court order in California previously blocked Neal from buying guns because of his criminal history, which included stabbing his neighbour and recklessly shooting hundreds of rounds of ammunition on his property.
While ghost guns have already been on the market for years, the Associated Press reports that they are increasingly showing up at crime scenes, although the fact that these guns can’t be traced makes it difficult for law enforcement to estimate how many are actually circulating on the streets.
Reselling homemade guns is prohibited, but making them is completely legal. Neal bought the parts for the gun separately and assembled them at home, NBC News reports.
Prospective gun owners who want an untraceable firearm typically buy what is called an 80% receiver, or an unfinished gun that the ATF does not consider an actual firearm for the purposes of regulation.
In just a few hours, the 80% receiver can be converted into a fully functioning semi-automatic rifle or handgun simply by drilling holes into the lower receiver — the gun’s core — and adding a few extra parts.
Advancements in technology have made the gun-making process even easier. From 3-D printing to computer-controlled milling, people now have “the ability to make lethal weapons at home with no regulation whatsoever,” according to Wired.
This makes it easy for criminals like Neal to bypass court orders and other restrictions on gun ownership. It also makes it more difficult for the police or the government to investigate crimes involving firearms.
“The unfinished receiver is a total workaround because the prohibited person doesn’t have to provide any identification,” Paul Ware, an ATF lawyer, told the AP. “You just get it delivered to your home, and you build the exact same gun you could have bought at the store.”
Ghost gun manufacturers, however, do not shy away from the controversy.
“Americans have been building their own unserialized and unregistered weapons since the foundation of our nation,” one manufacturer says on its website. “Building your own AR15 rifle from an 80% lower receiver is a practice that stems from the 2nd Amendment of our constitution, and doing so without government involvement is the idea behind ‘shall no be infringed.'”
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