Ghost Guns: A Growing Threat to Public Safety

For the Maryland General Assembly’s (MGA) 2022 Session, expect continued focus on privately made, do-it-yourself firearms, also known as “ghost guns.”

Photograph of an untraceable “ghost gun,” courtesy of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf

Generally speaking, ghost guns are constructed in one of two ways: 1. through the receiving of parts through the mail; or 2. the printing of parts using a 3D printer. Neither federal nor state law require the registration of individual gun parts, most notably a gun’s frame or receiver. Absent the ability to track the distribution of ghost gun parts and kits, sales have proliferated across the country. The Maryland Department of Legislative Services (DLS) describes the magnitude of these sales in an issue paper constructed for the 2022 MGA session:

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, between 2016 and 2020, over 23,000 ghost guns were recovered by law enforcement from potential crime scenes, including 325 in connection with homicides and attempted homicides. In November 2020, the Baltimore Sun reported that between 2016 and 2019, more than 12,000 build kits were shipped to Maryland, with total sales of the kits exceeding $1.0 million. The Baltimore Sun further reported that the Baltimore City Police Department recovered 126 privately made firearms in 2020 compared to 29 recovered in 2019, and that nearly one-quarter of such firearms recovered were from individuals under the age of 21.

During the 2021 MGA session, Senator Susan C. Lee (District 16, Montgomery County) introduced SB 624, entitled, “Public Safety – Untraceable and Undetectable Firearms.” The bill would have addressed the ghost gun issue by including frames and receivers in the definition of a regulated firearm and requiring a serial number on any frame or receiver.

Likewise, according to DLS, “[e]ight states (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington) and the District of Columbia” have enacted similar laws, with the latter actually prohibiting “the possession of unfinished frames and receivers and untraceable firearms.” On the federal level, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has proposed a regulation providing for “new regulatory definitions of ‘firearm frame or receiver’ and ‘frame or receiver’” and “amendments to ATF’s regulations on marking and record-keeping that are necessary to implement these new or amended definitions.”

Altogether, expect a bill similar to Senator Lee’s SB 624 to be introduced for the 2022 MGA session.

Read the full DLS issue paper.