Cracking down on so-called ghost guns is part of the Biden administration’s prescription for solving gun violence, but crime stats from major cities and the Justice Department suggest the do-it-yourself weapons aren’t really the problem.
Ghost guns, which are made at home from a kit and don’t include serial numbers, are the target of a new Justice Department rule that would require the kits to include a traceable serial number.
Democrats, pointing to cities that have reported spikes in the use of ghost guns, have praised the idea, though DIY firearms remain a small percentage of all guns seized by police.
In Chicago, for example, only 139 out of the 11,258 firearms seized last year — roughly 1.2% — were ghost guns. That number, however, represents a 93% increase from the 72 ghost guns seized in 2019.
Philadelphia police in 2019 seized 95 ghost guns, accounting for 2.2% of the 4,264 guns they confiscated. In 2018, Philadelphia police confiscated 13 ghost guns.
Nationwide statistics on the use of ghost guns are hard to come by because the weapons are intentionally difficult to track.
A 2019 Justice Department study found that 43% of criminals purchased their weapons on the black market, but none made their weapons at home.
That hasn’t kept Democrats from pushing for more ghost gun control.
At a Capitol Hill hearing, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, called ghost guns “the fastest-growing gun violence menace in the nation.”
He focused on the overall increases in the use of ghost guns in major cities, rather than the percentage they account for in overall gun seizures.
“The number of ghost guns is surging,” he said. “The number seized, the number used in crimes, the number manufactured are all skyrocketing and at this rate, they will make a mockery of background checks and other common-sense regulations.”
Proponents of increased regulation on homemade guns argue that taking action now is worthwhile, even if doing so reduces only a sliver of gun crime.
The Justice Department reported that more than 23,000 weapons without serial numbers were seized by law enforcement between 2016 and 2020 and were linked to 325 homicides or attempted homicides.
It’s not clear how many of those weapons didn’t have serial numbers because they were ghost guns. The serial number also can be scraped off of most firearms with a metal file, though it is illegal to do so.
Republicans contend Democrats are overstating the ghost-gun problem for political gain.
“This is a made-up problem and yet here we are having a congressional hearing pretending that so-called ghost guns are a major issue. They aren’t and I look forward to the next hearing of this subcommittee on Civil War replica cannons,” Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said at the hearing.
Democrats say citing the percentages of ghost guns used in crimes is not an accurate gauge of the scope of the problem because of the difficulty tracking the weapons. Instead, they argue that Republicans should focus on the increasing number of seized ghost guns.
Mr. Cruz said if Democrats wanted to focus on gun crimes, they should focus on the surging violence in U.S. cities this year.
Shooting incidents in Chicago, for example, increased in 2020 by over 50% and homicides jumped by 55% compared to 2019 rates. In New York, homicide rates jumped 34% in 2020 compared to 2019.
“If Democrats want to stop gun violence, let’s have a hearing on how the move to defund the police is causing more homicides,” he said. “Let’s have a hearing on how gun-control proposals are making people vulnerable to violent crime and how they failed the big cities.”