Ghost Guns
Sgt. Matthew Elseth with "ghost guns" on display at the headquarters of the San Francisco Police Department in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Haven Daley,File)
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By Lee Williams

Home-built firearms built this country.

Long before we rebelled against England — while we were still a British colony — folks were making guns in their homes.

These weapons played an important role in the Revolutionary War because firearms were in such short supply, and they went west with their owners after the war to help tame the wilderness.

This country has a long and storied history of home gunsmithing, which nowadays is becoming a lost art.

Over the years, various trends helped make home-built firearms popular.

In the 1970s, several manufacturers began offering home build kits, mostly black powder, for the amateur gunsmithing and hobbyist crowd.

The fall of the Soviet Union forced many former satellite countries to sell off guns and gun parts as a way of securing hard currency. The majority of their AK parts kits was purchased by large manufacturers, which are required by federal law to stamp the receivers with serial numbers. Some of the parts kits were purchased by home-builders who are not subject to such requirements.

Dead Goose Society AK-47

Pretty much everyone forgot about home builds until the advent of 3D printing, which horrified the gun prohibitionists, even though it, too, is perfectly legal.

The anti-rights crowd instantly seized upon the home-build trend and turned it into a political cudgel in an attempt to force additional gun laws upon an unsuspecting populace, which is unwittingly falling prey to their “ghost gun” propaganda campaign.

California State Senator Kevin de Leon ghost gun
Former California State Senator Kevin de Leon (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

And the campaign is working.

Empowered by an anti-rights President, the highly politicized Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives recently proposed rule 2021R-05, which would reclassify AR uppers as firearms and much more.

This rule is clearly an attempt by ATF to stop Americans from building firearms in their homes. The Justice Department said as much in their press release, which accompanied the ATF’s proposed rule change.

“The proposed rule would modernize the definition of ‘frame or receiver’ and help close a regulatory loophole associated with the un-serialized privately made firearms that are increasingly being recovered at crime scenes across the country. These unmarked firearms, known as ‘ghost guns,’ are often assembled from kits that are sold without background checks, making them easily acquired by criminals who otherwise would not be permitted to possess a firearm.”

In other words, the ATF wants to close the “ghost gun loophole.”

A solution for a nonexistent problem

Most “ghost gun” reportage is nothing more than hype and hyperbole, which is unsupported by facts and data that can be verified. Even the gun prohibitionists admit this.

“There is no way to know how many ghost guns are in circulation because they do not have serial numbers and no background check is required to purchase them,” The New York Times reported April 9. “But data shows that their prevalence appears to be growing every year, especially in states like California that have strict gun laws.”

Wait a minute. Data? I thought there wasn’t any.

The Times first said there is no way to verify how many un-serialized firearms are out there, but now they are saying the numbers are increasing? How does that work?

There must be billions of them, right? Increasing to trillions?

The Grey Lady is not alone in the truth stretching.

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-rights propaganda factory, the Trace, also wants to have it both ways. In May 2019 The Trace reported that most police departments outside of California do not keep track of un-serialized firearms.

The Trace claimed that ATF does not track un-serialized firearms nationally, but they added that 30% of the firearms seized by ATF agents did not have a serial number.

To be clear, these are firearms seized solely by ATF agents, and despite their reputation, nationally, ATF agents do not seize a lot of firearms compared to local law enforcement, so it begs the question of how many firearms ATF is actually seizing…but the ATF wouldn’t say.

“The ATF declined The Trace’s request to provide a number of weapons recovered, but did say that ghost guns have become a high priority in criminal investigations,” The Trace wrote.

That omission is yet another head-scratcher, which should have invalidated The Trace’s entire story. However, their reporters then turned their nonexistent dataset into a nonexistent national problem.

Build your own ghost gun
Polymer80 kit gun (Travis Pike for TTAG)

“What happens in California doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Ghost guns are now spreading across the United States,” The Trace wrote omnisciently. And then they found an anti-gun “expert” to confirm their non-data-based conclusion.

“I see this as a wave that started in California and is going to move east,” said Steve Lindley, the former head of the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Firearms, who now, of course, works for the Brady Campaign.

What actually is spreading in California is a culture of noncompliance. In 2016, the California legislature passed a law requiring that all home builds be serialized and registered with the state.

Since then, just over 2,000 home builds have been registered, out of a total population of more than 40 million people.

The usual suspects

If you look at the law enforcement agencies reporting “ghost gun” seizures, you’ll see Chicago, Washington, D.C., New York City and a few more of the “usual suspects,” according to Sarasota County (Florida) Sheriff Kurt Hoffman, a staunch Second Amendment advocate.

Apparently, other than maybe in a few cities controlled by anti-gun zealots, home-built firearms are not a problem. All of these cities, Hoffman said, “have plenty of rampant gun violence to keep them busy before spending a minute looking to confiscate citizens’ home-built firearms.”

“As the largest law enforcement agency in Sarasota County, and the largest property/evidence section, we do not have a single ‘home built’ firearm in our possession,” Hoffman told me. “Americans have been building firearms for over 240 years — this is not a new phenomenon — but what is new is the narrative that these guns are wreaking havoc in our cities. It’s pure political theater.”

ghost gun 80% arms
Josh Shapiro considers this a gun. (JWT for TTAG)

Hoffman pointed to a news story from Reuters: U.S. cities sue federal government over untraceable ‘ghost guns’.

“If you look at this ‘new trend’ reports from legacy media groups such as Reuters, false narratives like, ‘law enforcement agencies are unanimous in saying the numbers are growing,’ that statement is flat out false. It’s further exacerbated by an attached photo of a protestor holding up her hands with ‘Don’t Shoot’ written on them suggesting, erroneously I suppose, that police shootings and ‘ghost guns’ have something in common. Sensationalism sells I guess,” Hoffman said.

My takeaways

Clearly, the uproar over home-built firearms is nothing more than the next page in the anti-rights playbook. It’s become their latest we-need-to-ban-this template.

It’s a simple formula: Create a furor focused on a firearm or a firearm accessory, give it a scary label and demonize it endlessly, link it to shootings by any means necessary even if they’re not true, and then hand it off to the legacy media for non-stop 24-7 coverage.

The anti-rights crowd doesn’t actually care about home builds, but they hope to use them as a stepping stone in their quest to ban ARs and other semi-autos.

Like Sheriff Hoffman, most real cops will tell you that un-serialized firearms aren’t a problem within their jurisdiction, and that the entire “ghost gun” issue is built upon a false premise.

The gun prohibitionists will claim that home-built firearms allow felons and other prohibited persons to possess firearms, but here’s a news flash — they’re already doing that despite the more than 20,000 gun laws already on the books. Besides, criminals don’t obey the law. That’s what makes them criminals. It doesn’t matter to them whether their weapon has a serial number or not.

In the end, banning law-abiding folks from building guns in their homes accomplishes exactly what the rest of the gun laws do…they infringe on the civil rights of law-abiding Americans, while doing absolutely nothing to deter or reduce crime.

As always, thanks for your time.



The Second Amendment Foundation’s Investigative Journalism Project wouldn’t be possible without you. Click here to make a tax deductible donation to support pro-gun stories like this.

This story is part of the Second Amendment Foundation’s Investigative Journalism Project, and used here with their permission.


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  1. You have touched on the exact reason why the BATFE is in the process of regulating the 80% market out of existence. The regulations will be issued and in the worst possible form. The next step will be to declare all AR15 style rifles as “machine guns” or destructive devices or AOW. Feinstein’s wet dream will come true. The tree of Liberty…..

    • How is that going to happen since those NFA classifications are written in law, not regulations? Does it have 1/4 ounce of explosives or a bite greater than .50? Then it’s not a destructive device. Is it concealable, a smooth bore pistol or revolver, a barrel between 12 and 18 inches than needs manual reloading after a single shot? Then not an AOW. Could they say fires more than one shot per trigger pull or readily convertible to do it? I guess they could find some way to do it, but by calling them machine guns, people would them be able to actually make them into machine guns, could ignore SBR/SBS restrictions, etc. They would be hard pressed to declare by regulatory fiat that millions of guns are unregistered and unregisterable contraband, like they tried, and failed, to do with bump stocks. Now please stop spamming your ridiculous theory across these boards.

      • Spamming? You miss the entire point. The communists in control right now can define anything and everything exactly the way they wish to without the bother of passing any laws. 50 some odd executive orders issued by Chairman Xiden have proven that point. Open your eyes. You might be surprised at what has been done.

        • You copy-pasted the same incorrect information on at least 2 discussions, so, yes, spamming. You didn’t refute any of my points. Try using some facts instead of baseless statements if you want to be taken seriously.

        • to Anymouse, I did refute each of your points. Since you didn’t. obviously, read exactly what I said I invite you to try again.

  2. From the article:

    “In 2016, the California legislature passed a law requiring that all home builds be serialized and registered with the state.”

    Not true. To clarify, CA AB 857 (signed into law by former Gov. Jerry Brown) requires that anyone wishing to assemble a firearm at home after July 1, 2018 must first apply to CADOJ for an assigned and catalogued serial number, and all grandfathered builds must have a serial number no later than July 1, 2019. There is no registration requirement for grandfathered guns, only that they must be marked. This is why there was a rush (of which I myself was part) in the months leading up to July 2018 by existing home-build owners to have theirs marked. Of course, if those guns are never used in a crime and never end up on LE radar, then they’ll remain off the grid and “ghostly”, so…what’s the point again to mark them??

    This is how all my P80 and AR builds are legally owned and off the grid, by marking before the 2018 deadline.

    • Additional two-page PDF document from CADOJ outlining current requirements for home-built handguns after July 1, 2018. Basically, Polymer80s assembled before 2018 are okay due to grandfathering, but any made today must adhere to the onerous “microstamping” and Unsafe Handgun Roster requirements, even though those were originally meant to be applied to “manufacturers”. CA now deems anyone assembling a gun at home a “manufacturer”…even though he isn’t. But reasons…

    • Since the pre-July 2018 serial numbers.have to come from the state, aren’t they de facto registered?

      • No. The law specifically says that builds after July 1, 2018 need pre-approval and serialization from CADOJ, so any existing builds before that date were (legally) assumed to be already marked with the owner’s serialization and info. Since you can’t erase and re-mark that little piece of embedded stainless steel on the underside of the frame’s throat, it wasn’t required. Again, this is why existing Polymer80 owners rushed to have ours marked before the deadline, so we could choose our own S/N and remain off the books.

        Not that this unconstitutional law has really changed anything, though. I personally know multiple people who just kept building. Our local ranges don’t ever inspect your guns, and there’s always the desert…

        • If the 80% frame doesn’t have a manufacture date, how can anyone prove whether it was made and numbered before the deadline?

  3. Home built weapons and the revolutionary war.
    Yeah We dont want that to happen again.
    And it won’t, and it can’t.
    They know that.
    So it must be about serial numbers and who’s got what.
    Off to prison American satans.

  4. Different date sets. How many in circulation total versus numbers seized by every level of government. It’s disingenuous to accuse the liberal Grey Lady of stretching the truth and then diliberately confuse the data. Government can easily provide data to prove increases of home build firearms turning up at crime scenes. It has no direct correlation to how many in circulation.

    I am an 2A absolutist but I don’t support twisting information .

    • In 2019, ghost guns made up 4% of all guns confiscated by San Diego PD. That number jumped to 12% in 2020. It’s now at 22% so far in 2021. D.C. Identified the guns directly as polymers 80s and they were at 10% in 2019. Guns recovered at murders are running the same rates. Anyone who can change their own oil can build one in about an hour.

      • And if you’re a prohibited person, it is still illegal, if you’re not who cares what you build. Sell it if you like, if you sell it to a prohibited person, he has broken the law again. And ALL these laws are infringements and therefore unconstitutional.

  5. How stupid are these reporters, all fake news like this just increases firearm sales. Have you attempted to buy any 80% lowers? Out of stock and sold out, comes to mind. Good for them, sales are off the hook.

  6. The Tree of Liberty…indeed…

    Whose blood do you think will come first, tyrants or Patriots ?

    ATF has always been a nazi gestapo group of killers and Liberty thieves. Witness Ruby Ridge, Waco, Operation Fast & Furious, the Bundy Standoff and THOUSANDS of smaller operations where they trampled, with their hobnailed boots, on innocent Americans.

    To add insult to injury, they consider themselves virtuous law enforcement. Their smug faces totally disgust me, and their actions over the years have proven what vicious killers they really are. After a raid, they probably have drinks in a bar and tell each other how wonderful they are as they recount the body bags.

    They are the ultimate assassination squad for the commie demoncrat radicals’ plan to deprive Americans of any possible means of self-defense.

    • “…they consider themselves virtuous law enforcement…”

      I work with LEOs from several departments, including LASD and LAPD, among others. Those in standard ranks (Officer, Deputy, Sergeant, Lieutenant) I’ve spoken with have never expressed any desire to fracture their local communities by tangling with residents over home builds. That’s where they live and raise their families.

      But certain specialists have a different mindset. I’m reminded of a conversation I overhead at the gym a couple of years ago, in which four muscular 20-somethings were energetically talking about their respective cadet training. One of them had apparently already completed his Academy and was speaking of his plan to eventually apply for S.W.A.T.

      One of the others said, “That’s ambitious. What’s your reason for wanting S.W.A.T.?”

      The first guy literally grinned and said, “Because they get to bust down doors and kick ass!”

      Some LEOs are virtuous. But not all.

      • “Some LEOs are virtuous. But not all.”

        Remember the guy standing in front of the tank in Tienanmen Square?

        Do you know how they got the troops to mow down *thousands* of those kids with machine guns?

        It was easy – They went to the furthest, most backwater provinces and got the troops there. They knew eastern Chinese troops might balk.

        The cops in your area won’t kick down the doors in your area, they’ll get cops from podunk village to do their dirty work. Ones they know vote Democrat. They will pull the trigger on your friends and family…

  7. “reclassify AR uppers as firearms” I hadn’t heard that bit yet, need to go read it again I guess. That is part of the whole thing with the AR, you can swap uppers. I guess you still could but each one is a firearm itself?

    I guess the writing was on the wall when they defined any receivers, non-built, or non-firearms as firearms. So if I buy a built AR from a dealer it’s one gun, but if I buy an upper and lower it’s two guns? Attach a silencer (another gun) to your gun (s), instant 3 gun! Don’t put a bump stock on it or you will be attaching a machine gun to your other three guns.

    The next build goal- how many registered guns can you have in one gun build! 4, 5, maybe 6?

  8. Do you know why no actual numbers are ever cited? Because the actual numbers are trivial. You would not need all of your fingers and toes to count the homicides in the US due to “ghost gun” rifles in any given year. All of these proposals are solutions in search of a problem. And it is all because we can’t talk about actual gun homicides. That is literally politically incorrect. Also, their weasel words about guns lacking serial numbers. Note they avoid using the words “home built 80% guns”. Instead they say “lacking serial numbers”. That is because the numbers were scratched off! When you have an agency completely indifferent to straw man sales and lying on federal forms, you have to question their sincerity.

    • Yep, I’d wager $100 that they are lumping scratched serial number guns into ghost guns. It’s how the swamp operates.

      And yet I’d also wager another $100 that there won’t be one Republican congreess critter that will ask them in any hearings or call them out in public about it. Our pols are feckless and useless.

  9. “It’s a simple formula: Create a furor focused on a firearm or a firearm accessory, give it a scary label and demonize it endlessly, link it to shootings by any means necessary even if they’re not true, and then hand it off to the legacy media for non-stop 24-7 coverage.”

    Yup. Every single gun grabber talking point of the last 40 years (at least) has followed that formula – ghost guns, assault weapons, teflon-coated “cop-killer” bullets, “invisible” plastic guns, the street sweeper, the TEC-9, probably a dozen or more other examples of gun control BS that I’ve forgotten about.

  10. “making them easily acquired by criminals who otherwise would not be permitted to possess a firearm”

    Since when were criminals ‘permitted’ to poses firearms?

  11. Going all nuts over unserialized guns is crazy and a waste of time. It doesn’t change the fact that a criminal killing someone in the commission of a crime is still illegal. Someone not legally allowed to posses a firearm is still not allowed regardless of the markings on the gun. This whole thing is ridiculous.

  12. Just wondering why is it when there are photos of guns why do they always photograph the side with no markings when they call it a ghost gun? They never show the side where the manufactures info would be. At least from the photos that I have seen,

  13. 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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    • Although I don’t doubt that homemade firearms are being used in larger numbers in crimes now, I don’t believe the hyperbolic numbers that the media is putting forth. You mention figures about LE agencies recovering “ghost guns” in larger numbers: note that a recovery does not mean the firearm was used in a crime, much less in a shooting. Most firearms taken by LEs are secondary to crimes.

    • All this really proves is the futility of trying to control violent crime by focusing on the instruments of violence rather than the perpetrators of violence. That fact will not change no matter what gets banned.

      • In 1958. the late Col Jeff Cooper, handgun expert and founder of Gunsite Academy, stated, “Killing is a matter of will, not weapons.
        You cannot control the act itself
        by passing laws about the means employed.”
        A politician with a law never stops a bad guy with a gun.
        He only controls the good guys which is his true agenda.
        However, “gun violence” is not the politicians’ true objective.
        The new agenda for humanity requires that no one will have the capacity to fight back. It has been said: “Our Task of creating a Socialist America can only succeed when those who would resist us have been totally disarmed.” No other explanation is possible.
        And there, boys and girls, is the Xiden/KamelHo/Pigloosi/Slummer/FineStain Gun Violence Prevention Plan in a nut shell. It’s all about protecting Libtard/Socialist anti-America tyrannical politicians’ asses from American Patriots with AR-15s.

  14. What about the millions of .22 rifles and shotguns legally manufactured prior to 1968 without serial numbers? Are they now being reported as “ghost guns”?

  15. Last set of numbers I’ve seen that I might trust to be honest, FBI Uniform Crime Stats, has the number of non serialized guns actually used in crimes at about 2%. Which makes me wonder if the agencies claiming major rises in un-numbered firearms, might just be using firearms with filed off serial numbers to pad the figures.
    Criminals, by definition, aren’t going to obey the laws already on the books. What makes anyone think they would start now?
    My question is this, Murder is illegal, Armed robbery is illegal, Possession of a firearm by a convicted felon is illegal, Does it really matter where, when, or who made the weapon? It’s illegal for home made knives to be possessed in prison. Anyone ever hear of a shank?
    The whole goal of any firearm restriction is to make it more difficult for the law abiding citizen. Not 1 anti gun law, or any other law, has ever stopped anyone from committing a crime. Making something more illegal will have no beneficial effect, or prevent 1 crime from happening.
    Heck, if the anti gun crowd could make every firearm on the North American Continent disappear today, some enterprising individual would be on the phone or online figuring how to get a shipping container full of firearms from Brazil, China, Eastern Europe, etc.

  16. Of course criminals are making their own guns now — that’s what happens when the government starts stamping down on the accessibility of things people desire: demand gets met.
    In other words, the phenomenon of criminals making their own guns is caused by the government.

  17. The government is using the excuse that “ghost guns” can’t be traced. What they fail to say is that only new guns can be traced – and only to the first retail buyer. Once that gun is sold, given away, stolen or even traded in to another dealer and enters the used market, it’s almost impossible to trace it further. Older guns cannot be traced for many reasons. ATF does not have the authority to go on a “fishing expedition” through all dealer books to try to find a specific old gun, nor does it have the authority to copy dealer books to put the records on a computer. Even if they did, many companies produced duplicate serial numbers which would make such a search a nightmare!

  18. BINGO…..and, that is the why of their Universal Background Checks…….final goal is registration to facilitate confiscation. Same old playbook call used for 100 years through out the Socialist/Communist world.


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