The number of so-called ghost guns the federal government was able to trace and recover more than doubled between 2020 and 2021, according to a new report from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
The uptick indicates increased criminal use of the weapons, which got their moniker because they’re assembled with individually-purchased pieces to avoid serial numbers so authorities can’t track them down, according to the report. It also indicates law enforcement agencies are now more aware of the ATF’s tracing service.
More than 19,000 suspected ghost guns — or privately made firearms — were submitted to ATF for crime gun tracing in 2021, up from around 8,500 the previous year.
The number of ghost guns submitted in 2021 is also 1,083 percent higher than in 2017, when just over a thousand weapons were sent in for tracing.
ATF initiates tracing when it or another law enforcement agency discovers a firearm at a crime scene and wants or needs to find out where it came from — a process normally done by hunting down a gun manufacturer via the serial number on the weapon.
For ghost guns without serial numbers, ATF’s National Tracing Center examines the weapon with a number of metrics that help “identify its origins and piece together its history.”
The report suggests that the numbers may “significantly underrepresent” the actual number of ghost guns found at crime scenes, since some may have counterfeit serial numbers to masquerade the weapon as a regularly manufactured weapon.
The Biden administration has been taking steps to crack down on ghost guns. Last summer, the Justice Department implemented the “Ghost Gun Rule,” which subjects gun assembly kits to the same background checks, licensing and serialization as typical firearms.
President Biden also signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in 2022, which expanded background checks for gun purchasers under 21. The legislation also addressed the so-called boyfriend loophole, preventing convicted domestic abusers from possessing a firearm for at least five years, among other initiatives.
ATF’s latest report found the total number of crime gun trace requests it processed — not limited to ghost guns — went up 14 percent between 2020 and 2021, to nearly half a million.
The report comes in the wake of a bout of brutal mass shootings at the start of the new year, including three back-to-back incidents in California that left at least 19 dead.
Source: The Hill