Led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, these Senate Democrats — who include Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York — want to require that all guns sold in the United States after Jan. 1, 2022, can be traced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Gun-kit manufacturers, distributors, sellers and buyers would come under the same federal regulations that govern the purchase or sale of completed firearms, including a requirement for serial numbers on all weapons and background checks for buyers of the kits.
With U.S. gun sales soaring during the coronavirus pandemic, a group of 15 Senate Democrats is introducing legislation calling for new restrictions on untraceable “ghost guns.”
Made using gun kits or by 3D printing — and sometimes referred to as “80 percent guns” because they haven’t reached a level of manufacturing that meets the legal definition of a firearm — these weapons have no serial numbers, as compared to guns sold by federally licensed gun dealers. There’s also no requirement to obtain a federal background check for anyone who buys a kit and builds such a weapon, and they can be sold by unlicensed dealers.
The legislation — similar to a bill that Blumenthal offered unsuccessfully in 2018 — is also backed by Everytown For Gun Safety and Giffords, two high-profile gun control groups. In a new report released Thursday, Everytown said, "The rise of ghost guns is the fastest-growing gun safety problem facing our country."
“There has been a tremendous proliferation of firearm sales generally, but most particularly for these types of untraceable weapons that essentially provide ‘crime guns’ that are really dangerous,” Blumenthal said in an interview. “They are clearly a means to evade the current federal laws.”
Blumenthal and other Senate Democrats also note that such untraceable weapons are turning up more frequently at shooting scenes, including mass shootings.
“People are more stressed” since the coronavirus crisis began, Blumenthal added, noting that gun sales were up by more than 70 percent in April from a year earlier. “They’re buying more firearms. The incidence of domestic violence have risen.”
Blumenthal said he has spoken to some Republicans who are interested in further discussions about his proposal but none are signing onto it.
Nick Suplina, managing director of law and policy for Everytown, said, “Ghost guns are flying off the shelves because of panic buying” during the coronavirus pandemic. The group, which is primarily financed by former Democratic presidential nominee Mike Bloomberg, provided information from gun-kit manufacturers showing delays in getting parts to customers because of high demand and shipping problems.
“Ghost gun sellers like to hide behind the pretense that their customers are just tinkerers, but it’s clear from our research that the truth is much darker,” Suplina said in a statement. “All too often, they are convicted domestic abusers, sex offenders, white supremacists, and minors.”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who like Blumenthal has pushed for more gun regulations since the horrific 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, downplayed the chances for any Senate action on the bill this year, although Murphy said that doesn’t mean Democrats shouldn’t push the issue.
“I can see the writing on the wall as to what we’re doing between now and November — things related to Covid-19 and nominations,” Murphy said. “But it’s important to keep the pressure on.”
Yet, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a vocal gun rights supporter who serves on the Judiciary Committee, suggested he might be open to background checks for gun-kit purchasers.
“I guess you can look at it that you’re buying an assembled gun or an unassembled gun,” Cornyn said. “To me, the same standard makes sense.”