Ghost Guns on the Rise
Receiver for a Pecheng machine gun. (Provided/WikimediaCommons)
Guns that are untraceable, undocumented and not required to have background checks are what some people in America are calling “ghost guns”.
The term has been used for guns that do not have a unique serial number on the receivers.
According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the receiver is the only part of a gun that is labeled as a firearm. The receiver is a frame made out of metal that holds internal components. The hammer, bolt, action and firing mechanism are all parts of the receiver.
Receivers that are not one hundred percent finished are not labeled as firearms. They are not considered finished until it is one hundred percent completed and has a unique serial number.
“Purchasing a receiver is legally the same as purchasing a completed firearm. Commercial sale requires identification and a background check, even if the receiver is empty or only partially completed,” said Ben Failer, a communication officer for highway patrol.
Failer has 10 years of firearms experience and worked for two years as a military aircraft weapons specialist.
If a receiver is unfinished, it is not required to have a unique serial number.
“[A lower receiver] cannot function without a multitude of other parts and mechanisms,” Failer said.
According to Sergeant David Butcher, an Edmond police officer, manufacturers sell these unfinished receivers at the range of 90-95 percent completion to the public. Since the receivers are not required to have a unique serial number, people are worried that once finished it will create a firearm that is untraceable.
However, people who usually buy these lower receivers tend to use them for customization. It takes an engineer to be able to finish a receiver to one hundred percent.
Once a receiver reaches one hundred percent, it is required to be registered for a unique serial number. It does not matter if the receiver has been used or put together with a magazine and barrel.
“It is a felony to be caught with a finished receiver with no unique serial number and can be up to 30-35 years in prison…even for simply having it in your possession,” Butcher said.
The same goes if a person has a gun with no serial number or a serial number that is milled down.
A receiver with a milled down serial number is also untraceable and therefore undocumented. Guns with milled down serial numbers are more common and tend to also be classified as ghost guns.
“Un-serialized guns, or ‘ghost guns’, make up an extremely tiny fraction of guns actually used in crimes,” Failer said. “The greatest danger involved in un-serialized weapons is to the owner, not the public.”
Failer said that it’s hard to claim lost property, which could potentially expose the owner to civil and/or criminal liability if their weapons are used in the commission of crimes.
3-D printers are another concern in that people could make a 3-D printed receiver.
“The 3-D plastic would not be strong enough,” Butcher said. “The plastic is not going to be able to stand. At most, it could shoot once.”
“Anyone attempting to manufacture a firearm using substandard materials [3-D printers] could risk injury or death if those materials suffer structural failure during operation,” Failer said.
Manufacturers are required to have a list of all their guns and who they sell it to in file for at least 15 years.
Each gun owner is required to list all of their guns.
If there is a crime by gun, the federal government will go to a manufacturer, who will then direct them to the person they sold the gun to. Butcher said the person who committed the crime will lose all of their guns and those guns will go back to the manufacturer and will be destroyed.
The federal government is restricted from creating a firearm registry.
In Oklahoma, a gun owner is not required to register a firearm. Gun owners are required to file to the Federal Firearms Licenses agency to have a license to carry. The license lists out every firearm a person is allowed to carry according to Title 21, Section 1290.1 in the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act.
Carrying without a license is a misdemeanor and could be $250 or 30 days in jail.
A person in the state of Oklahoma who wishes to buy a gun must be a citizen of the United States, have a license in Oklahoma and be 21-years-old. They must also complete a firearms safety test and training course for said gun and comply in the provisions of Oklahoma Defense Act.