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April 03, 2023

As ghost guns proliferate in Pa., lawmakers push for statewide ban

President Biden set a rule to regulate the untraceable firearms in 2022, but gaps in state law have allowed some parts to be made and sold without oversight, legislators say

As ghost guns — firearm kits that are privately assembled an untraceable — continue to proliferate in Pennsylvania, some lawmakers are pushing for a statewide ban.

The bill, introduced by Reps. Morgan Cephas and Malcolm Kenyatta, of Philadelphia, would outlaw the manufacture, sale and possession of ghost guns and individual parts not marked with serial numbers. The bill previously was introduced last year, but stalled in the Republican-controlled state legislature. 

Many of the devices are illegal under federal restrictions, but gaps in state law allow some parts of ghost guns to be made and sold without oversight, the lawmakers said.

People who already own ghost guns would be required to have them imprinted with traceable serial numbers or surrender them to law enforcement.

"Ghost guns are one of the main drives of crime in our city — they are unaccountable and too frustratingly simple to obtain," Kenyatta said. "Putting an end to the gun violence crisis in our city means getting serious about ghost guns. Ending the runaway gun crimes on our streets is my No. 1 priority. Now is the time to get these weapons out of our community."

The Philadelphia Police Department has seen a stark increase in the amount seen on the streets in recent years. Nearly one in 10 guns seized by police are homemade, officials told NBC Philadelphia in 2021. 

In August, President Joe Biden set a rule that qualified ghost guns as firearms under the Gun Control Act, which requires manufacturers to include serial numbers on the kits' frames or receivers. Commercial sellers must become federally licensed and run background checks prior to a sale, and owners must mark their guns with serial numbers before attempting to resell them. 

The rule faced several unsuccessful legal challenges before going into effect. Still, gun control advocates argue that it has done little to reduce the spread of ghost guns, leading many manufacturers to switch to selling individual parts and letting purchasers build handguns themselves, The New York Times reported. 

The rule was aimed at keeping people who are prohibited from owning firearms from purchasing or building their own untraceable handguns. Still, some kits are still available for purchase online, making them accessible to minors. 

The lack of strict regulations or laws against ghost guns make them attractive to gun traffickers, prohibited purchasers and domestic abusers, according to Brady United, a gun control advocacy group. 

Despite the rule, Cephas and Kenyatta wrote in a co-sponsorship memo that "it is clear that individual parts of of these weapons, such as a frame or small working part of a yet un-assembled handgun, are allowing individuals to assemble a gun that is unregistered with no serial number." 

"Without necessary regulations of these firearms, individuals ineligible to possess firearms under state and federal law would easily be able to get their hands on these deadly weapons," Cephas said. "We urge support for this ghost gun legislation in order to ensure the safety of our friends, families and neighbors. We must ban the production and distribution of these firearms." 

Cephas reintroduced a separate bill that would ban untraceable, 3D-printed ghost guns. In a co-sponsorship memo, he explained that, unlike traditional firearms, 3D-printed guns are designed to be untraceable to traditional security measures and are printed without serial numbers, making them nearly impossible to detect. 

City officials have attempted to quell the influx in gun violence — and the proliferation of ghost guns — on the local level, but state law prohibits Philadelphia from making its own gun laws. 

A ban on guns at libraries, schools and recreation centers, enacted by Mayor Jim Kenney following the fatal shooting of Parks & Recreation employee Tiffany Fletcher in September, was quickly blocked by a judge

There have been 105 homicides in Philadelphia this year, a 13% decrease from the same point in 2022, according to the City Controller's Office. Of the city's 409 shooting victims, 82 have died. The database does not indicate how often ghost guns were used in the shootings. 

Last April, Brady United released a two-decade-long comprehensive look at guns used in crimes committed in Pennsylvania. Its database included 5,181 guns that were listed with unknown manufacturers, but only 82 of them could be traced back to a gun dealer. The database also showed that 51% of guns in Philadelphia associated with crime came from in-state dealers.