02.10.20

SCHUMER REVEALS: ONONDAGA LAW ENFORCEMENT IS SEEING FRIGHTENING RISE OF ‘GHOST GUNS’ USED IN CRIMES; SENATOR CALLS ON FEDS TO USE LAW ALREADY ON BOOKS TO CLOSE THE LOOPHOLE THAT TRIGGERS UNREGISTERED GHOST GUNS & WORK WITH LOCALS TO MAP EXTENT OF GHOST GUN PARTS IN CNY

To The Dismay Of Local Law Enforcement, Feds Are Aware Of Dramatic Rise In Completely Untraceable ‘Ghost Guns’ Across Our Area & Even Country, But They’re Not Acting On A Ready-To-Go Solution That Would Mandate A Background Check To Buy The Parts

Earlier This Year, 6 Year-Old Boy Was Shot With A Ghost Gun & 25 Were Recovered In ‘Cuse Alone In Last Two Years; Locals Fear Further Increase Without Fed Action  

Schumer: ATF Cannot Continue To Just Sit Back & Allow ‘Ghost Guns’ To Haunt Onondaga County   

Standing with a coalition of Onondaga County law enforcement officials, including District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to take immediate action to stop the flow of these unmarked, unregistered, and untraceable weapons into Central New York. Following a recent spike in crimes involving ghost guns found in Central New York, as recently as last month involving a six year old boy, Schumer explained that despite having the authority to do so, ATF does not currently classify unfinished frames and receivers — the core building blocks for ghost guns — as firearms, which allows convicted criminals, domestic abusers, and the severely mentally ill to buy all of the parts needed to easily build an unmarked “ghost gun” without a background check, a clear regulatory loophole.

The problem is particularly severe in Onondaga County where law enforcement officials have seen a sharp spike in ghost guns, uncovering two dozen over recent months with roughly twenty pending ghost gun cases currently being prosecuted. Types of ghost guns seized in Onondaga County include semiautomatic handguns, semiautomatic rifles, and illegally modified fully automatic rifles. Schumer urged ATF to use existing authority to clarify that unfinished frames and receivers are firearms and, therefore, subject to laws already on the books. Just last month in Syracuse, a man tragically shot his six-year-old nephew in the back using a completely untraceable ghost gun. With no serial numbers or identifying information to trace the weapon, authorities have been unable to determine its history or origin.

"Ghost guns are just as deadly as any you'd see in a gun store, impossible to detect or trace, and can be easily made by anyone with internet access and bad intentions," said United States Senator Chuck Schumer.  "Onondaga County residents and law enforcement know all too well the potential dangers ghost guns bring when they haunt a community. With over two dozen ghost guns found in Onondaga in recent months, DOJ and ATF must immediately amend current policy, require ghost guns parts be registered, and share any and all data on ghost gun use with all local law enforcement agencies. It’s time for the feds to ensure that only law abiding citizens have access to potentially dangerous weapons and that Central New York law enforcement is able to track these weapons and keep our communities safe.”

Schumer urged DOJ and ATF to take two major steps in order to prevent future tragedies and help curb the scourge of ghost guns in Central New York:

  1. Schumer called on DOJ and ATF to immediately amend the current policy and define frames and receivers bought to create ghost guns as firearms, which would require sellers to register the parts they sell and require purchasers to undergo a background check. This would help ensure that only law abiding citizens have access to potentially dangerous weapons and that Central New York law enforcement is able to track these weapons and keep our communities safe. Currently, under federal law, a “firearm” is defined as:  any weapon which will and/or is designed to be readily converted to expel a projectile; the frame/ receiver of any such weapon; any firearm muffler or firearm silencer; or any destructive device.
  2. Immediately provide any and all available data on the rate that federal authorities encounter ghost guns and efforts to collaborate with state and local law enforcement within 30 days. Should this information not be readily available, explain why and describe strategies on how to improve collaboration, monitoring and data collection.

A standard handgun purchased legally is required to have a serial number and unique identifying characteristics on each bullet it fires. However, ghost guns are created when buyers legally purchase almost completely assembled guns over the internet and then buy the remaining parts separately to complete the weapon. When the gun is assembled, it lacks a serial number or any other identifying information, leaving the local authorities with no way of knowing the gun’s origin and no ability to fully investigate a crime. This gaping loophole is due to the existing ATF policy that allows the frame, the main component of a firearm, and a receiver, the main component of a long gun, to not be registered by sellers if certain holes and cavities are not complete, which results in a lack of appropriate background screenings as well. As a result, these parts are widely available for purchase -- through the mail, online, at a gun show or in person – with no requirement that any buyer receiving the parts and assembling the firearm either register the weapon with law enforcement or pass any background check. Alarmingly, many of these ghost gun kits are marketed for how simply and quickly they can be assembled. Ghost guns pose a significant danger to public safety as they have the potential to end up in the hands of convicted criminals, domestic abusers, minors, and other individuals otherwise prohibited from purchasing handguns under existing federal law. Sadly, Central New Yorkers have felt the pain weapons obtained through this dangerous loophole can inflict.

A copy of Schumer’s letter can be found below:

Dear Attorney General Barr and Acting Director Regina Lombardo:

I write to direct your immediate attention to a disturbing phenomenon of unmarked, unregistered and therefore untraceable firearms proliferating throughout the country. These so-called “ghost guns” pose a danger to public safety as they have the potential to end up in the hands of convicted criminals, domestic abusers, minors, and other individuals otherwise prohibited from purchasing handguns under existing federal law. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) must take prompt action to rectify this regulatory failure and protect Americans lives. 

Under existing ATF policy, a frame – the main component of a firearm -- and a receiver -- the main component of a long gun – need not be registered by sellers if certain holes and cavities are not complete. As a result, these parts are widely available for purchase -- through the mail, online, at a gun show or in person – with no requirement that the individual receiving the parts and assembling the firearm either pass a background check or register the weapon with law enforcement. Alarmingly, many of these ghost gun kits are marketed for how simply and quickly they can be assembled into fully functional guns.  Sadly, New Yorkers have felt the pain weapons obtained through this dangerous loophole can inflict. Early this year, in Syracuse, NY a man shot his 6 year old nephew in the back using an untraceable ghost gun. Without any serial numbers or identifying information, authorities have been unable to determine the weapon’s history or its origin. According to law enforcement officials, 25 ghost guns were seized in Onondaga County alone over the past two years – after seizing no ghost guns in the years prior – with approximately 20 pending ghost gun cases being prosecuted. The types of ghost guns seized include semiautomatic handguns, semiautomatic rifles, and an illegally modified fully automatic rifles.

Your agencies can take action today to help stop these tragedies from taking place. Under the Gun Control Act (GCA) of 1968 (18 U.S.C. sec. 921 (3)) “firearm” is defined as (1) any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive; (2) the frame or receiver of any such weapon; (3) any firearm muffler or firearm silencer; or (4) any destructive device. The statute’s explicit inclusion of objects that “may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive” makes clear that items that do not presently fire but can “readily be converted” to do so should be considered “firearms”. Indeed, in United States v. Hunter a federal appeals court explained, “Congress did not consider operability as an essential statutory element” of the definition of “firearm”.  Again, in United States v. Wick a separate appellate court agreed by holding that “a plain reading of section 921 (a)(3) indicates that if the receiver of a weapon can be readily converted to expel a projectile, then that receiver can be considered a ‘firearm’ under the statute.” Amending the current regulatory framework to define frames and receivers as firearms, would require sellers to register the frames and receivers they sell and require purchasers to undergo a background check. This would help ensure that only law abiding citizens have access to potentially dangerous weapons and that law enforcement is able to track these weapons and keep our communities safe.

Despite the clear statutory definition, ATF decades ago adopted the position that many frames and receivers should not be regulated as “firearms” under federal law. As you know, ATF holds that “items such as receiver blanks, ’castings' or ‘machined bodies’ in which the fire-control cavity area is completely solid and un-machined have not reached the ‘stage of manufacture’ which would result in the classification of a firearm under GCA.” Distributors market these core components as “80% complete”, frames and receivers machined just far enough short of completion to avoid regulation. It’s clear that this regulatory failure creates a loophole for gun traffickers and criminals to exploit. Given the dangerous shortcomings of the current regulatory position, I request that DOJ and ATF immediately take the following steps to address this eminent threat:

  1. Amend the definition of “firearm frame or receiver” in 27 C.F.R. section 478.11 such that it applies to any part of a firearm which provides housing for the trigger group, including any such part (1) that is designed, intended, or marketed to be used in an assembled, operable firearm; or (2) that, without the expenditure of substantial time and effort, can be converted for use in an assembled, operable firearm.
  2. Provide all available data on the frequency with which federal authorities are encountering these so-called ghost guns and efforts on the part of your respective agencies to collaborate with state and local law enforcement within 30 days. Should this information not be readily available, explain why and describe strategies on how to improve collaboration, monitoring and data collection.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

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