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weapon used in Saugus CA school shooting was an unregulated “ghost gun”

A troubling element of the murder-suicide in Saugus is that the firearm used was a “homemade” or rather home-assembled gun, put together with a parts kit.

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This subset of the firearms industry has little regulation for such “kit guns”. Unlike home manufacture using 3-d printers, the individual components are available from a variety of subcontracted sources and collected for sale as a kit.

The deregulatory tendencies of neoliberal capitalism in the US as applied to the firearms industry and gun violence, allow nearly anyone to assemble such a functioning firearm with few controls on sales. 

This aspect of reporting may actually distract from the larger questions of gun violence as a public health issue because of the focus on guns and markets rather than operators and the pattern of ownership.

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The media frame may divert attention from the informal, criminal economies which rarely overlap with the retail/wholesale firearms markets, much like the Brady bill also had unintended consequences for the expanded market for gun accessories, for example the “bumpstock” is an accessory. The market for gun accessories does function to bypass some regulations.

The cost of such a kit weapon is much higher than purchasing a firearm conventionally from a retailer like a gun store.

Other types of “ghost guns”, regardless of home or factory manufacture are illegally transferred or sold among criminal groups without sales records, because they may have been stolen.

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The story is much deeper considering the personal history of the shooter and the status of his late father’s gun collection since multiple guns were seized in the home.

As The Trace reported in May, more and more homemade, unserialized weapons are popping up at crime scenes across California. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives now say that nearly a third of the guns recovered by the agency in the state are homemade.

Ghost guns provide a host of challenges for law enforcement. Chief among them is that they enable minors or those with criminal records to acquire firearms without having to go through a background check or create a trail of paperwork surrounding a gun purchase. Because ghost guns have no serial numbers, they are almost impossible to trace.

California law enforcement agencies say that the majority of ghost guns now being used by criminals are AR-15-type rifles or Glock-type pistols. But one of the earliest models to hit the DIY gunmaking scene was the 1911 handgun. Kits to construct the pistols remain available online.

The popularity of ghost guns has been propelled by advances in technology and the proliferation of cheaper gunmaking tools, such as CNC machines and drill presses. Ghost guns are now openly sold online in near-but-not-quite complete form, colloquially referred to as 80 percent receivers (the user must finish the remaining 20 percent for it be considered a “gun” under law). Once the lower receiver is complete, the other parts, such as upper receiver and the firing controls, can be assembled within minutes, creating a fully functional, yet untraceable firearm.

These kits are free from federal regulation because of a carve out in the 1968 Gun Control Act allowing builders to manufacture weapons at home for personal use without submitting to a background check. However, five states, including California, have passed laws designed to rein in this nascent market.

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