Tougher federal rules crack down on ghost guns in Pa., nationwide | Friday Morning Coffee

‘Gun deaths are at an all-time high across the nation and right here in Pennsylvania,’ Gov. Tom Wolf said

By: - August 26, 2022 7:03 am

A display of ‘ghost guns’ displayed by Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office during a Capitol news conference on Monday, Dec. 16, 2019 (Capital-Star photo).

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

The prevalence of so-called ‘ghost guns,’ untraceable weapons built from kits, has increased over the last few years, vexing law enforcement as it has sought to combat gun violence in Pennsylvania’s towns and cities.

A new federal rule that took effect this week will make it harder for the weapons to change hands, according to the Biden administration. And officials in Pennsylvania say they welcome the tougher regulations.

The rule, issued by the U.S. Justice Department, through its Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, requires federally licensed firearms dealers that sell or distribute the partially completed weapons to conduct background checks before selling or transferring those parts, the Wolf administration said in a statement.

In Pennsylvania, the checks would be run through the Pennsylvania State Police, the administration said.

The DOJ’s rule clarifies that those kits qualify as firearms and that the manufacturers of those kits must “become licensed and include serial numbers on the kits’ frame or receiver, and commercial sellers of these kits must become federally licensed and run background checks prior to a sale – just like they have to do with other commercially-made firearms,” the White House said in an April statement.

“Gun deaths are at an all-time high across the nation and right here in Pennsylvania,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in the statement his office issued this week. “We can prevent some of this tragedy by keeping weapons out of the hands of those who can’t pass a background check … This is long overdue, and we’re ready to implement this rule in Pennsylvania immediately.”

Between 2016 and 2020, more than 23,000 firearms without serial numbers were reported to have been recovered by law enforcement from potential crime scenes, according to DOJ officials. That tally includes weapons connected with 325 homicides or attempted homicides, the Capital-Star’s Washington Bureau reported in May 2021.

In a statement last month, the state Attorney General’s Office said it had seen an “an exponential increase” in the number of ghost guns recovered by law enforcement.

That conclusion is borne out by new data. The Pennsylvania State Police, which began tracking the recovery and seizure of the weapons in 2021, recorded 24 such instances last year.

Philadelphia Police, who began tracking the same data in 2019, recorded 95 seizures and recoveries that year, the administration said. That number increased to 250 in 2020, and a “startling” 571 last year. So far in 2022, the two law enforcement agencies have collectively recorded 334 seizures and recoveries of the weapons, the administration said.

Josh Shapiro about to speak a press conference
Attorney General and 2022 Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Josh Shapiro at a press conference outside Harrisburg on March 24, 2022 (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso).

In a statement, Shapiro, the Democratic nominee for Pennsylvania governor,  said his office had been “sounding the alarm” for years on the threat the weapons pose to public safety,.

“For years convicted felons, violent drug dealers, have all been able to buy these guns at gun shows without a background check,” Shapiro continued, adding that the new federal rule will “[make] it harder for gun kits to end up in the hands of criminals and easier for law enforcement to track crime guns in their investigations.”


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.