Mother Jones Freaks Out About DIY Guns
Lots of people have built guns in their home workshops. My first AK-pattern rifle was from a kit I’d ordered online and an 80 percent receiver years ago. There’s been a thriving community of AR builders for even longer.
Building a gun is nothing new by any stretch of the imagination.
So why is a publication like Mother Jones worried about it now, referring to them as “untraceable” firearms?
Yet DIY guns are not exclusively built by the hobbyists and gun enthusiasts that helped me back then. The appeal of these guns is, in part, the enjoyment that comes from the build. But for some people, it’s also that they bear no serial numbers, and are, as a result, completely untraceable. No database and certainly no cop will ever know about them. That’s why this class of firearms is commonly referred to as “ghost guns.” And now, it’s becoming more and more clear that ghost guns also provide an avenue for criminals and individuals with mental illness or who are otherwise prohibited from owning guns to get them, undetected. Just last month, for instance, Kevin Janson Neal massacred five people and wounded nine others in Tehama County, California, using two semi-automatic rifles he built himself. A criminal protective order and a separate restraining order that had been placed on Neal in January—he was charged with assault with a deadly weapon after allegedly stabbing and beating two neighbors he held at gunpoint—meant Neal wouldn’t have passed a background check if he’d tried.
It’s nearly impossible now to keep people with nefarious goals, like Neal, from building their own weapons—the process, from start to finish, increasingly occurs outside of established regulatory schemes. Thanks to various technological advancements, not to mention the lack of background checks on gun parts and tools, this class of guns has the potential to spawn an entirely new front in domestic and global small arms proliferation—and, as evidence suggests, it has already started to do so.
As Mark A. Tallman, an academic who has spent several years studying DIY gunmaking, puts it to Mother Jones, “At some point this will be about smuggling tools, information, and knowledge rather than the guns themselves.”
The thing is, the writer acknowledges their use in crime is remote.
In the scope of firearms-related crime, the percent committed using ghost guns still remain a statistical outlier, according to Tallman, also an adjunct professor at Colorado State University-Pueblo’s Center for the Study of Homeland Security. “Since 2008,” he says, “trace reports involving DIY crime guns have increased several fold, but the total number is still less than one percent of all gun crimes that are traced.” Tallman warns, though, that the problem is growing; crime connected to ghost guns “has become an increasing factor in the United States, and certainly other countries.”
While so far there have only been a few glaring, high-profile cases involving these firearms in the United States, each of them has resulted in a shocking massacre. In addition to Neal, in 2013, 23-year-old John Zawahri, who had been kept from purchasing a gun years earlier, used a homebuilt AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle in a rampage in Santa Monica, California, that left five dead. Meanwhile, authorities continue to find ghost guns when busting up trafficking rings. In September 2015, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman called ghost guns “the new frontier of illegal firearms trafficking.”
Here’s the problem, though.
If I purchase a gun at a gun store, I’m legally allowed to sell that firearm. I am not required to register that sale in any way in most states. That means from the moment I make that sale, the gun is virtually untraceable. Especially since that gun can be sold a dozen times.