Growing ghost gun problem adds to America’s violence woes

What both leaders also highlighted in their calls was the proliferation of ghost weapons: the unregulated, easy-to-acquire, untraceable weapons that have been recovered from crime scenes with increasing frequency and are causing lawmakers and law enforcement officials across the country sound the alarm.

President Biden issued a statement Sunday calling on Congress to act and, among other initiatives, “Ban ghost guns. Require background checks for all gun sales. Ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Repeal the gun manufacturers immunity from liability. Pass my budget proposal, which would give cities more money they need to fund police and fund crime prevention and intervention strategies that can make our cities safer.”

Speaking on CBS’s Face The Nation, Adams said, “We’re dealing with the ghost gun problem. It’s imperative that we come up with clear messages about ghost guns and the kits that assemble them. And I think Washington will.” “

Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD officer and current professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said untraceable weapons not only heighten tension in a climate of political extremism and division as crime continues increasing nationally, they could also increase problems in catching and prosecuting shooters.

“It’s still a problem. You can’t track them,” O’Donnell said. “In some cases, it might mean not arresting someone at all or it might cast doubt on some cases where someone claims they’re not the shooter.”

A CNN analysis earlier this year of 2021 data found that while ghost guns still make up a relatively small percentage of the total number of guns recovered by law enforcement, several cities reported dramatic increases in the number of ghost weapons recovered over time. San Francisco police told CNN they seized 1,089 guns in 2021, about 20% of which were bogus weapons. In 2016, ghost guns represented less than 1% of all gun seizures in the city.

Baltimore reported 352 bogus weapons seized last year, while Washington, DC, reported more than 400 in 2021, up from 25 in 2018.

In New York, the city is on track to break previous years’ totals again, according to data shared with CNN. In 2021, investigators recovered 375 ghost guns in the city compared to 150 in 2020, 50 in 2019 and 17 in 2018.

As of March 18 of this year, the NYPD has seized 95 bogus weapons, up from 23 during the same period in 2021, according to NYPD Inspector Courtney Nilan, who heads the intelligence program. department field.

“They will sell you all these gun parts or kits to make a fully functional firearm with no background check, no verification of who you are. All you need is a credit card,” said Nilan. “It doesn’t matter your age, it doesn’t matter your criminal record, and they send you the parts or a kit.”

Nilan said his team has identified roughly 115 online retailers shipping his ghost gun kits across the country.

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In Los Angeles, LAPD statistics show the city recovered 1,921 bogus weapons in 2021, more than double the 813 recovered in 2020. That prompted Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón to call credit card companies. credit in February, in the hope that they will impose strict restrictions on buyers.

“American Express, Mastercard and Visa have the ability to go beyond what any law enforcement agency, legislature or city council can do,” Gascon said in a news release. “We’re asking these companies to join us in stopping the flow of ghost guns into our communities by preventing a ghost gun kit from being sold with just a few clicks on a smartphone or computer.”

Representatives for American Express, Visa and Mastercard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

An LAPD representative told CNN that the department didn’t start separately tracking ghost gun recoveries until 2020. But while the LAPD now tracks those guns, many police departments across the country don’t, leaving the number real how many ghost guns are out. on unknown streets.

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“ATF provides the ability to trace firearms to our law enforcement partners, but many do not ship privately made firearms,” ​​ATF spokeswoman Cara Herman told CNN in a statement. “Furthermore, ATF is often not the lead law enforcement agency in an investigation and may not be aware of state or local law enforcement agencies possessing privately made firearms.”

According to ATF statistics, from Jan. 1, 2016 through Dec. 31, 2020, approximately 23,906 suspected ghost weapons were reported to ATF as recovered by police from possible crime scenes, Herman said in the release. That includes 325 homicides or attempted homicides, and ATF tried to track them, Herman said in the release.

Law enforcement continues to arrest those in possession of ghost weapons. A Rhode Island man was arrested in New York in January for allegedly selling or attempting to sell more than 100 guns he produced at his home, according to the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

Robert Alcantara, 34, was charged with one count of conspiracy to traffic firearms and one count of making false statements, the US Department of Justice said in a news release.

In Baltimore, four men were charged with conspiracy and selling illegal firearms, which included ghost guns, in March. Along with the weapons, investigators found a 3D printer, which can be used to make part of the weapon, according to a news release from the US attorney’s office in Maryland.

On Monday, Samuel Fisher, 33, a QAnon conspiracy theorist who participated in the January 6 Capitol insurrection in Washington DC, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for illegal possession of loaded firearms in his Manhattan home, which included an assault rifle, handgun and ghost gun, along with high-capacity magazines, according to a news release from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

Fisher’s attorney, Wayne Gosnell, said his client received a “harsh but fair sentence.”

“Samuel Fisher is a dangerous conspiracy theorist who participated in one of the most serious attacks on our democracy,” Bragg said in a statement. “Not only did he threaten to commit acts of violence against his fellow citizens, but he had the potential to go ahead with his arsenal of advanced weapons and ammunition.”

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