ghost with a gun

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  • Trivia Originally, the hanging scene was shot as a POV flashback. However, to clarify the narrative, it became the opening scene for the film, and Tim Russ was composited into it using green screen effects.
  • Goofs In the hanging tree scene with Krug and Jo, a couple of Jo's lines sounds a bit different than the rest of her dialog. The reason for this is that the ADR for that dialog was done a few years after the completion of principal photography, so the voice of the actress, Haley Camille, had changed. Pitch shifting and other audio tricks were used to match it up as much as possible, but you may still notice the difference if you really pay attention.

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  • Feb 13, 2020
  • October 5, 2019 (United States)
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  • 3 Steves Winery, Livermore, California, USA (Krug winery)
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  • Runtime 19 minutes
  • Dolby Digital

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Watch CBS News

What is a ghost gun?

April 11, 2022 / 3:24 PM / CBS News

The Biden administration unveiled new regulations for "ghost guns" on Monday, April 11, in a move that advocates say will help reduce gun violence. The new rules will help law enforcement track and trace these firearms, which authorities say are increasingly involved in crimes.

Ghost guns are unregistered and untraceable homemade weapons that can be made with a 3D printer or assembled from a kit. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, such weapons are contributing to a rise in gun violence,  reported CBS News' Jeff Pegues  in February. The weapons can be produced for less than $200, though officials have put the average price at around $500. 

Countless websites offer kits for everything from handguns to AR-15s and AK-47s, as CBS News found in 2018 , when correspondent Carter Evans was able to purchase a kit for a gun similar to a Glock 9mm with no background check or waiting period.  

Current law requires firearms manufacturers to include serial numbers on weapons, but doesn't regulate most parts, making these types of assembled guns hard for authorities to trace. And buyers of kits aren't required to undergo background checks the way gun purchasers are — which authorities say allows people to skirt laws aimed at blocking certain gun purchases.

"If you're a felon or judged mentally unfit, for example, federal law says you're not supposed to have any kind of firearm. Build a ghost gun? No one knows you have it," Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva told "60 Minutes" correspondent Bill Whitaker in 2020.

It's generally legal to make a firearm for personal use, according to the ATF . So, someone can make a gun at home — either with a kit or through 3D printing — without a license .

How are ghost guns made?

"You can buy a box of firearms parts, and you can assemble those firearms together. And I've seen videos on YouTube, where you can see people doing it in record time — 20, 30 minutes," ATF acting director Marvin Richardson said earlier this year.

One part — what's called the frame or lower receiver — is regulated under federal gun law. In a kit, that part has to be drilled out. But the kits generally come with the drill bits and guides necessary to do so, and there are tutorials easily available online, Evans reported .

"Today, people can sit at home in their living room, log on to their computer, access a piece of software, send a signal to their printer, and print out a machine gun that can kill people. That's a problem," John Miller, the NYPD's deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, told CBS New York .

Why authorities say ghost guns are dangerous

While ghost guns are only a fraction of the firearms involved in gun crimes, law enforcement across the country are pointing the finger at ghost guns as a growing problem.

"They're trying to appeal to a certain segment of the population," Dave Hamilton, then a senior special agent ATF, told Evans in 2018. "Felons who can't go to a gun store and legally purchase a firearm, or people who just don't want the government knowing what type of firearms they have."

A senior administration official said the ATF was able to trace fewer than 1% of the approximately 45,000 ghost guns recovered during criminal investigations between January 2016 and December 2021, reported  CBS News' Bo Erickson. Almost 700 of the incidents were homicides or attempted homicides, the official said.

Ghost guns have been involved in school shootings, such as one in Saugus, California , where a 16-year-old killed four people, and in mass shootings, like one in Northern California where a 44-year-old used a ghost gun to kill five people despite a court order prohibiting him from having guns.

The new regulations would mandate kits include serial numbers, and people who sell them would have to be federally licensed and run a background check on people purchasing kits. They would also be required to keep records of those purchases for as long as they're in business, rather than the 20 years under current requirements.

More from CBS News

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A Glock-style ghost gun at the San Francisco district attorney’s office. Homemade firearms now account for a significant portion of shootings in California. 

‘Ghost Guns’: Firearm Kits Bought Online Fuel Epidemic of Violence

They are untraceable, assembled from parts and can be ordered by gang members, felons and even children. They are increasingly the lethal weapon of easy access around the U.S., but especially California.

A Glock-style ghost gun at the San Francisco district attorney’s office. Homemade firearms now account for a significant portion of shootings in California.  Credit... Kelsey McClellan for The New York Times

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Glenn Thrush

By Glenn Thrush

  • Published Nov. 14, 2021 Updated June 22, 2023

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CHULA VISTA, Calif. — Max Mendoza’s parents awakened just after dawn to the echoing clap-pop of a gunshot, and ran from their bedroom to find their 12-year-old son propped against the couch, eyes wide in pain, terror and surprise.

“It’s the real one. It’s the real one,” Max whispered, clutching his chest, seemingly astounded that a weapon resembling a toy, a cheap-looking brown-and-black pistol, could end his life in an instant.

But it did. Investigators in this city just south of San Diego are still trying to determine exactly what happened on that Saturday morning in July — if the seventh-grader accidentally shot himself, or if his 15-year-old friend, who the police say had brought the weapon into the apartment, discharged it while showing it off.

What is certain is the kind of weapon that killed Max. It was a “ghost gun.”

Ghost guns — untraceable firearms without serial numbers, assembled from components bought online — are increasingly becoming the lethal weapon of easy access for those legally barred from buying or owning guns around the country. The criminal underground has long relied on stolen weapons with filed-off serial numbers, but ghost guns represent a digital-age upgrade, and they are especially prevalent in coastal blue states with strict firearm laws.

Nowhere is that truer than in California, where their proliferation has reached epidemic proportions, according to local and federal law enforcement officials in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego and San Francisco. Over the past 18 months, the officials said, ghost guns accounted for 25 to 50 percent of firearms recovered at crime scenes. The vast majority of suspects caught with them were legally prohibited from having guns.

“I’ve been on the force for 30 years next month, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Lt. Paul Phillips of the San Diego Police Department, who this year organized the force’s first unit dedicated to homemade firearms. By the beginning of October, he said, the department had recovered almost 400 ghost guns, about double the total for all of 2020 with nearly three months to go in the year.

Law enforcement officials are not exactly sure why their use is taking off. But they believe it is basically a matter of a new, disruptive technology gradually gaining traction in a market, then rocketing up when buyers catch on. This isn’t just happening on the West Coast. Since January 2016, about 25,000 privately made firearms have been confiscated by local and federal law enforcement agencies nationwide.

Ghost guns, and the niche industry that produces them, have flourished because of a loophole in federal regulation: The parts used to build “privately made firearms” are classified as components, not actual guns, which means that online buyers are not required to undergo background checks or register the weapons. That makes them a powerful magnet for those banned from gun ownership, including convicted felons, domestic abusers subject to orders of protection, the mentally ill and children, like the teenager who brought his gun into Max Mendoza’s apartment, according to the police.

Closing that loophole is the focus of new regulations ordered by President Biden — the most prominent surviving plank of his effort to combat gun violence , announced after a string of mass shootings this year. The rules would essentially treat ghost guns as traditional firearms — requiring core components to be engraved with serial numbers, imposing background checks and requiring online purchasers to pick up their orders at federally licensed gun shops.

Law enforcement officials in California think that the rules would do much to keep ghost guns out of the hands of criminals and children. “It’s definitely going to stop some of the most obvious problems,” said the Los Angeles city attorney, Mike Feuer, who is suing a leading gun-parts vendor.

But the new rules, which are likely to be challenged in court by gun rights groups, are not expected to be implemented until early next year, after a lengthy public comment process. And gun control groups have raised doubts about the robustness of enforcement by federal firearms regulators.

What’s more, while the rules would create a set of legal roadblocks, law enforcement officials say the extralegal pipeline for parts is sure to adapt and thrive. There is a huge surfeit of supplies in circulation, enough to supply dealers who sell pre-assembled guns, via social media platforms or the dark web, for years. At the same time, the increasing availability of 3-D printers, which can create the plastic and metal components of guns, has opened a new backdoor source of illegal weapons for gangs and drug dealers who would otherwise have to steal them.

“This isn’t going away,” Mr. Feuer said.

Ghost guns have been used in two recent shootings of police officers in California — the June 2020 killing of two officers in the Bay Area by a far-right extremist , according to prosecutors, and the grievous wounding of two Los Angeles County deputies as they sat in their patrol car last September. Other ghost gun shootings have appeared to be terrifyingly random, like the killing of a hotel parking attendant in downtown San Diego last spring by a man, the police say, who was already wanted on weapons charges.

But the epidemic seems to be disproportionately affecting young people, as purchasers, perpetrators and victims. Two years ago, a 16-year-old student walked into Saugus High School, north of Los Angeles, and killed two teenagers with a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol assembled from a kit before turning the weapon on himself — a case that, more than any other, elevated the issue to national attention.

Max Mendoza’s death, by contrast, flickered on the local TV news in San Diego for a weekend. His parents, Aida Mendoza and William Tagle, returned home after the news vans had driven away and the police had scoured the apartment for other weapons.

All they found was Max’s broken BB gun. He had hidden it, Mr. Tagle said, because he was not allowed to bring violent toys into the home.

A Deadly Loophole

The decades-long debate over gun control in Washington revolves around the regulation of traditional firearms. Ghost guns pose a more elemental question: What makes a gun a gun?

Every semiautomatic weapon consists of two main parts: the movable upper “slide,” which sits on the barrel of a pistol, and the “receiver” or “frame” — the lower part to which almost everything else, including the trigger and magazine, can be attached and made functional after drilling a few holes and filing a groove into an unfinished, factory-produced frame.

Under federal law, any frame or receiver considered 80 percent finished is a functional firearm subject to the same regulations as a fully assembled gun. If it is less than 80 percent finished, it is not subject to the same federal safeguards.

Even so, an experienced amateur can make the minor modifications needed to turn it into a working firearm in less than an hour.

Gun kits sold by Polymer80, the Nevada-based industry leader.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives judges each component on a case-by-case basis, using specific, if subjective, technical standards, illustrated with annotated photographs on the agency’s website . But critics have long accused the agency — hobbled and hamstrung by the gun lobby — of failing to aggressively investigate companies that sell kits with everything necessary to quickly assemble a ghost gun.

“I think a lot of us thought this was a problem that we had 10 years to deal with, when it was, in reality, more like two,” said David Chipman, a former A.T.F. agent who was withdrawn as Mr. Biden’s nominee to head the bureau in September amid fierce opposition from the gun lobby.

“This is the biggest threat in the country right now,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group that has tracked the rapid growth of the gun kit industry — from 26 online retailers in 2014 to about 80 last year .

The A.T.F.’s acting deputy director, Thomas Chittum, said that while the agency took the issue seriously, ghost guns represented a tricky regulatory challenge, because “the law does not draw a bright line around the definition of what a firearm is.”

Mr. Chipman had pledged to make the issue a priority, and his failed nomination has left gun control advocates wondering how energetically the agency will enforce the new regulations. Indeed, many A.T.F. employees own firearms, and several staff members, speaking on the condition of anonymity, feared the rule could infringe on the Second Amendment rights of hobbyists, who have not been required to register homemade guns unless they intend to sell them.

Nonetheless, the A.T.F. has worked on dozens of ghost-gun busts with local police departments, and has recently cracked down on Polymer80, the Nevada-based industry leader whose weapons accounted for the majority of ghost guns found at California crime scenes in 2019.

The company sells a wide range of components online, including kits to build AR-15-type semiautomatic rifles. But the A.T.F. focused on one of its most popular: the $590 “Buy, Build and Shoot” kit that contained almost everything needed to make a functional Glock-style pistol.

Last December, the A.T.F. raided the company’s headquarters near Reno, citing a failure by the company to submit the kits for regulatory approval. The application for the search warrant included an affidavit from an informant who assembled one of the company’s kits in 21 minutes.

Polymer80’s lawyer and a company representative did not respond to questions. At the time of the raid, a representative said the business had complied with federal law.

The raid has not yet resulted in charges. But the company has stopped selling the kits, which was the main intention of the action, according to two federal officials with knowledge of the case.

Crimes and Pastimes

Steven R. Ely, a 69-year-old retired high school teacher, had never really heard about ghost guns until he was almost killed by one.

A little after 10 p.m. on April 24, he rounded a corner in San Diego’s bustling Gaslamp Quarter, heard four or five loud claps and felt something plink against his right side, like a fleck of gravel.

Mr. Ely stuck a hand inside his shirt, reassured, momentarily, to find no blood. Then he looked again and saw a tiny, spreading patch of red. His knees gave way. He would spend weeks in the hospital, losing 40 pounds and much of his sunny confidence that he would enjoy an active retirement, on a surfboard, into his 80s or 90s.

“I never saw the guy who shot me,” Mr. Ely said. He had just retired, was enjoying a great life, he said, “and this happens.”

Mr. Ely was among the victims of a flash of carnage that began, investigators say, when a man named Travis Sarreshteh, 32, walked up to a hotel parking attendant, Justice Boldin, and, without warning, shot him with a Polymer80 pistol. Mr. Boldin, 28, a former college baseball player, died almost instantly.

Then Mr. Sarreshteh, who pleaded not guilty after being charged with murder, brushed shoulders with a group of friends from New Jersey. He wheeled and fired, slightly wounding two of the men, the police say. A third man, Vincent Gazzani, was injured in the arm, lung, spleen and stomach. Mr. Ely was probably hit by that volley.

“I was sure I was going to die — I couldn’t catch my breath,” said Mr. Gazzani, who was saved by a former Israeli Army medic who applied a field dressing from a napkin, assuring him he was “going to make it” as he waited for paramedics to arrive.

The police are still not sure how Mr. Sarreshteh may have gotten the weapon, a recurring theme in almost all ghost gun investigations. But obtaining a ghost gun, they say, allowed him to dodge a background check that would have revealed a significant criminal history, including a 2017 illegal weapons charge.

The shooting brought barely a ripple nationally. But it galvanized officials in San Diego.

“How could somebody who was barred from lawfully purchasing a firearm get a 9-millimeter gun and shoot five people in the middle of the street?” said Marni von Wilpert, a San Diego city councilwoman who pushed through a law banning guns without serial numbers, part of a wave of local legislation addressing the crisis.

Community leaders in some of the state’s violence-plagued urban neighborhoods have been sounding the alarm for the last couple of years, as teenagers snap up homemade guns for protection, or as emblems of toughness.

“People aren’t buying regular guns anymore,” said Antoine Towers, who works for an anti-violence program in Oakland. “Almost all the youngsters are using ghosts.”

Brian Muhammad, who works with at-risk young people in Stockton, said he recently asked a group of teenagers where they got their guns. “Did you drive to Vegas?” he asked, referring to Nevada’s looser gun laws. They looked at him as if he were crazy.

“Who would do that?” one of them replied. “You order them in pieces using your phone.”

In Oakland, a 17-year-old boy recently decided to arm himself after falling out with a friend who had a gun. He matter-of-factly described the process of assembling a ghost gun, munching on potato chips during an interview in his living room.

For weeks, the boy, whose name is being withheld at his family’s request, surfed websites and collected about $750 in parts from online retailers and private sellers. After some trial and error (one part did not fit the gun’s lower section), he built a working imitation Glock using how-to videos.

He said he also had guidance from several friends — who had built guns as “a good way to pass the time when you’re stuck at home” during the pandemic.

A Flooded Market

Early last year, Bryan Muehlberger, who lives north of Los Angeles, wanted to prove just how easily a minor could buy a gun kit online.

He ordered it using the name of his teenage daughter, Gracie, checking the boxes indicating that she was a legal buyer. The company (which he does not want to identify because it has his family’s personal information) processed the order without bothering to ensure that Gracie was over 21, as state law requires.

“I get a box in the mail, and it says ‘Gracie Muehlberger’ right there on the label,” he said in an interview, pausing to collect himself. “I was dumbstruck.”

Gracie Muehlberger is dead. She was killed by a ghost gun, at age 15, along with 14-year-old Dominic Blackwell, in the Saugus High School shooting.

Biden administration officials believe the new ghost gun regulations will put an end to the sale of similar kits, at least legally.

The country’s two most influential gun rights groups, the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, have sharply criticized the rules, but have not campaigned heavily against them. Larry Keane, a top N.S.S.F. official, said he had “important concerns” that the regulations would hamper “lawful business activities,” and would not rule out legal action in the future.

Justice Department lawyers are more concerned, however, that harder-line groups will challenge the rules in federal court, arguing that only Congress, not the A.T.F., has the right to change the definition of a firearm.

In recent months, the Firearms Policy Coalition, a California-based nonprofit that opposes most gun regulations, sued to block ghost gun laws in several states, including Delaware , arguing that the rules violated the Second Amendment rights of Americans to “personally manufacture” guns for “self-defense in the home.”

Most of the law enforcement officers interviewed for this article were only vaguely aware of these regulatory shifts. Demand for ghost guns will remain high because obtaining a gun online, even illegally, is less risky than stealing one, they said.

Lt. Derrick J. Lew of the San Francisco Police Department believes criminals will shift to shadier avenues of supply, given the growing popularity of 3-D printing.

The market has become so competitive, he added, that kitchen-table vendors have begun offering add-ons like silencers and a device to make handguns fire at a faster rate. Money-back guarantees are also becoming more common.

The San Diego police are beginning to uncover larger operations, often connected to the drug trade. “You are starting to see people manufacturing on a much bigger scale — 20, 30 guns at a time,” said a sergeant in the gun unit, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he works undercover.

Profit is the main driver. Dealers buy $600 worth of parts, put them together, then sell guns for as much as $1,400. Customers are happy to pay a premium for an untraceable weapon, he said.

Ghost guns have a spectral anonymity, providing scant ballistic value to investigators. But there is one thing that sets them apart.

Though the bullets found in bodies and walls are unremarkable, detectives have noticed a telltale trait in the casings: The marks left by ghost guns’ firing pins are cruder than the imprints made by standard ones.

They look a bit like police badges.

Audio produced by Jack D’Isidoro .

An earlier version of this article misstated the timing of the shooting of two Los Angeles County deputies with ghost guns. It was last September, not last spring.

How we handle corrections

Glenn Thrush covers the Department of Justice. He joined The Times in 2017 after working for Politico, Newsday, Bloomberg News, The New York Daily News, The Birmingham Post-Herald and City Limits. More about Glenn Thrush

Gun Violence in America

Makeshift Machine Guns: Popular devices known as “switches” are turning ordinary pistols into fully automatic weapons , making them deadlier and a growing threat to bystanders.

‘Ghost Gun’ Regulations: The Supreme Court temporarily revived  the Biden administration’s regulation of the kits that can be bought online and assembled into untraceable homemade firearms .

‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws: The shootings of two people  in Missouri and New York earlier in 2023 have renewed attention to self-defense laws across the country .

The Emotional Toll: We asked Times readers how the threat of gun violence has affected the way they lead their lives. Here’s what they told us .

A Growing Tally: Gun violence is a persistent American problem. A partial list of mass shootings this year offers a glimpse at the scope .

Gun Control: U.S. gun laws are at the center of heated exchanges between those in favor and against tougher regulations. Here’s what to know about that debate .


Center for American Progress

Frequently Asked Questions About Ghost Guns

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Homemade firearms that can be procured without a background check and do not have serial numbers, known as ghost guns, pose unique risks to community safety.

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Vice President, Communications

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Part of a Series

ghost with a gun

Gun Violence Prevention Policy FAQs

 (Ghost guns that were secured by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department are on display during a press conference held by Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) in Washington, D.C., February 2020.)

Gun Violence Prevention FAQs

Explore other fact sheets in this series.

This fact sheet may be periodically updated to account for new policy developments. 

What are ghost guns?

Ghost guns are fully functional firearms that can be made at home using parts and kits that are available to purchase from gun dealers or through online vendors. The key component of a firearm is the receiver, which holds the parts that enable it to actually shoot, such as the hammer, bolt or breechblock, and firing mechanism. 1 Ghost guns are made using receivers that are not technically finished and require a few additional steps at home, such as drilling a few holes, before they can be used to make a functional gun. Kits and online tutorials for making guns using unfinished receivers have proliferated in recent years and do not require any particular technical expertise. 2 A former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) special agent described the ease with which fully functional guns can be made at home using these parts: “If you can put Ikea furniture together, you can make one of these.” 3

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Guns made at home using unfinished receivers have become known as “ghost guns” because they do not have a serial number or any other identifying information and are therefore untraceable when they are recovered after being used in a crime. 4

Why are ghost guns currently legal under federal law?

Under current federal law, gun manufacturers and importers are required to engrave a serial number on the frame or receiver of each firearm, 5 and gun dealers are required to conduct a background check before selling any firearm. 6 The law defines “firearm” for the purpose of these requirements to mean “any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive” or “the frame or receiver of any such weapon.” 7 However, ATF has long interpreted this definition of firearm to include only fully finished firearms, frames, and receivers—meaning that those that are not technically finished and require a few additional steps before they can be used to make a fully functional gun are not subject to these legal requirements. 8

Why are ghost guns a problem?

Ghost guns pose two primary problems. First, because the parts used to make these guns are not considered to be firearms under the current interpretation of the law, individuals can buy them without undergoing a background check via the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. This means that individuals who are prohibited from buying or possessing guns under federal law can easily evade this restriction by simply buying a kit and making their own gun at home.

Second, because ghost guns are not required to have a serial number or other unique identifying information, they are completely untraceable if they are recovered by law enforcement in connection with a violent crime. This problematic aspect of these firearms gave rise to their nickname. Ghost guns offer very little evidentiary value to investigators working to solve crimes involving their use, making it much more difficult to develop leads and identify potential perpetrators.

Are ghost guns frequently used in violent crime?

Yes, ghost guns are increasing being used in shootings across the country:

  • In July 2020, an individual who was prohibited from possessing guns allegedly murdered two people in Pennsylvania using a homemade 9mm handgun. 9
  • In November 2019, a 16-year-old shot five of his classmates at Saugus High School in California—two of them fatally—using a homemade handgun, before fatally shooting himself. 10
  • In August 2019, a shooter used a homemade gun kit to build a .223-caliber firearm that he later used to fire 41 shots in 32 seconds in a bar in Dayton, Ohio, shooting 26 people and killing nine. 11
  • In 2017, in Northern California, a man prohibited from possessing firearms ordered kits to build AR-15-style rifles. On November 13, he initiated a series of shootings that began with fatally shooting his wife at home, followed by a rampage the next day during which he fired at multiple people in several different locations, including an elementary school, killing five people and injuring dozens more. 12
  • In 2013, a shooter opened fire in Santa Monica, California, shooting 100 rounds, killing five people, and injuring several others at a community college using a homemade AR-15 rifle. Reporting indicates the shooter had previously tried to purchase a firearm from a licensed gun dealer and failed a background check, potentially indicating why he opted to order parts to build a gun instead. 13

Law enforcement officials around the country are sounding the alarm about the dramatic increase in the recovery of ghost guns at crime scenes in their communities. ATF reported that approximately 10,000 ghost guns were recovered across the country in 2019. 14 Ghost guns have also been illegally trafficked to Mexico. 15 In addition:

  • In 2019, Washington, D.C., police recovered 115 ghost guns, a 360 percent increase from 2018, when they recovered 25 ghost guns, and a 3,733 percent increase from 2017, when only three such firearms were recovered. 16
  • In 2019, ATF reported recovering 117 ghost guns in Maryland with almost 25 percent recovered from Baltimore alone. Ghost gun recoveries in the state then tripled in 2020. 17
  • According to law enforcement in Philadelphia, ghost gun recoveries in that city rose 152 percent from 2019 to 2020. 18
  • The special agent in charge of the ATF Los Angeles Field Division reported in January 2021 that 41 percent of the division’s cases involve ghost guns, and a May 2019 statewide analysis in California found that 30 percent of all guns recovered in connection with a crime in the state did not have serial numbers. 19

In addition, an investigation by The Trace found that ghost guns are increasingly becoming the weapon of choice for violent white supremacists and anti-government extremists. 20

What is the solution for addressing ghost guns?

There are two potential approaches for banning ghost guns. First, Congress could pass legislation clarifying that unfinished receivers must be regulated in the same manner as fully finished firearms, which would require that these components be marked with serial numbers and only sold after a background check. Legislation has been introduced in Congress 21 that would enact this change at the federal level, and eight states have enacted state laws to address the problem of ghost guns. 22

The proliferation of ghost guns can also be addressed administratively. ATF should issue revised guidance clarifying that unfinished receivers that need only a few final steps before they can be used to make a fully functional firearm meet the statutory definition of “firearm” and are therefore subject to the same legal requirements as finished firearms.

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  • Legal Information Institute, “27 CFR § 478.11 – Meaning of terms,” available at (last accessed March 2021).
  • Andy Greenberg, “I Made an Untraceable AR-15 ‘Ghost Gun’ in My Office—and It Was Easy,” Wired , June 3, 2015, available at ; Bill Whitaker, “Ghost Guns: The Build-It-Yourself Firearms That Skirt Most Federal Gun Laws and Are Virtually Untraceable,” 60 Minutes, May 10, 2020, available at .
  • Alain Stephens, “What Makes a Gun a Ghost Gun?”, The Trace, December 5, 2019, available at .
  • Legal Information Institute, “168 18 U.S. Code § 923 – Licensing, (i),” available at (last accessed March 2021).
  • Legal Information Institute, “18 U.S. Code § 922 – Unlawful acts, (t),” available at (last accessed March 2021).
  • Legal Information Institute, “18 U.S. Code § 921 – Definitions, (a)(3),” available at (last accessed March 2021).
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, “Are ‘80%’ or ‘unfinished’ receivers illegal?”, April 6, 2020, available at .
  • CBS 21 News, “Shapiro reaches agreement to ban sale of ‘Ghost Gun’ kits at shows in Pennsylvania,” March 15, 2021, available at .
  • Nathan Solis, “‘Ghost Gun’ Used in Deadly LA-Area High School Shooting, Police Say,” Courthouse News Service, November 21, 2019, available at .
  • Bill Chappell, “The Pistol That Looks Like A Rifle: The Dayton Shooter’s Gun,” NPR, August 8, 2019, available .
  • Damon Arthur, “Sheriff: Tehama shooter built his own illegal guns,” Redding Record Searchlight , November 15, 2017, available at ; Jim Seida, Corky Siemaszko, and Phil Helsel, “California mass shooter killed wife, buried her beneath floor,” NBC News, November 15, 2017, available at ; Shauna Williams and Phil Helsel, “Gunman in California shooting spree needed mental help, sister says,” NBC News, November 15, 2017, available at .
  • Marisa Gerber and Andrew Blankstein, “5 dead in Santa Monica rampage; gunman acted alone, police say,” Los Angeles Time s, June 7, 2013, available at ; Carter Evans, “Santa Monica shooter built his own weapon,” CBS News, June 14, 2013, available at ; Pamela Engel, “Here’s the Legal Loophole That Allowed the Santa Monica Shooter To Own A Gun,” Business Insider, June 14, 2013, available at ; Andrew Blankstein and Matt Stevens, “Santa Monica shooter’s rifle appears to have been pieced together,” Los Angeles Times , June 12, 2013, available at .
  • Zusha Elinson, “Ghost-Gun Company Raided by Federal Agents,” The Wall Street Journal , December 11, 2020, available at .
  • U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas, “Corpus Man Gets Maximum Sentence For Unlawful Manufacturing and Trafficking of Firearms,” April 11, 2013, available at .
  • Amanda Michelle Gomez, “DC Recovered 115 Ghost Guns in 2019, Up From 25 the Year Before,” Washington City Paper , January 10, 2020, available at .
  • Joy Lepola, “Number of Ghost Guns Recovered in Baltimore More Than Triples,” Fox 5 News, December 3, 2020, available at,to%20the%20Baltimore%20Police%20Department .
  • CBS 21 News, “Shapiro reaches agreement to ban the sale of ‘Ghost Gun’ kits at shows in Pennsylvania.”
  • Brandi Hitt, “‘Ghost guns’ investigation: Law enforcement seeing unserialized firearms on daily basis in SoCal,” ABC 7, January 30, 2020, available at ; Alain Stephens, “Ghost Guns Are Everywhere in California,” The Trace, May 17, 2019, available at .
  • Alain Stephens, “They Planned to Start a Race War. DIY Gun Kits Allowed Them to Build an Arsenal,” The Trace, January 23, 2020, available at ; Ian Karbal, “‘Boogaloo’ Believers Think a Civil War Is Coming. These Gun Firms Are Openly Marketing to Them,” The Trace, June 29, 2020, available at .
  • Stop Home Manufacture of Ghost Guns Act of 2020, H.R. 7468, 116th Cong., 2nd sess. (July 1, 2020), available at ; Untraceable Firearms Act of 2020, S.3743, 116th Cong., 2nd sess. (May 14, 2020), available at ; Ghost Guns Are Guns Act, H.R. 1266, 116th Cong., 1st sess. (March 25, 2019), available at ; Untraceable Firearms Act of 2019, H.R. 3553, 116th Cong., 1st sess. (August 15, 2019), available at .
  • Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, “Ghost Guns,” available at (last accessed March 2021).

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Definition of ghost gun

Examples of ghost gun in a sentence.

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'ghost gun.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

2012, in the meaning defined above

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“Ghost gun.” Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Oct. 2023.

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