Justice Dept. rule would aim to crack down on ‘ghost guns’

The Justice Department estimates that from 2016 to 2020, more than 23,000 non-serial numbered weapons were seized by law enforcement and identified in connection with 325 murders or attempted murders.

It’s legal to build a gun in a home or workshop, and advances in 3D printing and milling have made it easier to do so. Ready-made kits can be purchased online for a few hundred dollars without the type of background check required to purchase traditional weapons.

However, the proposed rule would require retailers to do background checks before selling some of the kits that contain the parts necessary for someone at home to willingly make a gun.

The rule sets several factors in determining whether the unfinished receivers can be easily converted into a finished firearm, a senior Justice Department official said. If they meet these criteria, manufacturers would also have to provide a serial number, the official said. The rule would also require serial numbers to be added to homemade, non-serialized weapons that are traded or converted to a federal arms dealer.

The officer was unable to discuss the matter before making a public announcement and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity. Once the proposed rule is published in the federal register, the public has 90 days to comment.

The critical component in building a non-traceable pistol is what’s called the bottom receiver, a piece that is typically made of metal or polymer. An unfinished receiver – sometimes referred to as an “80% receiver” – can be legally purchased online without serial numbers or other markings, with no license required.

Converting the piece of metal into a firearm is relatively easy and only takes a few hours. A drill press or metal cutting machine known as Computer Numeric Control, or CNC, is used to drill some holes in the receiver and to drill out a cavity. The receiver is then combined with a few other parts to create a fully functional semi-automatic rifle or pistol.

“Criminals and others who are prohibited from possessing a weapon should not be able to exploit a loophole to evade background checks and avoid detection by law enforcement,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “This proposed rule would help keep guns out of the wrong hands and make it easier for law enforcement to track down weapons used to commit violent crimes while protecting the rights of law-abiding Americans.”

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