Ghost Gun Arguments Exorcised
There is currently an effort underway to create more unnecessary gun laws both nationally and locally (Massachusetts) concerning so-called “Ghost Guns”. This is yet another invented term designed to scare the general public that is not aware of the laws that already exist. It is supposedly to address the notion that lawful citizens are “manufacturing” guns without the government’s permission. What the average citizen is probably not aware of is that we have had that right all along.
Historically, the government only cares if we are making guns and then transferring, or selling, them to others. In this instance one officially becomes a “manufacturer”. When that happens there are a host of federal laws that come into play including 27 CFR § 478.11 and U.S.C. 18 Chapter Code 44 that clearly define and regulate the matters involved.
Aside from that, there is a long history of lawful citizens making their own guns. This goes all the back to folks who had the skills to build a rudimentary muzzleloader up to modern times. It is very common for firearms owners to buy a mix of parts to custom build a gun to their specific needs or wants. It is perfectly legal and is not a threat to public safety.
The other big attempt to scare the general public is the perceived threat of guns that can be made by modern 3-D printers. The anti-civil rights crowd has ramped up a fear campaign that criminals will be armed with plastic guns built in their basements. Since it is already illegal for a prohibited person to possess any modern gun, why are people wasting time making something more illegal? There is also the problem of making something that works on high internal pressures entirely out of light plastic. That aside, so-called “undetectable” guns are already a prohibition under existing federal law.
In 1988 Congress passed into law what is known as the Federal Undetectable Firearms Act (UFA). (Codified as 18 U.S.C. § 922(p)) The law essentially criminalizes guns that are made in such a way that evades detection through normal security procedures, typically airport screening. The law was supported by the National Rifle Association (NRA).
The law, with limited exceptions, prohibits any person from manufacturing, importing, shipping, selling, delivering, possessing, transferring, or receiving any firearm:
(A) that, after removal of grips, stocks, and magazines, is not as detectable as the Security Exemplar, by walk-through metal detectors calibrated and operated to detect the Security Exemplar; or
(B) any major component of which, when subjected to inspection by the types of x-ray machines commonly used at airports, does not generate an image that accurately depicts the shape of the component.
Next on their list is the supposed lack of serial numbers on self-made guns. For the most part this is an empty argument. Massachusetts has spent a century, since 1911, tracking handgun ownership via serial numbers. The government would likely be hard pressed to provide criminal cases that were resolved using these databases. The vast majority of guns in criminal hands happen through illicit dealing thus making serial numbers moot.
If a lawful citizen wants to build a gun with various parts, most start with a frame and build from there. Manufacturers that sell frames to the general public must comply with federal laws and regulations including 27 CFR § 478.92. This regulation clearly outlines the means by which a licensed manufacturer must have serial number on frames.
BATFE advisor on 27 CFR § 478.92: https://www.atf.gov/firearms/firearms-guides-importation-verification-firearms-ammunition-firearms-verification-overview
For the record, it is already a violation of federal law (18 U.S.C. 922) and state law (Chapter 269, Section 11C) to alter or destroy the manufacturer’s serial numbers on a gun. To do so comes with severe penalties. Additionally, Massachusetts’ state law Chapter 269, Section 11B adds a penalty of up to five additional years in prison for committing a felony while in possession of a gun with serial numbers that have been tampered with.
As for privately made guns that are legitimately for private use only, there are no requirements to apply a serial number to the gun. Since it is extraordinarily rare for a lawful gun owner to commit a crime, there is no reason to demand it.