Editorial: Criminals Turn to Untraceable ‘Ghost Weapons’ | Editorials

Editor’s Note: Guest editorials do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the newspaper. The following is from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

President Joe Biden’s call for a crackdown on “ghost guns” – serial-free weapons made from kits or 3D printers – should be the easiest way imaginable. With violent crime being a major problem for most Americans, how is it possible that a sitting politician from any party is promoting the proliferation of unobtainable guns? And how exactly does this fit with the GOP’s “law and order” mantra?

Throughout modern times, there has been a degree of tension between the competing interests of the right to bear arms and society’s right to protect itself from armed violence. But it’s only relatively recently that so many elected Republicans have taken an absolutist stance against any form of gun restriction. This unconditional position is not inherent in the Second Amendment, which literally specifies a condition for the right (the need for a “well-regulated militia”).

Even the late Judge Antonin Scalia, patron saint of the modern gun movement, wrote in his landmark opinion upholding individual gun ownership rights in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) that, “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. This right, Scalia noted, is “not the right to possess and carry any weapon, in any manner and for any purpose.”

Yet only such an absolutist interpretation could justify the position of those who oppose phantom weapon mastery. Serial numbers on firearms allow police to determine where weapons used in crimes originated. Tracing the chain of ownership, of course, is often crucial in trying to solve crimes.

No wonder untraceable firearms are becoming so popular with criminals.

According to the Department of Justice, there were 1,750 ghost guns recovered from crime scenes nationwide in 2016, but that number had risen to 8,712 by 2020. Some estimates put between a quarter and a half of all violent crimes committed in California alone are committed with ghost guns.

Efforts are underway in Congress to require those selling kits for homemade guns to include serial numbers on parts as they would selling finished guns, and that those who buy them must register them. With such fervent Republican opposition in Congress, the Biden administration is also considering creating such regulations by regulatory rule through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Weapons and Explosives.

The fact that this is such a hot debate only highlights how irrational the gun lobby and its Republican water carriers have become on this issue. Republicans who are genuinely interested in protecting law-abiding citizens from violent criminals should consider which is more important: subjecting these rapidly proliferating weapons to the same longstanding federal rules that apply to other firearms — or pandering to grassroots extremists at, literally, the cost of lives.