“Ghost Guns” On CBS’ 60 Minutes

Ghost Guns: The build-it-yourself firearms that skirt most federal gun laws and are virtually untraceable

Under federal law, they require no background check or serial number, making ghost guns a growing weapon of choice for criminals.

CBS News 60 Minutes is set to enthrall us with the terrifying tale of the ghost gun… Because de Leon certainly failed too impress.

I don’t know about you.. but I am absolutely shivering. Not in fear, though. It snowed here in Michigan.

Let’s see what kind of universe realigning reporting the ole’ 6-0 has for us, shall we? Buckle up.

As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps through the country, panic and fear have caused a run on hand sanitizer, toilet paper and guns.

Yes, there was a run on firearms as folks came to the sudden realization that society is fragile and they are ultimately responsible for their own safety. Crisis has that effect on people.

Retailers tell us they have never seen such a surge in firearms sales.

Nope, it probably saved many small businesses by giving them a healthy revenue boost when they were about to be shuttered by the government over being, “non-essential”. It’s reported 3.7 Million NICS Checks in March and 2.9 Million in April, nice!

One kind of weapon that has been selling out is a build-it-yourself firearm known as a ghost gun because it skirts most federal gun laws. There’s no background check and no serial number, making ghost guns invisible to police and almost impossible to trace when used in a crime. We were surprised that it’s all perfectly legal. After a year and a half of reporting, we discovered that ghost guns, once mainly popular with gun enthusiasts, have also become a weapon of choice for criminals, manufactured by gangs and used in mass shootings.

… What?

Invisible to police!? The cops can’t find a gun in someone’s waistband, pocket, or wherever if it just doesn’t have a serial number!? It becomes ‘invisible‘ through some magic mathematical process where a cop can only see it and use it as evidence in a crime if somebody put some numbers and letters on the side? Do the police have to let a criminal go free if they’re in possession of a ‘ghost gun’ because there is just some crazy voodoo where they can’t see the gun and therefore can’t prosecute a criminal for being in possession of it?

No? None of that is true? A felon in possession is still a felon in possession? Okay..?

Almost impossible to trace… Oh! I get it now. You’re still under the magical mystical illusion that just because a gun has a number written on the side and that number, at some point or another, is written on a piece of paper and in a book somewhere else that it generates some sort of legendary crime fighting powers.

Sorry to bust your bubble CBS but… it doesn’t. Serial numbers help with data organization, but just like anything else (any other product with a serial number on it) it doesn’t grant it some magical GPS capability or record its user history or anything of the like. It grants Law Enforcement a possible avenue to establish a custody chain or return a stolen item to its rightful owner.

Let me illustrate just how weak this argument is. I, me, myself, have been the victim of firearms theft. Three stolen guns from my vehicle, parked in a close friend’s driveway. My friend was also burglarized but they only took money and some little items from his car.

Did the fact that my guns have serial numbers prevent that crime from occuring? Nope. Did those numbers make the guns easy to find as the responding officer just said, “Hey Siri, find Serial Number _________.” and the mythical serial number matrix got to work? Nope. Did the detailed information I gave the officers, make, model, color, modifications, accessories, etc. even make it into the report that they followed up with me on a few days later? Nope. Did the one firearm that has since been recovered magically prevent its illicit user from doing a dastardly deed with it because it had a serial number that I owned and had gone through the requisite background check for, but they certainly had not? Nope.

Did the presence of that serial number in any way mitigate the risk of that firearm, in the hands of a criminal, to law enforcement or the public? Does a serial number alter the inherent risk posed by a 9mm handgun? Is a non-serialized 5.56 rifle more dangerous than a serialized one, if fired at you or a police officer in anger? Does the presence of a serial number meaningfully impact the likelihood that an officer responding to a situation knows that a firearm is involved?

Nope.

So why in the name of all that we hold holy are we losing our minds over Ghost Guns again?

“They get used in crimes, Keith!”

So do guns that get stolen from the cops. All of which have serial numbers. Or that the cops sell to cartels… oh, are we not bringing that one up? Fast & Furious? Okay.

Oh, and how did I get my stolen firearm back, you may wonder? Funny story. The serial number helped there. But the only reason I have this one back is Crimey McCriminal, who was out on bail after committing crime.. and being found in possession of my stolen gun which is also a crime.. and being a convicted felon in possession of my stolen pistol which is yet another crime.. got himself shot and killed by Crimey O’Criminal, a rival in the whole committing violent crime thing. So since they no longer needed my pistol as evidence that Crimey McCriminal had committed a violent crime and other felonies, as he was now dead, they gave it back to me.

Now, what did the serial number accomplish in all of this? What did that mystical, wondrous, crime fighting and preventing series of characters do?

They allowed me to retrieve my property by driving across the breadth of the state. 5 hour round trip for the privilege of reacquiring my property. That is what the serial number did. And I am grateful the serial number was there for me in that way.

Serial numbers, like model numbers or names, are for inventory control and tracking. That is it, really. They are of incredibly limited utility beyond ancillary data. That ancillary may prove useful in building a criminal case for a larger crime like arms trafficking where inventory is a key factor, but is hardly going to be the make or break as a fact in a case if Crime O’Crimeboss sells a crate of rifles and handguns to an undercover agent or if O’Crimeboss’ convict crew gets caught with weapons on them. Serial numbers or no, they just caught all the felonies.

Most crimes involving firearms have nothing riding on the whether or not firearm has a serial number, except for if it had one and it was removed to further a crime.

Where did this stupid term take root anyway?

Oh, yeah. This lukewarm IQ’d MENSA reject. Then we turned it (and him) into the meme it so rightly deserved. Go team internet.

But we have digressed from 60 Minutes for long enough. Back to their brilliant Ghost Gun breakdown.

We sought out America’s top gun cops, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the ATF, to find out exactly what a ghost gun is.

Nobody tell the FBI they aren’t the top cops anymore. Also nobody watch Waco on Netflix… *Pssst, EVERYBODY should watch Waco on Netflix* But yes, the ATF is hand in hand with the firearm industry as the most prominent direct regulatory authority.

Thomas Chittum, ATF’s assistant director of field operations, gave us rare access to its West Virginia weapons repository and told us the latest additions here are ghost guns. 

Rare access? I feel like a FOIA request would probably get you in. However check out this deep, informative, meaningful, totally not cherry picked, and chronically under detailed interview exchange.

Bill Whitaker: What’s the difference between these two guns? *shows two Glock like handguns*

Thomas Chittum: Well, this is a firearm that was manufactured by a licensed manufacturer. The law requires them to mark them with certain markings, including a serial number. This is not marked. No background check is completed when you purchase it. It’s made at home by somebody using commonly available hand tools.

One is a GLOCK, Inc. Glock, the other is an 80% frame completable with Glock parts.

Bill Whitaker: So, they both do the same thing.

Thomas Chittum: They both shoot.  

My favorite part of this whole exchange is the “using commonly available hand tools” as if the Glocks that come from GLOCK, Inc. have some sort of secret extra machine that makes them “traceable” during final assembly. Newsflash: They don’t. It’s just a small strip of stamped metal with a number on it that they put into a book. The final products at GLOCK are assembled using “commonly available hand tools” just like the 80% ones.. less tools, in fact, because mass production has made it worth investing in a few tools to make it even more expedient to produce guns.

As Chittum says, usually, if you bought a gun at a store, it would have a traceable serial number and you would need to pass a background check under federal law. A ghost gun can circumvent all of that, because it’s put together from unfinished, untraceable parts. 

“Traceable” is their magic word. It’s as “traceable” as a point of sales receipt makes it. The inventory can be tracked from the manufacturer to the first point of sale.. and that’s it. There is no reliable way to “trace” accurately beyond that point. It’s a shot in the dark. If they can they can, if they can’t, oh well. The whole thing is ancillary data. What are they going to do with it? What game changing piece of information can they track if someone passed a background check and took a gun home and then there is no reliable way to track movement of anything beyond that. That the gun was purchased and/or stolen? No shit.

“Traceable” is just ancillary data, but it gets treated like it’s this invaluable law enforcement tool that cannot be lived without, like thousands upon thousands of criminals are walking free from courtrooms and rearming “invisible” to cops because they couldn’t ‘trace the gun’. If only it had a serial number and CSI could solve it an hour plus commercial breaks!

Bill Whitaker: It’s virtually invisible to you and government.

Thomas Chittum: It also makes it challenging to keep it outta the hands of people who are not allowed to possess firearms.

Hmm, Chittum didn’t like term invisible. Maybe because “invisible” and “Ghost Gun” are patently stupid and their unique challenge to law enforcement and threat to the community at large is dramatically overhyped for gun control brownie points? Nah, couldn’t be that.

*Dramatic Scene Change*

Bryan Muehlberger: Up to that day, I never heard the term ghost gun. So I didn’t even know what that was.

I didn’t either until de Leon, Bryan, and I work in this industry. Then I learned the thirty caliber clip in half-a-second truth… and I was very very confused as to why they would less this man speak as an authority to anything.

Bryan Muehlberger found out one day last November. There had been a mass shooting at his daughter’s high school and 15-year-old Gracie was murdered. 

And the young man who had brought the gun to school, the 80% frame built 1911, commited suicide. He fired one magazine of ammunition killing two classmates, injuring three others, and then killing himself.

Does Bryan or anyone else seriously believe that the lack of a serial number was the only thing that allowed this tragedy to unfold? Is that the theory? Not that mental health is an incredibly complex and multifaceted subject and that this child, who had just had a birthday, was suffering with something? Not that this young man clearly had demons he was fighting? Not that there are a myriad other ways to cause destruction and havoc and this was just the one chosen, the one convenient? Is our working theory that this unserialized 1911 was the only method that would have been convenient enough to fit all the necessary criteria for a tragedy?

“It might’ve helped…” – Someone who doesn’t want to postulate data realistically to see the actual odds of influencing the likelihood or outcome of a tragic event.

And so would the poor kid being killed in a car crash the week prior, but I don’t see anyone lining up to advocate that theory. All murderers should die in car crashes before they commit murder! Let’s start a hashtag. Criminals, take a break.

Bryan Muehlberger: They bring in one of the head doctors. And just like you see on the movies, he sits across from you with that real quiet kinda solemn stare, right at you. And I just– I just remember sayin’, you know, like, “Please, no. Don’t– don’t tell me the bad news, please.” 

This was the aftermath at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California. A typical Thursday morning disrupted, the quad littered with backpacks after students dropped everything and fled for their lives. That’s where Gracie was waiting for friends before class. 

Bryan Muehlberger: She was about as close as I am to you right now. Shot her right through the backpack and right through her chest, And thankfully he didn’t aim at the back of her head. You know, at least we got to see her face one more time.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva arrived at the scene not long after the shots were fired.   

Bill Whitaker: This kid shows up at school. What happened?

Alex Villanueva: He shows up at school. He has a backpack. His mom had– had packed the lunch for him. But in the backpack was also a .45 auto that was loaded. 

Carrying that loaded ghost gun was Nathaniel Berhow, a high school junior. In addition to Gracie, he shot and killed Dominic Blackwell and wounded three other students. He saved the last round for himself. 

None of this, none at all, is remotely demonstrating how a serial number improves the odds of preventing homicides. We’ve been told by an ATF employee that guns without serial numbers are a ‘thing that exists’ and then Whitaker tries to put words in his mount, “invisible.” which the ATF employee doesn’t bite on.

Now we are entreated to the emotional pain of a father who lost his daughter when another father’s son stole one of his firearms and committed a multiple murder/suicide at his school… and it is being leveraged to say that “Ghost Guns” are the problem. How did Berhow get a firearm? Stole it! From his father. Were any of the firearms illegal? Was Berhow’s father a prohibited person and had gotten around the law to illegally acquire guns that his son then stole and used to kill his classmates and then himself?

There is a lot to unpack here… and a lot of responsibility to lay at various feet long before we get to the gun without a number on its side.

Bill Whitaker: He’s 16 years old?

Alex Villanueva: Uh-huh (AFFIRM). Just turned– that was his birthday. 

Bill Whitaker: How does a 16-year-old get his hands on a gun? He’s– he’s underage.

Stole it. You know who else was, ‘he’s– he’s underage’, Audie Murphy. Google him real quick, he also was famous for using a gun. He just used it against Nazis, real German Third Reich Nazis. Why are we still trying to imply that once people hit their teenage years that they cannot reason on an adult level? Oh yeah, if it fits the tragedy of a narrative you are trying push we can shift blame… so long as that shift doesn’t hit the wrong people.

Alex Villanueva: Underage, but his father was a gun enthusiast and was in possession of a lot of weapons. They were ultimately confiscated because he was detained for psychiatric evaluation.

Bill Whitaker: So he– the father was not supposed to have guns.

Alex Villanueva: And all the weapons were removed legally at the time. 

Implication seems to be that Berhow’s father had his firearms confiscated for a psychiatric evaluation and may have been a prohibited owner from that point moving forward, and that this occurred before the murder suicide. If he was, and he broke the law by assembling an 80% 1911, that is on the Berhow’s father. As is control of his firearms, legal or otherwise. A legal statute is present in most localities that makes a minor’s misuse of a firearm a crime of the guardian, often a felony. But if Berhow wasn’t a prohibited person, even after the pysch-eval, then this whole line is just obfuscation. Meaningless drivel to drum up the sounds of a case that “Ghost Guns” are more dangerous than serialized commercial inventory.

Was Berhow’s father a prohibited possessor? Or did he just choose not to pursuit the legal hassle of reacquiring his property after the evaluation? Was he in that process anywhere but had purchased new 80% items legally in the meantime and assembled them legally?

The whole narrative feels like an emotional lever that tries very very carefully to lay just enough blame but also make that person being blamed a victim of the evil serial numberless 1911.

Sheriff Villanueva suspects that’s when the father turned to ghost guns and his son got his hands on one. Six months later, the Saugus investigation is still ongoing. 

Ohhhh, ‘ongoing’ you say. They would be swift to tell us if Berhow’s father was an illegal possessor. Of that I am confident.

Alex Villanueva: This is the actual weapon that was used in the Saugus shooting. It is a ghost gun. It was assembled. We don’t know by who. But we believe it was the father of the suspect and it came into possession then of the shooter himself.  

Ghost gun parts…

Regular gun parts. Like every other gun part. “Ghost Gun” only means no commercial serial number on the receiver/frame, which is and always has been one part.. The difference between a “Ghost Gun” and a commercial firearm is one part that does or doesn’t have a random number on it.

…can be used to fabricate a handgun or even an AR-15. The parts are widely available across the country in stores and online. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, they have been flying off the shelves. They’re shipped right to your door. Not much harder than ordering a pizza.

And so are serialized guns too, but they’re landing at middleman FFL’s first. You said so at the beginning of the piece 60 Minutes. I would even hazard a guess that far more serialized guns moved, retail wise, than 80% items. 6.6 Million background checks in March and April. Why aren’t we losing our minds over those? Is that not a scary enough angle because those have serial numbers?

If you had to assemble a pizza with punches, drills, and it cost a few hundred dollars I guess the pizza comparison.. kind of works… But, whatever… it’s about as salient a comparison as they’ve made so far.

We bought a kit online for $575…

Just like a pizza.

…that has everything you need to make a 9 millimeter handgun. It came in parts

Things have parts? And people but those parts together? I wonder if that’s what firearm manufacturer employees do?

…like IKEA furniture but for firearms, and even includes the drill bits you need to put the gun together in the comfort of your own home...

Scandalous! They made their product convenient for the consumer! How dare they!

… Why is it so easy to buy? Because federal gun law only regulates a part, called a frame or a lower receiver. But until you drill out holes and file down a bit, in the eyes of federal law, it’s just a hunk of metal or in this case plastic.

Engineering > “Law”

Where does the endless chase stop? Do you prohibit people owning CNC Machines, 3D printers, or even shopping for pipe at Home Depot without an FFL? Any line you draw in the sand is going to be meaningless, it won’t prevent people from building firearms because firearms are ultimately fairly simple machines. Ban “80%” and an engineer will come out with a 75%. Ban “any part intended to be used as part of an unserialized firearm” and you’ve mildly shifted the black market of firearms, and made another paper tiger law.

YouTube videos will show you step-by-step how to turn that piece of plastic or metal into a gun.

They also show you home plumbing tips, car maintenance, chemistry, and why the last two Star Wars movies were crap. The directions that come in the kit tell you how to finish it too, not just YouTube. Also, per the ATF and Federal Law, 100% legal to do.

Murder, still 100% illegal to do.

“bUt MaH TRaCeABilitY!”

Alex Villanueva: So you have pretty much it’s open season, anyone who is a prohibited person that wants to arm themselves now has a very easy way to do it.

They had easy ways before, too. That’s your job. These criminals weren’t failing background checks and got picked up, and they sure as hell weren’t unarmed just because they had a conviction. What is the ‘failed’ background check turnover rate again? How about the prosecution rate for failed background checks that don’t get later overturned?

Sidenote: The false positive rate in NICS is estimated at about 94% with prosecutions amounting to 0.1%… not 1%, 0.1%, 77 cases brought charges out of 71,010 initial denials. (2009, Federal numbers, CPRC)

But, if you’re a felon or judged mentally unfit for example, federal law says you’re not supposed to have any kind of firearm. Build a ghost gun? No one knows you have it. 

Steal a gun, have a less scrupulous individual you know straw purchase a gun, trade for a gun, buy a gun legally because you can. Nobody knows that you have that one either, not really. There’s a receipt with a number on it somewhere called a 4473 that has a number or numbers of the guns you bought.. but it is in a dusty box, nobody knows.

There are upwards of 600,000,000 guns in this country alone. We don’t know where all the ones with serial numbers are, are you insane? Do you know how math works? Do you know how knowing things works?

The ATF, FBI, Sheriff, etc. don’t know where all the legal guns are. They don’t even know where all the highly regulated NFA items are, they have the most accurate records on ownership of them but they don’t know. ‘Nobody knows‘ you drive drunk, distracted, or otherwise recklessly either. But if you were caught doing so in the past there may be a record of your history of past events, but that isn’t knowing either.

They don’t want to or need to know, either. It would be a huge mass of valueless data that they couldn’t even get a kickback on by selling it to ancillary marketers. Knowing will only ever become a valuable datapoint if a behavior puts them on LE’s radar. You want to know who would get the most value from “traceable” firearms data? People who sell firearms and stuff for firearms.

Ironically, California has some of the strictest state gun laws in the U.S., and yet it’s the epicenter of this growing problem.  

Ironically? Predictably. California has a bunch of dumb unenforceable rules. Take a wild guess how many rifles are in California with illegal “features” among their 40,000,000 inhabitants. Go ahead. Make dumb rules, people ignore them, erosion of legitimate authority continues.

Bill Whitaker: Where on your list of worries do these ghost guns fall?

Alex Villanueva: Well, along with terrorism, active shooter, this is w– way up there on the list.

Hmm, the largest Sheriff’s office in the country and in anti-gun California is headed by a guy who says a couple other scary things, then adds these are, “way up there on the list.” Really? Terrorism and Active Shooters are on par with regular old firearm possession? I bet he’s scared of 11+ round magazines too.

Villanueva oversees the largest sheriff’s office in the country, and he says over the last year, the number of ghost guns turning up in LA county investigations has jumped by 50%. 

Remember, going from 2 to 3 is a 50% jump. If it were from hundreds to thousands of incidents you would be seeing real numbers. But the numbers must not be scary enough so we need the percentages. Also, did total investigations go up 50%? Did they go up even 5%? Did they show a spike that is outside normal variability that is theoretically attributable to an increase in the popularity of 80% firearms?

Hmmmmm. Nope.

Odd as it may seem, it looks like crime in LA County has factors far more poignant, and independent of access to 80% firearms, that contribute to crime rates. Using anecdotes of crimes where an 80% firearm was found to make them seem more dangerous is as weak an argument is saying .50 BMG Caliber rifles are too dangerous for civilian hands and using a money embezzler who bought one was an example of why.

Alex Villanueva: Domestic assault, assault with a deadly weapon, distribution of child pornography, possession a child pornography, armed with a ghost gun. Domestic violence, domestic violence, assault with a deadly weapon, drug deal.

Bill Whitaker: Wow. 

Wow indeed. I fail to see how ‘armed with a Ghost Gun’ is any worse than just ‘armed’ in any of those scenarios. Is any evidence presented that remotely suggests these crimes wouldn’t have taken place sans ‘Ghost Gun’? No? Is there any evidence that the only path to these criminal individuals being armed was an assembled non serialized firearm, or even the only reasonable path and that other avenues of acquiring a weapon would have been cost and risk prohibitive enough to dissuade them? No.

It’s an epidemic that has blindsided police across the country.

Blindsided? Really? Dangerous nuisance seems like a more apt description.. but so is a tweaked out meth head trying to squat one out naked on a sidewalk.

Without a serial number or paperwork, ghost guns are very difficult for law enforcement to trace or track. Which is why Thomas Chittum and the ATF are struggling to get a handle on the problem. 

Bill Whitaker:  How many of these guns are on the streets, you have no idea? 

Thomas Chittum: Uh, no, I have no idea. 

They have no idea how many guns there are period. The estimate has a ~200,000,000 unit margin of error.

Bill Whitaker: And how many crimes are being committed by these guns, you have no idea? 

They have an idea.

Thomas Chittum: Well, not with precision...

See.

…They still represent a minority of the firearms that are being used in crimes. But we do see that they’re increasing significantly and rapidly. 

So, they’re still a minority but are taking over a portion of the criminal gun market. Are crimes increasing overall? Doesn’t look like it. Or is this just a shift in preferred gun, not crime rate? Like we’ve seen time and time and time again as technology advances and the ‘Saturday Night Special’ of the era changes from one model to another depending on what is cheap and available.

Bill Whitaker: So you have no idea how many guns are out there, and you don’t know who has them. 

Thomas Chittum: Uh, right.

They have no clue, they didn’t know before 80% receivers got big and they don’t know now. They can’t. It’s a Gordian Knot. The only way to “solve” it would be to violently rip out the entire system by its constitutional base. Not a good plan.

Here’s what our reporting found, contacting local and national law enforcement over the course of a year and a half: at least 38 states and Washington D.C. have seen criminal cases involving ghost guns. 

Really? Not even all 50 states? With the amount of chaos and carnage these untraceable death machines should be sowing and we only have ‘criminal’ cases in 38 states?

There were at least four mass shootings…

You guys keep changing the definition on that one, are we at ‘literally any time more than one shot is fired in anger’ yet?

…violent police shootouts…

I don’t know many non-violent shootouts. Kent State, maybe?

…high-profile busts of gangs making and selling ghost guns on the street, and cases involving terrorism and white supremacists.

You mean to say that assholes use cheap available guns? Good thing Capannone didn’t have guns. Boy can you imagi… ohhh that’s what Chicago Typewriter meant.

But Dimitrios Karras says that’s not his clientele at all.

He is a former Marine and one of the first to get into the business of selling ghost gun parts in California ten years ago.  

Dimitrios Karras: Between 300,000 and 500,000 individual units have passed through my hands. 

Bill Whitaker: Over what period of time? 

Dimitrios Karras: Last ten years.

Bill Whitaker: It sounds like a lot to me.

Dimitrios Karras: If I was–

Bill Whitaker: That– that’s just from your store? 

Dimitrios Karras: That’s just– that’s just from what– what I’ve been involved in. There’s a lot of companies that are now in this industry and there are multiple millions of these things that have been created throughout the country at this point.

Bill Whitaker: So who is buying these kits?

Dimitrios Karras: It’s guys in hardhats. It’s also the people who like to work with their hands and do this sort of thing anyway. 

It’s guys and girls who shop at Rockey Brass. Go get ya one and make Villenueva poop himself a little bit. It’s the American thing to do.

Millions, literally millions of these things in circulation but they’re a minority of firearm problems still and we aren’t seeing a significant shift in firearm related crime rates. It’s almost as if a $700 assembly kit isn’t the cheapest easiest way for a criminal to get a gun. Some people are certainly taking advantage of it to avoid detection, but some people believe it’s none of anyone’s business what you own.

Alex Villanueva: I’d say hogwash to that entire idea.

Bill Whitaker: Hogwash. 

Alex Villanueva: Hogwash. Absolute hogwash. The only (LAUGH) people that are interested in that are not enthusiasts into, you know, tinkerin’ around with machines.

Bill Whitaker: A hobbyist.

Alex Villanueva: No. They’re not hobbyists. These are people that should never have a firearm. And that’s how they found a way to get one. 

Uh oh, sounds like someone has preconceived notions of guilt. That isn’t troubling from the County Sheriff of LA at all, is it?

Karras insists the store where he now works, which touts just how invisible their ghost gun parts are, has safeguards to prevent ghost gun parts from getting into the wrong hands.  

Bill Whitaker: And what are they?

Dimitrios Karras: Um, I’m not gonna get too much into it because it would undermine our ability to use them. 

And in the event something happens, Karras would be a fool to give out ammunition (pun intended) in the form of those methods that could sink his business even if they did nothing wrong and someone misused a gun after buying it and building it.

Bill Whitaker: Do you ever worry that someone who’s buying one of these kits might have a mental illness or, you know, be planning to use an AR-15 for something that’s horrible, unimaginable?

Dimitrios Karras: Does a car salesman worry that– someone might take a car that they’ve sold to them and drive it through a crowd of people?

Bill Whitaker: So you see them as the same?

Dimitrios Karras: I do. 

They are the same. The misuse of an item, an object, a tool against other people is the same. The difference that people get so wrapped around is that a weapon is meant for fighting. That gun is a tool for fighting. They refuse to acknowledge, in some self-righteous delusional variant of human existence, that the ability to fight is a necessary thing. That tools to that end are necessary. They are the last chance for someone when polite society fails them (you know in like a national crisis or something) for any reason and under any circumstance. There is also no way for their to be good weapons and bad weapons, the idiocy of “assault weapon” bans and magazine capacity limits and “Ghost Gun” scare tactics all come from places of profound ignorance. A good person with every weapon is never a threat. A bad person with any weapon is always a threat, but much less of one to the person who also has a weapon.

Cliche? Yep, I hated writing that. But when this 60 Minutes deep dive into “Ghost Guns” and the threat they represent amounts to conjectural fear mongering over a microsegment of the illegal arms market that is trackable and explained as a product shift, not an increase outside normal variances, it’s really hard to lend credibility to the analysis as “thorough”.

Guns that are cheap and available will always dominate in criminal spaces. These are available but despite millions of kits flooding the market, they still aren’t cheap. Not like a throwaway used old semi-auto .25, old .38 revolver, or any stolen gun.

Karras’s home state, California, is phasing in a law to regulate ghost gun parts like regular firearms. Three other states and the District of Columbia have passed their own restrictions. But Villanueva says that’s not enough.

Alex Villanueva: We need national laws, or federal, from Congress that covers a total ban on the creation or the selling of these ghost gun kits.

Because prohibition works so well. It got rid of all the alcohol and bumpstocks! Meth too.

Bill Whitaker: State-by-state is not gonna do it? 

Alex Villanueva: It doesn’t because then you can just defeat it by going to another state. 

How are those magazine and ammunition order bans looking, my guy? Judge Benetiz needs more gavel.

In today’s political climate, new federal gun control measures seem unlikely.

So that leaves it to the ATF to determine what is and is not a gun. Currently, ATF says a ghost gun not a gun.  

Because it isn’t. And even if they change it now you can’t put the genie back. People keep trying and it keeps working about as well as a screen door in a flood.

But the ATF has changed its thinking on similar issues recently. After the 2017 massacre in Las Vegas, the ATF and the Department of Justice banned bump stocks, an accessory that turned semi-automatic weapons into machine guns.

The ATF made a calculated decision to attack a gimmick device that they had sketchy legal grounds to do so (a lot of ATF moves are based on precedent and the fact Congress does not want to change anything and lose seats) and hope that popular opinion and the opinion of the President would let the change stand without congressional action. They banned bump stocks, the specific device used in Las Vegas, similar items are still perfectly legal. Also, those bump-stocks aren’t gone. They didn’t all get turned in. We know this. Just as we know having Law Enforcement waste their energies hunting them down is an impossible task. The policy change is therefore a Paper Tiger. And the effect on any likelihood of a future event of similar catastrophic results as Las Vegas taking place were entirely immaterial, we’ve written on the here before.

Former acting director of the ATF, Thomas Brandon, helped implement that change and was ready to recommend to his bosses at the Department of Justice that they reclassify certain ghost gun kits, like the one we ordered, as firearms because of how easy they are to put together.

Bill Whitaker: You were alarmed at what you were seeing?

Thomas Brandon: Yeah. And so I said, “Well, right now we have a public safety concern.”

Bill Whitaker: You thought that the ATF should reclassify these kits as firearms? 

Thomas Brandon: Yes as the head of the agency at the time– I said, “I’m gonna do everything I can for public safety with my team.” If you wanted to buy a kit and make your own gun, it’s just gonna hav– have a serial number on it.

Thomas Brandon retired last spring before any action was taken. We asked the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives if there was any follow-up on Brandon’s plans and were told, “ATF routinely reviews our practices, procedures, and determinations; however, it would be inappropriate to comment on internal discussions. ” Thomas Chittum says the ATF is doing everything it can.

They are. They really are, but Congress being unwilling to act in any manner to make their jobs easier, like opening NICS access to the public for free to make conducting a background check a lesser issue, or removing any number of other hamstringing regulations, or making positive efforts to modernize, kind of limits what they can do under ‘everything they can’.

Bill Whitaker: Is this just one of those political hot potatoes that nobody wants to touch? 

Thomas Chittum: Well, gun law’s one of the most divisive topics in America. And ATF sometimes finds itself in the middle. 

Seriously, go watch Waco.

As for Saugus, it was the first high school mass shooting with a ghost gun. Bryan Muehlberger, a pistol owner himself, says if something isn’t done about ghost guns, it won’t be the last. 

Bryan Muehlberger: I’m not against owning guns, but I also believe strongly that this is a serious problem that’s occurring that no one knew about. So I just feel like something needs to be done. It’s just– it’s become too easy.

Become too easy?

Bryan, you might be too young, as I am too young, to remember… but you could order a gun in a Sears catalog by mail and it came assembled and ready to go for a few dollars, before all the FFL’s and NICS and 18 or 21 to buy and any of the gun control in the last 90 years. A machine gun could be mailed to your doorstep if you wanted it. A full auto Thompson was $200 (yes, a car was $400 in that era for scale) we aren’t anywhere near that level access anymore. These changes started decades before Columbine brought us into terrifying era where school shootings became a violent outlet.

Become to easy from what? From when? Bryan I am truly sorry you lost your daughter, just as I am sorry for anyone who loses a loved one, especially before their time. But CBS used you. They used to in a obfuscation campaign to attack an issue within gun control that they see as an opportunity to gain ground and get more of the bans that they want.

Because they, unlike you, are against owning guns. At least they’re against you owning guns. They, of course, are special elite people deserving of armed protection.

Keith Finch
Keith is the Editor-in-Chief of GAT Marketing Group editor@gatdaily.com A USMC Infantry Veteran and Small Arms and Artillery Technician, Keith covers the evolving training and technology from across the shooting industry. A Certified Instructor since 2009 he has taught concealed weapons courses in the West Michigan area in the years since and continues to pursue training and teaching opportunities as they arise.