In a recent ProPublica piece co-published with The Baltimore Banner and Reno Gazette Journal, the story of Polymer80, a ghost gun parts manufacturer, and its defiance of state and local regulations receives the spotlight.
As referenced in previous Conduit Street coverage, ghost guns are privately made, do-it-yourself firearms that, absent regulation, do not include traceable serial numbers. During the 2022 Maryland General Assembly Session, the legislature passed a law, SB 387 – Public Safety – Untraceable Firearms, requiring serial numbers on parts, including frames and receivers, necessary to construct a ghost gun. In addition, under 27 CFR § 478.92, Firearm manufacturers marking requirements, federal law requires serial numbers on the frames and receivers of completed firearms, but not if sold separately.
The untraceability of ghost guns has resulted in their proliferation. According to ProPublica, “[b]etween January 2019 and October 2020, for example, Polymer80 shipped nearly 52,000 items to customers across the country, according to court documents.” Moreover, “the vast majority of ghost guns recovered by law enforcement nationwide are built from Polymer80 parts.” As a result, several lawsuits have been filed challenging Polymer80’s sales and distribution practices, including by Los Angeles, Washington DC, and Baltimore City. In addition to Maryland, several states have enacted laws requiring serial numbers on frames and receivers, including California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington.
Nevada’s law was successfully challenged in court – keeping in place a prohibition on assembling or possessing a ghost gun but allowing the possession and transportation of the components of a ghost gun. ProPublica quotes a gun control advocate suggesting a state-by-state solution is inadequate, implying that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) needs to revise 27 CFR § 478.92. The outlet also highlighted actions taken by cities to stem ghost gun distribution and the emotional toll these firearms have wrought upon local communities:
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott is one of the city leaders who has sued Polymer80. The lawsuit is intended to hold the company accountable for the street violence perpetrated by people using Polymer80 kits to circumvent federal and state gun laws that require a background check to purchase a firearm and a license to own a handgun… Baltimore police recently busted a ghost gun-making operation, arresting a man who had dozens of Polymer80 kits, Scott said. The man was a childhood friend of Scott’s.
But another incident made the issue even more personal for Scott. In January 2021, Dante Barksdale, an anti-violence activist beloved in Baltimore was shot nine times with a Polymer80 ghost gun. He died in the courtyard of an apartment building where he had a few weeks earlier delivered winter coats to families who live there.
In recent years, Polymer80 has expanded beyond selling individual frames and receivers, going so far as to sell kits including “both the unfinished frame and other parts needed to quickly assemble a complete firearm.” Again, all while skirting federal serial number requirements. The owner of Polymer80 opposes a serial number requirement as it would be “a ‘critical threat’ to his business, which he said relies on a growing market of individuals who ‘value their Fourth Amendment rights’ to privacy.” In light of the Supreme Court’s Bruen holding, it may soon become very challenging to regulate ghost guns, if at all.