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

They can be made at home, sometimes in minutes, for a few hundred dollars and over an internet connection. “They are the so-called “ghost weapons” whose sale this Monday was just reviewed by the US president Joe Biden† The stated purpose of this new regulations † Stop the flow of illegal weapons that has contributed to the increasing violence in the United States.

Several cities, including San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles, had already passed laws restricting or banning the sale of these weapons in kit form. And the White House is therefore stepping in, through a decree that subjects these weapons to the same requirements as pre-assembled firearms available for purchase† Sellers of these parts kits are now required to conduct background checks on potential buyers and list a serial number on the parts on these firearms. Here’s what you need 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, which is usually engraved on the weapon.

This serial number allows the police to track down any weapon related to a crime. Kit weapons, also known as “80% weapons”, are sold partially assembled, the rest of the assembly must be done by the buyer. They have no serial number and, since they are not considered weapons during the sale process, they do not require a license to carry a weapon or subject the buyer to a criminal and psychiatric history check.

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

They were easily available online and quickly became an ideal solution for people who otherwise would not be allowed to buy a weapon for reasons of criminal record or age.

Is it hard to get one?

An investigation conducted by the association Everytown for gun safetycampaigning for better regulation of firearms has 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 being very easy to assemble. “The assembly (…) does not take long. You can try it at the shooting range after an hour or two. And tutorials with hundreds of thousands of views are easy to find on YouTube.

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

We don’t have numbers on demand, due to the lack of serial numbers and non-existent regulations. But US law enforcement is reporting a surge in seizures of these “ghost weapons.” Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Kris Pitcher said he seized 800 caulking guns in 2020 alone, and two-thirds of those guns were seized in California, according to the federal firearms agency.

This southwestern state of the United States “is in a sense 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 officers across the country say mentions of “ghost weapons” in police reports doubled between 2020 and 2021.

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