Numbers undercut Biden administration claims on ghost guns

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The Biden administration is cracking down on so-called ghost guns to solve America’s epidemic of gun violence but crime stats from major cities and the Justice Department suggest the do-it-yourself weapons are a small part of the problem.

Ghost guns, which are made at home from a kit and don’t include serial numbers, are the target of a new Justice Department rule that would require the kits to include a traceable serial number.

Democrats praised the idea and pointed to cities that report spikes in the use of ghost guns, though DIY firearms remain a small percentage of all firearms seized by police.

In Chicago, for example, only 139 out of the 11,258 firearms seized last year — roughly 1.2% — were ghost guns. That number, however, represents a 93% increase from the 72 ghost guns seized in 2019.

Philadelphia police in 2019 seized 95 ghost guns, accounting for 2.2% of the 4,264 guns they confiscated. In 2018, Philadelphia police confiscated 13 ghost guns.

Nationwide statistics on the use of ghost guns are hard to come by because they are intentionally difficult to track.

A 2019 Justice Department study found that 43% of criminals purchased their weapons on the black market, but none made their weapons at home.

At a Capitol Hill hearing on the ghost-gun problem, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, called it “the fastest-growing gun violence menace in the nation.” He focused on the overall increases in the use of ghost guns in major cities, rather than the percentage of overall gun seizures they account for.

“The number of ghost guns is surging,” he said. “The number seized, the number used in crimes, the number manufactured are all skyrocketing and at this rate, they will make a mockery of background checks and other common-sense regulations.”

Proponents of increased regulation on homemade guns also agrue that it is worthwhile even if it only reduces a small part of the country’s gun problems.

The Justice Department reported that more than 23,000 weapons without serial numbers were seized by law enforcement between 2016 and 2020 and were linked to 325 homicides or attempted homicides.

It’s not clear how many of those weapons didn’t have serial numbers because they were ghost guns. The serial number also can be scraped off of most firearms with a metal file, though it is illegal to do so.

“This is a made-up problem and yet here we are having a congressional hearing pretending that so-called ghost guns are a major issue. They aren’t and I look forward to the next hearing of this subcommittee on Civil War replica cannons,” Sen Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said at the hearing.

Democrats dismissed the percentages as being unreliable because of the difficulty tracking ghost guns. Instead, they argued that Republicans should focus on the increasing number of seized ghost guns.

Mr. Cruz said if Democrats wanted to focus on gun crimes, they should focus on the surging violence in U.S. cities this year.

Shooting incidents in Chicago, for example, increased in 2020 by over 50% and homicides jumped by 55% compared to 2019 rates. In New York, homicide rates jumped 34% in 2020 compared to 2019.

“If Democrats want to stop gun violence, let’s have a hearing on how the move to defund the police is causing more homicides,” he said. “Let’s have a hearing on how gun control proposals are making people vulnerable to violent crime and how they failed the big cities.”

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