Biden administration announces crackdown on 'ghost guns' to curb violent crime

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Police found a 3D-printed gun at the scene of a recent school shooting in Rockville, Maryland.

President Joe Biden's administration announced on Thursday that it has launched the National Ghost Gun Enforcement Initiative, tasking the U.S. Department of Justice and other federal law enforcement agencies with curbing the availability of the so-called "ghost guns" that are being used more and more in violent crimes.

Ghost guns refer to the use of kits to assemble guns. These kits do not require background checks to be purchased and the weapons created do not have serial numbers or other markings used by police to investigate crimes.

Law enforcement agencies have reported an increase in the use of ghost guns in violent crimes. Because the weapons are untraceable and unregistered, police have said they are frequently used by gang members and criminals in street crimes.

The Department of Justice said as part of the new initiative that prosecutors across the country will be specifically trained to address the use of ghost guns in crimes and that the department will distribute educational material about ghost guns to investigators and prosecutors.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) said it would designate a "ghost gun coordinator" in each of its field divisions to serve as a resource for state, local, and tribal law enforcement officials and prosecutors.

The Biden administration has also proposed federal rules to regulate ghost guns. The rules would mandate background checks for the sale of gun kits as well as require serial numbers for those kits, closing the existing loopholes in the process. The rules are currently subject to public comment and are expected to face court challenges before they are implemented.

The use of ghost guns has exploded in recent years, from 1,750 cases in 2016 to 8,712 cases in 2020, according to local law enforcement reports.

The National Rifle Association, which spent more than $30 million to support Trump's presidential campaign in 2016, fiercely opposes laws that would curb the use of ghost guns.

In 2018, former President Donald Trump's administration issued an order that allowed plans for 3D-printed guns to be posted online — a move that multiple state attorneys general said would allow the proliferation of ghost guns.

Over 18 months in 2020 and 2021, ghost guns made up between one-quarter and one-half of the guns recovered at crime scenes, according to police departments in cities including Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, and San Francisco. And ghost guns have been used in police killings, such as the 2019 shooting of a police officer in Sacramento, California.

Last month, a 17-year-old student shot his 15-year-old classmate at Col. Zadok Magruder High School in Rockville, Maryland. Montgomery County police said they found a ghost gun at the scene of the crime.

The boy is in critical condition with a wound to his pelvis. His mother, Karen Thomas, told WUSA9 about sitting next to her son's hospital bed after the shooting.

"I've never been more afraid in my life," Thomas told the news station. "At the same time, you’re horrified, but you also want to remain strong for your child. Walking into that room, I was completely devastated."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.