Afraid Of Ghosts

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

“Ghost Guns” are the Latest in Hoplophobic Pants-Wetting

“Facing Republican resistance to new gun laws, the Biden administration has not pushed for a solution through Congress; instead, it is aiming to do so through an executive order, requiring the Department of Justice to come up with new ways to curb ghost guns. ” The Economist, August 7, 2021

Since 1968 (that is, since the Gun Control Act of 1968), all guns made by a “licensed manufacturer or licensed importer” must have a serial number. Why? The theory is, criminals will buy guns from licensed dealers, shoot somebody, then either accidentally or intentionally discard their guns, which the police will then find, and using the serial number, will be able to trace the firearm to the dealer, and thence to the purchasing criminal, thereby solving the crime.


As Dr. Phil says, “So, how’s that been working for you?” Have there been a lot of otherwise unsolvable crimes that were solved when the police found guns which they traced back to the criminal? When Hinckley shot Reagan, Brady, Delahanty and McCarthy, thanks to the serial number, the police were able to prove that it was Hinckley’s gun.  OK, but they had him in custody; they had witnesses and video of Hinckley shooting. What good did the serial number do? When Oswald shot Kennedy, the police had little trouble finding out that it was Oswald’s rifle, without using the serial number.

Is that a common thing for criminals to do? They shoot people, and then leave politely leave their guns behind? Why would they do that?

Is that a common thing, for criminals to buy their guns from licensed gun dealers, rather than stealing them or buying them on the black market? Why would they do that?

How did the Republic manage to survive 192 years (from 1776 to 1968) without requiring serial numbers on guns? Has the crime clearance rate improved in past 58 years, thanks to the crime-solving powers of serial numbers on guns?


In those cases where a gun gets tied to a crime, it is almost always accomplished by ballistic matching of the bullet to the gun – which can be done whether or not a gun has a serial number. Serial numbers rarely enter into the picture.

Requiring serial numbers on guns as an anti-crime measure was a stupid idea in 1968; it has not gotten any less stupid. (Manufacturers may use serial numbers for other, legitimate reasons, such as providing customer service, controlling inventory, and notifying buyers of potential manufacturing defects. Those have nothing to do with solving crimes and are none of the government’s business.)

Here is where “ghost guns” come in.  The Gun Control Act of 1968 requires that “licensed manufacturers” must put serial numbers on their guns. What if you are a legal, but unlicensed manufacturer? There is such a thing.  Anybody with a modest machine shop in the garage can make a gun from raw metal.  (Now that plastics/carbon fiber technology has advanced, it is even easier.  “Ancillary” parts can be made from polymers, but barrels and springs and other high stress parts still require steel.)

Heck, in Darra Adam Khel, in Pakistan’s Khyber Pass, the local tribesmen have been making sophisticated guns for over a century, without machine shops – just files and hammers and drills.

Here’s the “loophole” that has the hoplophobes’ pants in a bunch: if you make your own gun in your garage, you are not a “licensed manufacturer” so you are not required to put a serial number on your homemade gun. The horror!

Why doesn’t the U.S. government (“Our Federal Family,” as HHS Secretary Sibelius said) just ban unlicensed gun manufacturing? Because, for the moment, they are still paying lip service to the battered, obsolescent notion that the federal government does not have the power to regulate any activity that is not part of “interstate commerce.” That’s a slender reed to cling to.  As farmer Roscoe Filburn found out in 1942, when he grew wheat for his own use, the term “interstate commerce” means whatever Our Federal Family says it means.

For the time being though, there is an exception for “ghost guns,” guns made in home shops which do not enter into interstate commerce.  Taking advantage of the “loophole” (otherwise defined as “complying with the law”) companies are making and selling roughly formed but unfinished gun parts that aren’t quite finished enough to be considered “guns,” but which can be turned into guns by anybody with some basic machining tools and skills.

How “unfinished” must a gun be, before it becomes a “gun” instead of “material that could be made into a gun”? A block of steel could be made into a gun, but it is not a “gun” or even “almost a gun,” right?  Otherwise, people would get arrested for possessing blocks of steel.  Nowadays, companies make gun kits they market as “80% finished,” even though there is no law that says “80% is OK, but 81% is not.”  They are just testing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (the “AFT” according to President* Biden) to see how far they can go.

But why would any honest (non-criminal) person want a gun without a serial number?  Because, although serial numbers are fairly useless for solving or preventing crimes, they are extremely useful for registering and confiscating guns.  The President* has said that he wants to ban and confiscate AR15s, for example.  How would he do that?  The easy way would be by tracking the serial numbers.  So, if you are one of the millions of Americans who owns or wants to own an AR15, and you take the President* at his word, then maybe you would like one that can’t be traced and confiscated.

The most common 80% kit being sold right now is a copy of the Glock 9mm pistol.  Recently, the President* stated that he wanted to ban all guns capable of holding more than the officially approved number of rounds in the magazine — including nine millimeter pistols.  That’s a lot of guns to ban, because any semi-automatic gun with a detachable magazine is “capable” of using any size magazine.  For example, the 1911 pistol (of which there are many millions in circulation) typically is sold with a seven or eight round magazine, but aftermarket magazines that hold up to 50 rounds are available.  The first commercially produced semi-automatic pistol with a detachable magazine was the Borchardt — in 1893.  The Luger 9mm semi-automatic pistol dates to 1908.  Why is the AK-47 called the AK-47?  You guessed it – it was invented 74 years ago, in 1947.

President* Biden thinks that high-capacity semi-automatic firearms are some sort of new-fangled technology. That is, to use his term, malarkey.  Biden is the stereotypical person who considers himself a gun expert, but has no clue about guns (or much else, but let’s not digress).  The supposed new-fangled technology he wants to ban is over 100 years old.

In the most essential passage of his essential book, Guns, Germs & Steel, Jared Diamond wrote  “What should an elite do to gain popular support while still maintaining a more comfortable lifestyle than commoners?  Kleptocrats throughout the ages have resorted to a mixture of four solutions.”  The first of Diamond’s four principles of kleptocracy is this:

“Disarm the populace, and arm the elite. That’s much easier in these days of high-tech weaponry, produced only in industrial plants and easily monopolized by an elite, than in ancient times of spears and clubs easily made at home.”

Disarming the populace has always been the primary method of keeping the peons in their place, including regulation of clubs and swords and crossbows long before firearms were invented. Diamond observes that it is easier to prohibit high-tech guns than, for example, low-tech spears, but the game may have just changed.  Milling machines, routers, drill presses, and even CNC and 3-D machines have come down in price, to the point where many people can afford to have them in their home workshops. In 1968, homemade guns were almost unheard of. In 2021, they are very distinctly heard of.

What to do?  Admit that the 1968 law was never useful, and is less so today, and repeal it? Or double down and make a new, improved stricter law? Which approach do you expect from the kleptocrats in Our Federal Family?




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