PROVIDENCE, RI -- The growing number of ‘ghost guns’ turning up at violent crime scenes is clear evidence that they pose an increasing risk to public safety.  And the haunting fact that these guns are being sold with no background checks or serial numbers makes it easier for violent criminals to escape detection.

To help prevent gun violence and improve public safety, U.S. Senator Jack Reed and Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Neronha are joining together to urge swift Congressional action to stop dangerous criminals from getting unfettered access to untraceable weapons known as ghost guns or privately made firearms (PMFs).

Traditional firearms sold by licensed dealers require serial numbers, and buyers must complete a background check before obtaining a gun.  But ghost gun kits and components, which are often sold online, lack serial numbers or an identifying mark to indicate its manufacturer, and are difficult for law enforcement to trace but easy for criminals to acquire without a background check. 

Ghost guns can come in a variety of forms, from handguns to semi-automatic versions of assault rifles like AR-15s.  They are a growing street weapon of choice for those who would fail background checks, such as felons convicted of domestic violence or subject to court orders, violent extremists, and teenagers too young to legally own a gun. 

According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), ghost guns recovered by law enforcement rose more than 1,000 percent between 2016 and 2021.

At the federal level, Senator Reed is working to ban ghost guns and pass the Untraceable Firearms Act, which would require sellers of ghost gun kits to comply with federal regulations around gun safety.  It would mandate that unfinished frames and receivers, which make up the core of a ghost gun, be added to the definition of firearm in federal law.  The bill would also require sellers of ghost guns to have a manufacturer’s license, include a serial number on the frame or receiver in each kit, and take steps to ensure purchasers of their products undergo a background check.

To reduce the proliferation of ghost gun crimes, the ATF issued a rule last August updating the definition of a “firearm” under the Gun Control Act to include certain do-it-yourself parts in ‘buy-build- shoot’ kits and clarify that some partially-assembled frames and receivers from these kits are also subject to regulation. 

Manufacturers who profited from ghost guns challenged the rule.  But the U.S. Supreme Court recently allowed ATF to resume enforcing the restrictions pending decisions in the lower courts.

Last week, in a victory for gun safety, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals denied a challenge to the ATF ghost gun rule in a case brought forward by Gun Owners of America working in concert with the Republican attorneys general.

As the legal process plays out in those courts, at the state level, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Neronha has vigorously prosecuted ghost gun users.  In his latest annual report on gun crimes in Rhode Island, Neronha noted that there were 66 cases in 2022 involving ghost guns.

“Ghost guns are being used to shoot and kill.  They must be regulated like other firearms.  That includes thorough background checks before being sold and accountability for the manufacturers. It’s past time to close federal loopholes and exorcise the ghost gun threat,” said Senator Reed.  “I will continue working to get ghost guns off the streets and codify the ATF's authority to help keep our neighborhoods safe.”

“Because ghost guns are untraceable, they are sought after by the very people who shouldn’t be armed in the first place,” said Attorney General Neronha. “Here in Rhode Island, we have put in the work to pass common sense gun laws that help keep our communities safe. But with the prevalence of ghost guns and ambiguity at the federal level, criminals can circumvent the system, and we are back to square one. It’s time to get tougher on ghost guns with stronger federal regulations and I’m proud to stand with Senator Reed in this initiative.”

In 2022, the ATF recovered 25,785 ghost guns in domestic seizures, as well as 2,453 through international operations, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Rhode Island is currently one of thirteen states that regulate ghost guns, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.  The others are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington.

Reed and Neronha say that while Rhode Island has tough laws on the books to stop the proliferation of ghost guns, federal laws are needed to close the flood gates and prevent a tidal wave of ghost guns from pouring in from out of state.