Attorney General: ‘Ghost guns’ increasingly involved in crime

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CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA)– A loophole in federal law allows for some guns to go untraced and these “ghost guns” are increasingly involved in crime.

They are homemade guns, essentially bought in do-it-yourself kits online, with no serial number or background check required.

“Ghost guns” are a relatively new phenomenon, according to Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

“I would say definitely within the last decade it’s been become more, you know, prominent,” he added.

But just how many are circulating Illinois streets? Officials aren’t so sure.

The best answer we could find comes from Everytown, a nationwide nonprofit pushing for gun safety. Everytown’s 2020 search of the online marketplace found at least 80 sellers of unfinished guns, and 68% of those retailers popped up no more than six years ago.

What’s less clear is how many people are buying those kits, assembling guns, and re-selling them.

We introduced you to “ghost guns” a few weeks ago when the first known criminal case involving them in Central Illinois popped up in Champaign County. 18-year-old Keyon McLaurin faces three felony charges for selling guns he bought online and built.

However, barring an unlawful sale, ghost guns are largely unregulated, and there’s nothing in the federal Gun Control Act to specify at what point a firearms parts kit becomes a gun.

“Without that, you know, it becomes a wild, wild west,” Raoul said.

So, how often are these untraceable guns used in shootings?

“I don’t have that accurate data,” Raoul responded. “But I will say that using information received from the city of Chicago, it’s increased exponentially.”

There, Raoul said the Chicago Police Department recovered three times as many guns in 2019 as in 2018, and more than seven times as many as 2017.

“The prevalence is increasing year by year,” the Attorney General added.

The Champaign County State’s Attorney’s office does believe some of the guns McLaurin manufactured ended up being used in shootings, according to information from Assistant State’s Attorney Justin Umlah, who is handling that case. However, no concrete proof exists to confirm or deny that, and even if those guns were recovered by law enforcement, since they are “ghost guns”, it would be hard to prove where they came from.

Still, Raoul said the majority of firearms behind statewide violence are not “ghost guns”, and it’s still unclear where so many of the guns are coming from.

Renée Cooper (interviewing): “Is there a loophole in our criminal justice system that’s making it possible that law enforcement doesn’t know the origin of guns?”
Raoul: “I’m glad you asked that question because one of the projects that we’ve taken upon ourselves to embark on is creating a statewide crime gun tracing platform, and so we have partnered with every town.”

The attorney general said law enforcement will be able to track guns as they circulate the state. He said he expects that to launch in a couple of months.

And, as ghost guns grow in popularity, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) proposed regulations in May that would define ghost guns as firearms, requiring background checks and serial numbers.

“These are guns, right?” Raoul said. “These are guns and they should be subject to the same restriction as all guns.”

In August, he and about 20 other attorneys general urged ATF to finalize those regulations. That hasn’t happened to this point.

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