1. Background
  2. Gun Violence

The Rise of Ghost Guns—and What it Means for Gun Violence Prevention

By Andre Gobbo, July 12, 2020


Before the COVID-19 pandemic set in, so-called “ghost guns” were already on the rise. Since then, we’ve seen an increase in these untraceable guns at crime scenes and mass shootings. The panic buying of guns due to COVID-19 further fuels this already troubling trend.

What are ghost guns?

Ghost guns are build-it-yourself firearms. You can order all the separate parts directly to your home, and then you assemble the gun on your own. Once completed, you have a fully functioning firearm in your possession. There are models that will let you build anything from a handgun to an AR-15. Ghost guns look and shoot just like any other gun, only they circumvent all the regulations that apply to regular guns.

Why are ghost guns so dangerous?

Acquiring a ghost gun is easier than buying a regular gun, because ghost guns don’t require a background check. This is because they have slightly different dimensions than a regular gun. This, combined with the fact that people only purchase the separate parts instead of the entire firearm, allows ghost gun sellers to circumvent federal law.

Ghost guns look and shoot just like any other gun, only they circumvent all the regulations that apply to regular guns.

There’s no serial number on ghost guns either, making it impossible for law enforcement to trace who bought the gun or where it came from. Because of this, law enforcement offices struggle to estimate an exact number of ghost guns currently in circulation. The lack of traceability, combined with an increased demand for guns due to COVID-19, is causing a surge in ghost gun purchases.

Piecing this all together, it’s no surprise that ghost guns are becoming increasingly popular among those committing crimes. In May 2019, the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) reported that 30 percent of seized firearms in the department’s possession were ghost guns. In Los Angeles county alone, the number of ghost guns showing up in county investigations increased by 50 percent over the previous year. Washington, D.C. saw a 342 percent increase in recovered ghost guns – a jump from 26 ghost guns in 2018 to 115 in 2019. Many ATF and local police officers fear that this emerging trend will only worsen.

What is Congress doing about it?

To try and combat the rise in ghost guns, 15 Senate Democrats recently introduced a bill requiring that all guns can be traced by the ATF. It would also require that ghost guns are regulated just like any other firearm, most notably including serial numbers on every weapon and requiring background checks for each purchase. It wouldn’t create any additional regulations on top of established law.

Gun violence is already ravaging our society, and ghost guns will only make it harder to solve the problem. Congress must take action and prevent an explosion of untraceable guns in our communities.

Gun Violence Prevention 

Gun violence is a public health crisis that our country has been facing for decades. While it’s the mass shootings that grab the headlines, gun violence comes in far more common and pernicious forms. Suicides, accidental deaths, domestic violence, and homicides in urban areas and communities of color all take a toll on our society. We seek a society where we can feel safe in our communities doing ordinary activities without the risk of violent death.

Andre Gobbo

  • Legislative Representative, Domestic Policy

Andre Gobbo adds capacity to the Domestic Policy team by handling constituent queries, writing action alerts and sign-on letters, assisting with lobbying visits, creating informational content, supporting coalition relationships, and helping execute FCNL’s legislative strategies.