FILE -- In this Aug. 15, 2012 file photo, three variations of the AR-15 assault rifle are displayed at the California Department of Justice in Sacramento, Calif. While the guns look similar, the bottom version is illegal in California because of its quick reload capabilities. Omar Mateen used an AR-15 that he purchased legally when he killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub over the weekend President Barack Obama and other gun control advocates have repeatedly called for reinstating a federal ban on semi-automatic assault weapons that expired in 2004, but have been thwarted by Republicans in Congress. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli,file)

Ghost Guns – A Haunting Menace?

There’s a new article on NBC News decrying “untraceable ghost guns,” with the implication that there are vast swaths of criminals buying parts on the internet, assembling them into firearms, and then menacing the civil population with no recourse available to law enforcement.  The headline sets the tone for the article: “Loophole Lets Criminals Buy Untraceable ‘Ghost Guns’ Online.”

The writer claims that a correspondent ordered a “rifle parts kit” online and then, using the pieces in the box, they had it assembled in “a couple of hours.”

The article is leaving out important details in order to push a political agenda advanced by NY Senator Chuck Schumer.  His quote comes at the end of the article where he says that he is going to try to pass legislation which bans “ghost guns,” but, “The trouble is the NRA is so unreasonable and has such power in the Congress, you’d think this should pass like that, but it is going to be a long hard road.”

Thus, the NBC article could be summarized as “Schumer wants to pass new gun control legislation and needs help whipping up support via some new menace.”

The details the writer has left out in order to push this agenda center around the fact that these “kits” are called “80% receiver” kits.  They’re also sometimes referred to as “80% lower” (for AR-15 style rifles) or “80% frame” (for 1911 style handguns) kits.

These 80% receiver kits are simply blocks of aluminum or steel which have not been sufficiently machined so as to “manufacture” (in the legal sense) a firearm.  Since they are not firearms, they are not regulated as such and do not require serial numbers.  In addition, it is perfectly legal (under federal law) to manufacture a firearm for your own purposes.

The ATF has a handy FAQ with pictures of an AR-15 lower receiver which depicts an 80% lower.  An intelligent person could deduce from the picture that there is still machining work required to turn this block of aluminum into a firearm.  Typically, this would be done with tools such as a drill press, CNC machine, or milling machine, along with purpose-built jigs.

In addition, once the machining is done, the receiver would normally be sent off to be anodized.  Following this machining and finishing process, the rest of the firearm components can be assembled.  There is a similar process required for 1911 style handguns which begin as 80% frames.

Thus, the process to finish an 80% receiver is more complex than simply “receiving a box and assembling the pieces.”  Those who build firearms using 80% lowers typically do so because they enjoy the challenge and take pride in their craftsmanship.

Is it plausible that there is an alarming number of criminals who possess the tools, skill, and time to turn 80% lowers into finished firearms?  Or, is it more plausible that criminals simply steal the firearms they need?

Is it also likely that the attempt to ban these 80% receivers (“ghost guns” in the jargon of the breathless) is just another step in the effort to further restrict the rights of Americans?  What would be next?  Regulation of machine tools and aluminum?  Regulation of 3D printing machines?  Do we give up all our liberties because of the fear that some might misuse them?




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Aaron Simms

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