“The simple fact is that the word is out among criminals that “ghost” guns are an easy way around our gun laws—and in particular, a way around background checks,” said Suplina
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Yesterday, Everytown For Gun Safety Managing Director For Law and Policy Nick Suplina testified at a hearing chaired by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) in the Senate Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee, titled “Stop Gun Violence: Ghost Guns.”
Suplina shared startling numbers from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) which show a troubling rise in “ghost” guns linked to crimes. “We’ve learned that criminals and gun traffickers are taking advantage of the growing ‘ghost’ guns marketplace. ‘Ghost’ guns are now turning up at crime scenes from coast to coast—and the numbers are shocking. ATF recently reported that over a four year period, nearly 24,000 homemade firearms were recovered in crimes, and many cities are seeing ‘ghost’ gun recoveries doubling year over-year.”
During his remarks, Suplina also noted the troubling ties between violent extremists and these dangerous weapons. “‘Ghost’ guns are rapidly becoming the weapon of choice for armed extremists. The House Committee on Homeland Security has concluded that ‘ghost’ guns are a threat to our national security, and we’ve found numerous examples of white supremacist and anti-government extremist groups building ‘ghost’ guns and using them with deadly intention and effect.”
The full text of Suplina’s opening remarks is copied below.
Good morning Chairman Blumenthal, Ranking Member Cruz, and distinguished members of the Subcommittee. My name is Nick Suplina. I am the Managing Director for Law and Policy at Everytown for Gun Safety. We’re the nation’s largest gun violence prevention organization. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today and am grateful for your attention to this important public safety issue.
“Ghost” guns are un-serialized, homemade firearms that can be quickly assembled and acquired without a background check. They include firearms with core parts made using 3D printers, milled with the assistance of a computer code, or simply drilled with aid of a jig kit.
I first learned of “ghost” guns prior to joining Everytown, when I was a special counsel in the New York Attorney General’s Office. In spring of 2015, I received a phone call from the head of the New York State Organized Crime Task Force. She was calling because the New York State Police discovered that an individual—who was currently in jail on firearms charges—had boasted about a plan upon his release to order gun parts online and make money selling untraceable firearms. She asked me, how was this possible?
We soon found out that the answer was “ghost” guns, an end run around the law that allowed this convicted weapons offender and his co-conspirators to order parts online and quickly build a dozen untraceable, tactical assault weapons, and sell them to a person he thought was a gun trafficker. Thankfully, that person was an undercover officer whose work led to three arrests and subsequent convictions in the crime – we think the first state prosecution of ghost guns trafficking in the country.
It’s been less than six years since that prosecution, but in that short time, we’ve learned a lot about the rise of untraceable “ghost” guns and how they have become the fastest growing threat to gun safety in the country.
First, we’ve learned that the market for “ghost” guns exploded because ATF changed its approach to unfinished frames and receivers, the core building blocks of “ghost” guns. And this is important – back in the 1970’s and 80’s, ATF correctly determined that unfinished frames and receivers were “firearms” subject to the 1968 Act so long as they could be “converted to functional condition within a few hours’ time using common hand tools, or simple grinding, cutting, drilling, or welding operations.”
But in the mid-2000’s, and without explanation, ATF changed course and the market for “ghost” guns grew, and the technology for building these firearms advanced. There are now at least 100 online sellers offering unfinished frames or receivers for “ghost” guns, and these parts are routinely sold at gun shows.
Second, we’ve learned that the criminals and gun traffickers are taking advantage of the growing “ghost” guns marketplace. “Ghost” guns are now turning up at crime scenes from coast to coast—and the numbers are shocking. ATF recently reported that over a four-year period, nearly 24,000 homemade firearms were recovered in crimes, and many cities are seeing “ghost” gun recoveries doubling year over year, as you already heard this morning.
The simple fact is that the word is out among criminals that “ghost” guns are an easy way around our gun laws—and in particular, a way around background checks.
Finally, we’ve learned that “ghost” guns are rapidly becoming the weapon of choice for armed extremists. The House Committee on Homeland Security has concluded that “ghost” guns are a threat to our national security, and we have found numerous examples of white supremacist and anti-government extremist groups building “ghost” guns and using them with deadly intention and effect.
Among the examples: In California, a man associated with the right-wing anti-government Boogaloo movement, viewed Black Lives Matter protests as an opportunity to accelerate civil war, a civil war he believed was inevitable. Using a “ghost” gun, he attacked a federal courthouse during a racial justice protest in Oakland killing one federal officer and later killing a Santa Cruz Sheriff’s deputy before being apprehended.
In Delaware, members of the white supremacist terror group known as The Base planned to ignite a race war using “ghost” guns and other weapons. Their target, a Virginia gun rights rally, luckily the FBI intercepted the group just days before that event. Authorities discovered a “treasure trove” of homemade firearms and a lengthy internet search history about how to make “ghost” guns.
In fact, our online investigation showed that extremists openly discuss the benefit of “ghost” guns and share advice on how to make them. For example, on 4chan, an online platform popular with white supremacists, commenters have shared tips for building “ghost” guns amid a steady stream of racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic slurs.
Amid such a clear and expanding threat, we need action. We applaud the Department of Justice and the Biden Administration for proposing concrete solutions to address this issue. We also hope Congress will advance legislation to tackle the threat posed by all types of “ghost” guns, including the files that facilitate the creation of downloadable guns and plastic firearms.
Again, thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Subcommittee. I look forward to your questions.