NYS legislation would ban untraceable 'ghost guns'

Yancey Roy and Zachary R. Dowdy

September 19, 2019

Originally published in Newsday on September 19, 2019.

ALBANY — They’re called “ghost guns” because they're untraceable and meant to evade current law.

Shipped to purchasers in pieces and without serial numbers, the guns can be assembled into a fully usable firearm. And because the weapons are shipped unfinished, they skirt state and federal restrictions. Anecdotally, law enforcement has said their presence appears to be on the rise.

On Thursday, two Long Island legislators introduced a bill to outlaw ghost guns, calling the sale of such weapons “shocking.”

“We have some of the strongest and most sensible gun laws in this state, and to see how people find a way around gun laws is just amazing to me,” said Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck), one of the bill's sponsors. “They come with all the pieces. They give you a video to walk you through the [assembly] process. It takes less than one hour and you walk out with a gun with no serial number and the purchaser has not been subjected to a background check.”

Kaplan and Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) are backing legislation that would prohibit the possession or sale of “unfinished frames and receivers” that can be assembled to make a firearm.

“An individual can use an unfinished receiver to circumvent gun laws by making their own semiautomatic weapon at home,” the lawmakers wrote in a memo accompanying their bill. “Unfinished receivers are not tracked, and it is unknown exactly how many of them have been finished into weapons.”

On Thursday night, Kaplan and Lavine gathered with other elected officials and as many as 100 people to protest what organizers said was a fundraiser for the National Rifle Association at the Inn at New Hyde Park.

“The NRA doesn’t support any of the safeties that will allow people to not live in fear,” said Sharon Golden, whose organization, Together We Will-Long Island, sponsored the demonstration at the Inn’s Jericho Turnpike locale.

Other groups participating in the 6:15 p.m. protest included Moms Demand Action, Long Island Activists and Long Islanders for Gun Safety.

A manager at the establishment declined to comment by telephone but said the company would have a statement on Friday.

Linda Beigel Schulman, whose son, teacher Scott Beigel, was gunned down during the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre of students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school in Parkland, Florida, said she would not rest until sensible gun laws are enacted as she held up a picture of her son moments before he was shot.

“This is why gun safety is going to happen,” she said. “We’re not going to stop.”

Earlier this month, Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini announced the arrest of a Sayville man who allegedly possessed 800 bags of heroin, an assault rifle and two handguns, one of them automatic. The weapons, Sini said, were all ghost guns assembled by the suspect.

It’s just one in a similar series of headline-grabbing arrests.

Two days after the Suffolk arrest, Syracuse prosecutors held a news conference to say ghost guns were at the center of dozens of cases pending in local courts. They highlighted online sites that offered “combat-tested ghost weapons” that are 80% assembled — a threshold that keeps them from being considered firearms under federal law.

The head of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association said the sale of ghost guns is a growing problem.

“These '80 percent' guns are providing a way for prohibited people to buy a firearm,” Tom King of the NYSRPA said, referring to people who don’t have a gun permit or are otherwise prohibited from possessing a gun.

He said self-assembled guns provide a way for competition shooters to make a custom-fitted firearm. Such weapons should have serial numbers and be registered — and any new legislation should consider such a provision, he said. But it appears increasingly, King said, people trying to evade the law are the ones buying and selling self-assembled weapons.

“It appears what was meant to be something for competitive shooters and serious shooters to build their own unique firearm may be turning into a criminal enterprise,” King said.

Earlier this year, state legislators and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo approved a law to ban “3D-printed guns.” Manufactured with high-tech plastic, 3D guns can evade metal detectors and also have been called ghost guns. But those have been far less of problem than the “80 percent” guns, King said.