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August 20, 2021

New Jersey, Pennsylvania lead multi-state coalition to boost federal ghost gun regulations

The proposal calls for backgrounds checks on people purchasing easy-to-assemble firearm kits

Crime Guns
Ghost gun coalition Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

A coalition of more than 20 states are pushing for stronger federal regulations for ghost guns, including background checks and serial number requirements.

New Jersey and Pennsylvania are leading a multi-state coalition to strengthen regulations on so-called ghost guns by requiring background checks for anyone who purchases them, among other measures.

Ghost guns are firearms that are sold in parts without serial numbers, making them difficult for law enforcement agencies to trace. The parts are sold in kits that can be assembled quickly. They also are not subject to background checks, providing an avenue for people who cannot legally purchase a firearm to obtain one. 

New Jersey and Pennsylvania are among 22 states that are in support of a U.S. Department of Justice proposal to strengthen federal regulations governing ghost guns and other firearms.

In 2018, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law that made it a crime to buy, manufacture, possess or sell ghost guns in the state. In the last year, nearly 200 illegal ghost guns were recovered across New Jersey, according to acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck's office. However, the lack of federal regulations has allowed ghost guns sold in other states to migrate into New Jersey.

Pennsylvania has faced a similar issue. 

The Philadelphia Police Department recovered 287 ghost guns in the first half of 2021, according to Attorney General Josh Shapiro's office. During that same stretch, ghost guns accounted for 9% of all guns recovered following a gun crime. By comparison, only 95 ghost guns were recovered in 2019, and they made up 2% of guns recovered.

"Guns assembled from kits are becoming the weapon of choice for criminals and are fueling the gun violence epidemic in Pennsylvania," Shapiro said. "The proposed rule change will close a loophole that gun dealers have eagerly exploited to sell products that allow people to quickly make untraceable guns at home." 

The federal proposal would require serial numbers on all ghost gun kits and DIY kits, as well as background checks for purchasers.

"For some time now, gun retailers across the nation have been exploiting loopholes in federal law to continue selling dangerous, easy-to-assemble gun kits to anyone with the ability to pay for them – and without a background check," Murphy said. "The proposed federal rule we're supporting today aims to end that madness, and we welcome it."

The announcement of the multi-state coalition came one day after New Jersey authorities busted a Camden-based crime ring that allegedly distributed illegal weapons, drugs and motorcycles.

Police seized a total of 20 illegal guns, including eight ghost guns.

"We are working relentlessly to dismantle the criminal networks that funnel illegal firearms into New Jersey," Bruck said. "Weapons of war are bloodying the streets of Camden, and we're committed to cutting the supply lines."

Bruck said 11 people were arrested for their alleged involvement in the ring, as well as theft, drug distribution and gun trafficking.

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