What you should know about “ghost weapons”

A “ghost weapon” is a type of firearm that cannot be found, is legal, and increasingly readily available.

PHOENIX – Police in Phoenix said on Tuesday that the weapon used in a Cesar Chavez high school shooting was a “phantom weapon,” a type of firearm that cannot be found, legal and increasingly obtainable.

Here are five things to know about ghost guns.

RELATED: Phoenix PD Identifies and Arrests 15-Year-Old Student as Cesar Chavez High School Shooting Suspect

They are in pieces

A phantom weapon is a term for a weapon manufactured or assembled outside a factory, usually in a person’s home. They come in pieces and can be assembled later. Because they are not pre-assembled, the federal government does not consider them to be a firearm.

For this reason, no background check is required to purchase the parts.

They are easy to buy

Parts, plans and tools are readily available online.

Companies sell the parts used to assemble ghost weapons in almost every state. Washington is one of a handful of states where phantom weapons are illegal. Arizona is not one of them.

Los Angeles City Council voted to ban them in the aftermath of the Cesar Chavez High shooting.

There are also plans to 3D print the parts for sale.

They must be finished at home

Phantom weapon building revolves around a base piece that transforms the pieces into a working firearm. The receiver, or “inferior” is legal to sell, as long as they are only 80% finished.

This means that they must be completed by the buyer, through a process of milling a piece of metal or plastic, depending on the weapon model. Then the working gun can be assembled.

It is also possible to build the entire gun from scratch with a 3D printer.

They don’t have a serial number

Because they are considered parts and not firearms when shipped, they do not need to have serial numbers. This is why they are considered to be untraceable.

However, it’s important to note that there is no federal, searchable, or digital firearms database. Federal law prohibits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from creating one, so all of their records are on paper and must be searched manually.

There’s no way to know how many there are

It might seem obvious, but since there are no serial numbers, there is no way of knowing how many Ghost Weapons were made.

And that means the police have no way of knowing what they’re up against, said Professor Charles Katz of the ASU School of Criminology.

“Entering blind is too big of a deal,” Katz said. “There really isn’t much we can say that we definitely know about their use among the general population or the criminal population.”

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