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Untraceable ‘ghost guns’ pretty easy to build yourself

Roanoke Firearms store owner John Markell holds a Glock 19 handgun April 17, 2007 in Roanoke, Virginia. Virginia Tech senior Cho Seung-Hui, 23, a native of South Korea, bought a similar Glock 19 handgun from the shop 36 days before going on a shooting rampage that left 33 people dead. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

With a few basic tools and the help of some YouTube videos, it took Jeremy White about six hours before he was standing in a field in Virginia, firing a ‘ghost gun’ he had built himself. All he needed was an assembly kit, which he ordered online.

Dave Ross spoke to White — who is a graphics editor at the New York Times — on Seattle’s Morning News about these untraceable ‘ghost gun’ kits that come without a serial number or sale record.

“There’s no background check at all. There’s no check to see if someone is a domestic abuser, has a criminal past with several felonies. There’s no age check, there’s no citizenship check, there’s nothing,” White said. “So anyone with an internet connection and either a credit card or in some cases, Bitcoin, can acquire one of these.”

It’s a major part of their appeal.

The kits don’t meet the legal definition of a ‘gun’ until someone assembles them. This exempts online retailers from needing a license to deal firearms. And it means there’s no need to stamp the ‘raw’ materials with a serial number.

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White’s kit came with an unfinished polymer receiver.

“In some places I had to drill holes, in other places on the receiver, I needed to go and remove extra parts,” White said. “I think if you’re used to building small projects, doing home improvement things around the house, it would be pretty straightforward for anyone to build one of these.”

White bought a $399 assembly kit for a Glock 19 during an October “Glock-tober” sale. A new Glock 19 from the factory, White says, costs about $500.

But White said a homemade gun like his can go for twice as much on the black market.

It’s tough to tell how many of these guns are out in the wild. The teen shooter at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, Calif., who killed two students and then himself, used a gun assembled from parts without a serial number. Authorities are unsure how he was able to get the gun.

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“Because these are coming from private sellers, and there’s no registration process, and the companies that sell these don’t have to be licensed firearm dealers, there’s no data there to keep track of,” White said. “It’s like buying something off of Amazon at that point.”

The only data is after the fact. Police forces and A.T.F. agents keep track of how many ghost guns they’ve seized in the US.

“If someone wants to make their own gun for personal use, I think that should remain legal,” White said. “It always has been, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be. I understand the appeal of these because after building it myself … quite frankly it was fun. It was like any other small project where you’re working with tools, you have to be precise, you’re following the directions, and it’s a good way to spend some time in the garage.”

But White also said he found it a little too easy to put his gun together. And he’s concerned about the anonymity of ordering online.

“Even if you go to a gun show, you’re talking to a human being, right?” White said. “It’s a person to person interaction. But here you can be completely anonymous.”

As of April 2019, it is illegal in Washington state to manufacture an untraceable firearm with the intent to sell it. Washington is one of only four states that has any legislation against untraceable guns.

Listen to Dave Ross weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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