Responding to a pandemic surge in shootings that has spooked New York and the nation, Gov. Hochul on Thursday signed a package of bills to crack down on ghost guns — kit-assembled weapons that law enforcement officials can’t trace.
Hochul inked her name to three pieces of legislation that collectively criminalize the sale of ghost guns and outlaw the possession of unfinished gun frames by people outside the firearm industry.
“I believe this pandemic has really shaken people to their core,” the governor said in a news conference in Westbury, N.Y., on Thursday afternoon. “We have to make sure that we have the laws in place that will protect society.”
The rate of shootings in New York City doubled between 2019 and 2020, with this year’s figures almost mirroring last year’s, according to the NYPD. Nationwide, gun violence rates climbed by an estimated 30% during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic.
Hochul said the bundle of bills from Albany will meld with spending on community-level intervention programs — including jobs programs and religious efforts. But she suggested that stopping the spread of ghost guns plays a key role in pausing bloodshed staining the state.
“We’re trying to get ahead of this,” Hochul said.
Front page for Oct. 3, 2021: NYPD sees rise in untraceable, homebuilt guns. One of dozens of ghost guns found by the NYPD. They are homemade and have no serial numbers. (New York Daily News)
Unlike traditional firearms, ghost guns do not carry serial numbers. They are typically sold as incomplete sets, and purchasers use instructional videos to complete their weapons.
It’s unknown how many ghost guns are circulating around the U.S.
But it appears the number has ballooned in the past half-decade. In New York State, law enforcement recovered 220 ghost guns in 2020, a 479% increase over a three-year period, according to the Rockefeller Institute, an Albany-based think tank.
State Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), who sponsored one of the bills signed by Hochul, said the growth of the ghost gun industry had left ordinary people a few keyboard clicks away from purchasing parts for the weapons.
“Ghost gun retailers were doing an end-run around our gun laws,” Hoylman told the Daily News. “We’ve had to update our laws to meet new challenges created by technology.”
Leaders in Washington have appeared to move slowly to combat the new weapons, though the White House announced “initial actions” to curb gun violence in a statement in April. State legislatures have attempted to fill the gap. A ghost gun ban in Nevada overcame a challenge in federal court in July.
Hoylman said lawmakers in Albany modeled their bills after those passed in other states, and called New York’s measures the “strongest” in the country. He expressed confidence that they would withstand any legal challenges.
Hochul framed the legislation as part of the state’s legacy of strict actions to stem shootings.
“We want to continue to solidify New York State’s reputation as having the toughest gun laws in America,” the governor said in her news conference. “Because gun violence has not abated.”