‘These are the paint-by-numbers of firearms,’ AG Shapiro says as Pa. moves to crack down on ‘ghost guns’

    A display of 'ghost guns' displayed by Attorney General Josh Shapiro's office during a Capitol news conference on Monday, 12/16/19 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

    Aiming to crack down on what he says is a rising public safety threat, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro says his office has instructed law enforcement to treat unassembled “ghost guns” as firearms, which means that those who are legally barred from possessing a weapon may not own them.

    “These are the paint-by-numbers of firearms,” the Montgomery County Democrat said during a Capitol news conference Monday where he said he’d issued a legal opinion to the Pennsylvania State Police to treat the guns, also known as “80 percent receivers” as firearms under state law.

    In a statement issued by his office, Shapiro said the receiver, or frame, is essentially the shell of a gun and cannot function without internal firing components. But these frames can easily be turned into a functioning firearm. The weapons commonly do not have serial numbers, which makes them difficult to trace.

    That enforcement gap made these weapons easily accessible to criminals and those prohibited from purchasing firearms in the Commonwealth, including convicted felons and domestic abusers,” Shapiro’s office said in its statement. The opinion issued Monday “clarifies any uncertainty over whether the frames can be treated the same as fully functioning firearms,” Shapiro said.

    Other states, such as California, and New Jersey, have moved to crack down on the weapons. In authorities in the Garden State arrested 12 people in a “ghost gun” bust, KYW-TV in Philadelphia reported in March.

    Gov. Tom Wolf, who joined Shapiro at the news conference, said the legal action “was in the best interests of all Pennsylvania,” because it “closes a loophole that never should have existed in the first place.”

    Shapiro, who’s been frequently mentioned as a possible successor to the term-limited Wolf in 2022, was quick to stress Monday that his office was not moving to ban any weapon and that the action his office took would not infringe on the rights of legal gun-owners.

    “Criminals should take notice that this loophole is closing,” he said.

    John L. Micek
    John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. He's been covering Pennsylvania politics for more than 20 years and most recently served as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Micek's commentary is syndicated to more than 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. And he's a regular contributor to a host of broadcast outlets in Pennsylvania and abroad.