Ghost guns are not helping the cause

Samantha Durham, Opinion Editor

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Editor’s Note: Samantha Durham is a senior at UNCW studying sociology. She is the Opinion Editor for The Seahawk and enjoys concentrating her work on social issues. All opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Samantha may be found on Twitter @Durham_Sam. All suggestions and inquiries may be sent via email to 

Gun regulations in the past couple of years have been a hot topic of debate. Advocates in favor of gun control point to mass shootings, crime and various other incidents as reasons to restrict gun ownership and gun rights across the country while those in opposition claim too many restrictions violate an American’s 2nd amendment right.

Both sides of the gun debate present compelling and fair arguments, yet it seems the country has yet to come to an agreement as to what is best in terms of gun ownership. However, it has become quite clear with recent attacks both domestically and abroad: Guns are problematic, but also changing the world. One way we can see changes in the world of firearms is with the rise of “ghost guns”.

To preface, I am familiar with firearms. While I never experienced them being used in an emergency situation, I am aware of their strength and power. I have fired a gun on multiple occasions and, with that experience, I have a respect for those that value their 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. But I also possess an awareness of the danger and destruction guns can cause.

“Ghost guns” are guns that have been created at home through DIY kits or other methods. While learning about this topic, it appeared to me that most of these homemade weapons are rifle-style guns such as AR-15s. However, ghost guns are not limited to just that particular style of weapon.

The major difference between an average gun and ghost gun is the serial numbers. Guns that you purchase in stores have serial numbers that allow them to be traced and registered. Purchasing a gun in a store also leads to background checks and identification. Ghost guns eliminate those factors almost completely, as a ghost gun has no serial number and requires no formal background check.

Many are likely to gasp at this idea, but it is reality and, thus far, completely legal. As long as the weapon is intended for personal use only, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives deems these weapons to be legal, reported The New York Times. It only becomes illegal if an individual begins selling or distributing these guns without a proper license.

Two popular distributors of the equipment needed to make your own weapon include Ghost Gunner and Ghost Guns.

Both companies provide similar goods and services to their consumers. Customers can go online and order a build kit designed for the particular weapon they have in mind. Ghost Guns’ website had tabs for an AR-9, AR-15, Glock, AK-47 and multiple others. Prices for the various kits range depending on what weapon is being assembled.

An important point to remember is that these weapons come completely taken apart. Customers are expected to build them at home. Which made me wonder: Exactly how does someone make an AR-15 or AK-47 without prior knowledge? These kits may come with instructions but it might be difficult to make your own do-it-yourself gun, regardless.

Evidently, it is not as hard as I assumed it might be. I searched on YouTube, “How to build a rifle from scratch” and I was surprised to get 1,420,000 results. I also stumbled upon an article from Wired titled “I made an untraceable AR-15 ‘Ghost Gun’ in my office – and it was easy.”

This proves that the resources are vaster than many of us believed them to be. The parts are available, the knowledge is at our fingertips and realistically speaking no one can stop you from doing it.

Another major key to a ghost gun is a part called an “unfinished receiver” or an 80 percent lower receiver. This is the part of a gun that houses the firing mechanism, which can be purchased without a background check. The background check is not required because the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) does not view this part as a firearm, reported The Wall Street Journal.

These unfinished receivers are typically made of polymer or metal, reported The Wall Street Journal. However, those who have the ability can make these parts themselves. A short Vice film captures a man in California displaying a weapon he made by crafting his own lower receiver from metal.

How did we get to this point? The right to bear arms has been a right throughout American history and while it has put us into sticky situations here and there, it seems like our right as citizens has become a threat to others.

Why do people feel the need to own an unregistered weapon? The company Ghost Guns’ slogan even reads, “Unserialized, unregistered”.

Many claim unregistered weapons protect them from being subject to the government. Others such as the man in the Vice film claim they do it because they can. I have no issue with that statement because we do live in the United States of America where we are allowed to own guns thanks to the 2nd Amendment.

My issue does not stem from the “do it by hand” mentality, but rather the resistance to registering your gun. With power and privilege come responsibilities, therefore if a person cannot uphold those responsibilities then I see no reason for them to have the privilege. The quote, “With great power comes great responsibility” fits this situation almost perfectly.

These ghost guns are not supposed to be sold or distributed but that does not mean they are not. Everyone knows that laws get broken and this is no exception. The Wall Street Journal reported that a man in California “pleaded guilty last year to selling 92 AR-15 style rifles, five handguns and 88 silencers, all without serial numbers for $264,000 over a six-month period.”

It is mentioned in Vice’s film, “How to make a homemade gun” how these weapons are being sold to drug cartels, gang members and convicted criminals who are not supposed to have guns at their disposal.

However, this ability to build guns at home is proving to cause not only criminal issues but also a legislative backlash. States, particularly California, have started creating legislation to combat the purchasing and creation of ghost guns.

Governor Jerry Brown vetoed one bill in 2016 that would have listed unfinished receivers as firearms thus requiring a background check, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.

However, while this bill was vetoed, Gov. Jerry Brown did sign a different bill requiring all residents of California owning an unserialized firearm to apply for one by 2019. This made California one of the first states to enact legislation against ghost guns.

While it seems individual states are taking matters into their own hands, too much damage has already been done because of ghost guns. In Santa Monica, shooter John Zawahri used a ghost gun in an attack that killed five people in 2013. A Northern California man killed five during a shooting with semiautomatic rifles he made at home and in 2016, a man in Baltimore shot at police with a homemade AR-15, reported The Wall Street Journal.

The prevalence of ghost guns goes beyond the borders of The United States. According to The New York Times, homemade firearms are estimated to be about 10 to 20 percent of all illegal weapons seized by police in Australia.

Some may claim that these are isolated incidents and that those who want to hurt others will find a way, regardless of the law. While I cannot disagree with that, I can pose this question: How is going around the system benefiting those in favor of less gun control?

It seems to me that if you are a gun owner in a typical sense (with a serialized weapon) you know the expectations and rules that apply to owning a weapon. One of those would be to have your weapon registered and a background check performed before ownership. Therefore, I am puzzled as to why people would want ghost guns to exist at all.

The existence of ghost guns brings about problems with people abusing their right to make them, thus leading to legislation. It also furthers the argument that guns without regulation lead to nothing but negative consequences. If you want to have few laws regulating your gun ownership, would you not frown upon those attempting to beat the system?

It reminds me a lot of the times in grade school when a few kids would act out and the whole class ended up being punished. I also question why someone really needs an untraceable weapon. To me, that only makes it appear you are doing something you should not be.

Nevertheless, lawmakers are swinging into action to stop ghost guns. Many are not against the DIY method but do oppose the unserialized aspect of the weapons. Personally, I agree. If you want to be a gun owner in the United States, you should follow all the same rules that everyone else in your state has to follow. Just because a loophole exists does not mean it is your duty to exploit it.

My stance is that if you want to own a gun, great. You have a right to own one as a citizen of this country, but with that right comes responsibility. Citizens need to be responsible for their guns and consider all of the regulations and requirements before owning a gun. We cannot get upset when stricter rules are created because certain people cannot follow the rules properly.

Unfortunately, this is the world we live in. That does not mean you cannot enjoy your rights, but it does mean that you have to be understanding of why regulations exist and also mindful of your own piece of the puzzle.