Controversy over so-called “ghost guns” is more about emotion and a “silly name” than any real concern about crime waves, a Wyoming firearms law expert told Cowboy State Daily.
“Ghost guns” is a term for firearms that people build themselves – either from materials they already have, or kits ordered online – and which don’t have registered serial numbers.
The term “ghost guns” is “kind of silly name. It tends to illicit an emotional reaction rather than an intellectual one,” University of Wyoming law professor George Mocsary, director of UW’s Firearms Research Center.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday voted 5-4 to freeze a lower court’s order preventing the federal government from regulating those firearms. That grants a request from President Joe Biden’s administration to keep regulations requiring registered serial numbers for homemade firearms in effect while legal challenges against the regulations play out.
‘Ghost Guns’ Not Criminals’ Weapon Of Choice
The Biden administration and others have made “ghost guns” out to be a serious problem because they are supposedly fueling a wave of armed crime with untraceable weapons.
That’s simply not the case, Mocsary said.
“Criminals are not making their own firearms. The equipment to make your own firearm at home isn’t just a small piece of equipment,” he said. “The entire ‘ghost gun’ regulation is just a lot of noise to get attention. The number of those firearms used in crime is miniscule compared to the number of regular firearms used in crimes.”
Serial numbers are stamped into all factory-manufactured firearms, but historically haven’t been required for firearms that people build themselves for their own personal use, he said.
Some guns moved on the black market are manufactured guns that people have filed the serial numbers off of, rendering them untraceable. Filing the serial number off a manufactured firearm has always been patently illegal, Mocsary said.
Just Not That Popular
In the big picture, there’s not much of a market for homemade firearms or “ghost guns,” he said. They’re mostly used by serious hobbyists who have the time, knowledge and equipment to build or assemble their own firearms at home.
For everybody else, it’s more convenient to just buy a manufactured firearm, Mocsary said.
“Generally speaking, if you’re not a criminal and you’re not adjudicated mentally ill, you can purchase a firearm,” he said.
Buying from a licensed gun dealer requires a background check.
Wyoming doesn’t have universal background checks. That means no background checks are required for gun sales between private parties, he added.
Interesting Legal Proceedings
The interesting part of this week’s SCOTUS ruling is that it possibly sets a precedent against federal district court rulings applying nationwide, Mocsary said.
Such federal district court rulings “are somewhat uncommon,” he said. “A district court in one part of the country shouldn’t be able to impact what happens outside of its own district. I think that’s why SCOTUS stayed it, because it was a district court injunction that affected the entire nation.”
In 2022, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives expanded the regulations on “ghost guns.” It imposed the same requirements that apply to the commercial sale of firearms, such as serial numbers.
In June, Judge Reed O’Connor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas ruled that the new regulations amounted to overreach on the ATF’s part.
Mark Heinz can be reached at email@example.com.