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Getting Answers: police raise concerns over ‘ghost guns’

Privately made firearms, more commonly referred to as “ghost guns,’’ are becoming the weapon of choice for many criminals.
Published: May. 2, 2022 at 9:23 AM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - Western Mass News is getting answers about an increasing concern in Springfield. Privately made firearms, more commonly referred to as “ghost guns,’’ are becoming the weapon of choice for many criminals.

“They’re next to impossible to trace because there’s no numbers,” said Springfield Police Capt. Brian Keenan.

Springfield law enforcement officials are growing more concerned about privately made firearms - or “ghost guns” - and they aren’t marked, which officials said can make solving crimes very challenging because they provide no leads.

“They’re difficult to trace because there’s no numbers. We can’t find the point of manufacture and we can’t control where they’re coming from,” Keenan added.

There are several websites that sell parts, machinery, and even software to create these weapons without a background check, which makes them easily accessible for people of any age and history.

“They buy these 80-percent kits, then with a couple alterations, they can make a fully functioning firearms,” Keenan noted.

In Springfield, police told us they recovered six ghost guns in 2020. That number shot up to 26 ghost guns in 2021 and so far this year, as of April 27, police said they’re at nine ghost guns. If that were to continue at the same rate, that would put Springfield at 27 ghost guns by the end of this year.

So where’s the line between legal and illegal when it comes to these guns? A retired ATF official told us it’s a gray area. He said that under current federal rules, private citizens are allowed to make these firearms for themselves without having to place markings on them. However, because these weapons require very little expertise to assemble, they’re not only desirable for hobbyists, but for those who aren’t legally allowed to obtain guns, such as gang members and criminals.

Often times, people who are legally allowed to possess a gun will make ghost guns en masse to sell to felons who don’t know how to make them

“It makes the accessibility very easy for those who want to partake in crimes and it’s making the selling of ghost guns a lucrative business,” Keenan explained.

Officials said that’s where the problems start because manufacturing and dealing in firearms without a license is unlawful. Some states have taken legislative action against ghost guns, but Massachusetts is not one of them.

This all could soon change. Last month, President Joe Biden announced new restrictions on ghost guns. The DOJ is amending ATF regulations banning the manufacture of such ghost gun “kits” that are unserialized

“It’s going to help saves lives, reduce crime, and get more criminals off the streets,” the president explained.

They will also require the frame or receiver to be marked, making it easier for authorities to track the kits.

We caught up with Congressman Richard Neal, who said he’s very supportive of this new ruling and he believes it will help law enforcement officials to connect a gun to its shooter.

“I think that minimal requirements ought to be that we should know who is in possession of a gun,” Neal noted.

However, a retired ATF official said the technology is out there, so this just bumps manufacturers back one step and companies will still find a way around it. A new CNC machine has already been released that can make a functioning firearm with just a chunk of metal and the push of a few buttons. This cannot be stopped under the ATF’s new rule, so Keenan said it’s important to be vigilant.

“Parents need to be aware of what their kids order, what’s in your house, what comes to your house,” Keenan said.