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                                                                                                     April 8, 2021

Privately Made Firearms: A Growing Source of Unmarked,

Untraceable Ghost Guns?

On April 7, 2021, the White House announced that the
Department of Justice (DOJ) has been directed to issue a
proposed rule to address ghost guns within 30 days (by
May  7, 2021). For many years, privately made firearms
did not appear to be a large source of crime guns. In the last
decade, however, the commercial availability of parts kits,
unfinished firearms frames or receivers, and compact
computer numerical control (CNC) milling devices have
arguably made building some firearms simpler and less
expensive. As privately made firearms have increased in
number, it appears that the use of unmarked ghost guns in
shooting sprees, shootouts with police, and other crimes has
also increased. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms
and Explosives (ATF) has expressed concern about its
inability to trace such firearms.

Ghost  Guns
Ghost guns is a term used to refer to firearms encountered
by law enforcement that are largely untraceable, because
they were assembled, legally or illegally, by someone other
than a federally licensed manufacturer and, therefore, were
not marked with a serial number and other identifying
features on their frames or receivers. In the last decade, the
increase of crimes committed with privately made,
unmarked  ghost guns suggests that persons prohibited
from receiving or possessing firearms have increasingly
exploited the general availability of unfinished firearms
frames and receivers, or blanks, to assemble firearms
(which they otherwise may not have been able to purchase
lawfully). Others, sometimes with criminal intent, build
these firearms so they cannot be traced back to them.

Some  people also fear that criminals could use 3D-printers
and computer-aided design (CAD) files to produce firearm
frames or receivers in large quantities, creating a significant
source of illegally trafficked, untraceable firearms.
Criminals may also be able to use such technology to
produce undetectable firearms made of mainly non-
metallic parts (plastic/polymer guns), which might pass
through metal detectors at security checkpoints undetected.

Privately  Made  Firearms   Under  the GCA
The Gun  Control Act of 1968 (GCA; 18 U.S.C. §§921 et
seq.) requires all persons who are engaged in the business
of importing, manufacturing, or dealing in firearms to be
federally licensed. These licensees are commonly referred
to as federal firearms licensees, or FFLs. However, the
GCA  does not prohibit a person from making a firearm for
his or her own personal use. Nor does it require any form of
federal licensure to do so, or require that such firearms be
marked with a unique serial number and other maker marks,
as is the case for all other firearms imported or
manufactured by FFLs under the act. Nonetheless, the GCA

sets limits on building a firearm for one's own use.
Building a privately made firearm is only permissible if the
maker is not prohibited from possessing a firearm under
federal or state law; the firearm is not regulated under the
National Firearms Act of 1934 (e.g., a machine gun or
short-barreled shotgun); and the maker does not build it
with intent to sell it. Even so, privately made firearms may
be lawfully transferred, as long as the unlicensed maker did
not build it with the intent to sell it. The GCA does not
impose recordkeeping or background check requirements
on such transfers, unless they are interstate transfers to
other unlicensed persons, in which case those transfers must
go through an FFL in the state where the transferee resides.

Firearms   Marking  and Recordkeeping
Under GCA,  firearm importers and manufacturers are
required to mark (engrave, cast, or stamp) the frame or
receiver of any firearms they import and make with a serial
number  and other markings (e.g., model, caliber, and
importer or manufacturer's name, city, state) (18 U.S.C.
§923(i) and 27 C.F.R. §478.92). It is a felony for any
person to transport, ship, or receive in interstate or foreign
commerce,  any firearm that has had its serial number
removed, obliterated, or altered (18 U.S.C. §922(k)).

All FFLs, moreover, are required to maintain records on
firearms transactions for at least 20 years and make those
records available to ATF under certain circumstances.
When  an FFL goes out of business, he or she must submit
those records to ATF, but those records may only be
searched by make, model, and serial number of a firearm,
as statutory provisions prohibit a national registry of
firearms or owners. By querying these records, ATF can
sometimes trace the firearm's chain of commerce from
importer/manufacturer to wholesaler/distributor and, from
there, to the retailer, and to the first unlicensed, private
purchaser of record. Through this process, ATF can
sometimes establish at what point a firearm was diverted
from legal to illegal channels of commerce, and identify
persons engaged in illegal gun trafficking and other crimes.

Undetectable   Firearms
The GCA  prohibits the manufacture, importation, transfer,
or possession of any firearm that is not detectable to walk-
through metal detectors calibrated to detect a security
exemplar that resembles a handgun with the same
electromagnetic signature as 3.7 ounces of stainless steel. It
is notable that nothing in this provision requires that
signature be made from an operable part of the firearm. The
act also prohibits firearms that include major components
(barrels, slides, cylinders, frames, or receivers) that do not
generate an accurate image when inspected with x-ray
machines commonly   used at airports (18 U.S.C. §922(p)).


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