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Friday, May 28, 2021

Ghost Guns and the Deeply American Tradition of Gun Privacy

“Ghost guns” are the modern manifestation of an American tradition of liberty that stretches back to Lexington and Concord.

Image Credit: Flickr

Earlier this month, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) and Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) introduced the Untraceable Firearms Act, a bill that targets “ghost guns,” or unregistered firearms without serial numbers.

Also called “kit guns” or “80% guns,” most are built at home from manufacturer-produced gun kits. Improvised weapons, also known as “pipe guns,” are another variation, and they’re constructed using 3D-printed parts or salvaged and repurposed materials.

The proposed law would place strict limitations on the obtainment and manufacture of these guns. For example, it would prohibit building or housing a homemade, 3D-printed firearm, as well as trading a kit gun with a friend. Punishments for an initial violation include fines and up to a year in prison. Subsequent violations can incur up to a five-year sentence.

A False Premise

According to Blumenthal, the goal of the act is to “ensure that violent extremists, domestic abusers, and foreign terrorists can’t evade background checks and other safety measures by building weapons at home instead of buying them from a store.”

Yet, the data simply do not support the premise that ghost guns promote violent crime.

Last month, RealClearPolitics reporter Philip Wegmann asked White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki for data on how many violent crimes are actually committed with “ghost guns.”

Psaki was stumped for an answer, but offered that “the experts who are joining us here today have a bunch of data that they could share with you.”

That didn’t happen, however. Instead, the White House later forwarded him publically available numbers on how many untraceable guns were confiscated in various states.

“According to the D.C. Attorney General’s Office, Metropolitan Police recovered three ghost guns in 2017, 25 in 2018, and 116 in 2019,” RealClearPolitics reported. “Baltimore City Police reported confiscating 126 ghost guns in 2020. That same year, authorities in Los Angeles said they recovered more than 700 ghost guns.”

Separate data show other US cities had similarly low figures.

In Philadelphia, ghost guns accounted for 2.2 percent of confiscated guns in 2019, The Washington Times reported. In Chicago, that percentage was 1.2 percent in 2020.

Meanwhile, a 2019 Department of Justice report based on the 2016 Survey of Prison inmates estimated that 287,400 prisoners had possessed a firearm during their offense.

“Among these, more than half (56%) had either stolen it (6%), found it at the scene of the crime (7%), or obtained it off the street or from the underground market (43%),” the report said.

While 25 percent of prisoners surveyed said they obtained their firearm from a friend or family member as a gift, one category is notably absent from the DOJ report, critics of the policy pointed out.

“Not a single one appears to have said he made his own weapon,” Sen. Ted Cruz noted at a recent committee hearing. “Hear that again. The Department of Justice asked violent criminals where they got their guns. Zero said it was a so-called ghost gun.”

Despite these findings, in May the DOJ proposed a rule that would redefine the word “firearm” to crack down on ghost guns. The reclassification would cause gun kits to be regulated to the same extent as manufactured firearms.

Once again, the legislation is rationalized by the threat of violent crime.

“We are committed to taking commonsense steps to address the epidemic of gun violence that takes the lives of too many people in our communities,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.

In their proposal, the DOJ reports that in the last five years, 325 ghost guns were used in connection with homicides or attempted homicide. This number makes up less than 1 percent of homicides that occurred during that period.

Missing the Target

While the danger of ghost guns has been overblown, the legislation itself poses a genuine threat. It would deprive peaceful, law-abiding citizens of essential rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Not only would it infringe on our right to bear arms, as described by the Second Amendment, it would also violate our right to privacy, as described in the Fourth Amendment, which protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures.

To mandate gun “traceability” is to abolish gun privacy. It constitutes a standing dragnet “search” of all private firearms and makes them much easier to seize.

Violations like this hamper the ability of individuals to defend themselves against threats… including those posed by their own governments.

Deeply American

Although it is often sneered at as “fringe,” standing up for gun privacy against the government is an American tradition that stretches all the way back to the beginning of the Revolution.

In 1774, the British began routinely searching homes and confiscating the guns of Boston colonists under Royal Governor Thomas Gage. This was an attempt to quash the brewing revolution. The Boston Gazette wrote that, out of all of the British Crown’s abuses and usurpations, this government overstep was among the most outrageous.

In April of the next year, British troops marched towards Lexington and Concord under orders to find hidden arms. When they arrived, they were met by a citizen militia. Gage commanded the Americans to throw down their weapons.

The men refused to comply.

The Redcoats were ordered to confiscate as many guns and as much ammunition as possible. It was this threat against the right to bear arms that provoked “the shot heard round the world,” sparking the first military engagement of the American Revolution.

The Americans who fought at Lexington and Concord understood that the right to bear arms was essential to the protection of all other rights against government usurpation. This was the express reason for including the Second Amendment in the Constitution.

The subsequent track record of totalitarian governments around the world shows how prescient they were.

Just as essential as the right to bear arms is the right to conceal arms, as the residents of Lexington and Concord did. If Governor Gage had recourse to a comprehensive gun registry, disarming the Americans would have been much easier. Instead of a provocative mass search, Gage could have done the job with quieter targeted raids.

It was the colonists’ experience with unjust searches and seizures, like Gage’s gun hunt, that led to the inclusion of the Fourth Amendment in the Constitution.

Modern-day Americans should keep this lesson in mind as more restrictive gun control legislation continues to come down the pike. With each new law like the Untraceable Firearms Act, citizens have ever fewer means to obtain and retain their chief line of defense against criminal threats—whether from private actors or future tyrants.