Imagine a world where anyone—even a convicted felon, domestic abuser, child or terrorist—can manufacture an untraceable weapon on demand. Such weapons can be made from plastic or other materials to evade metal detectors. They can move through airports and stadiums with ease. They are manufactured without serial numbers and entirely untraceable by law enforcement.
They are, in other words, completely impervious to every possible measure we have to stop a dangerous individual from acquiring a weapon.
Thanks to flimsy regulations and a booming online market for do-it-yourself weapons, this unimaginable dystopia—straight from the pages of a science fiction novel—has become our new reality.
The wider problem surrounding “ghost guns”—a broad class of weapons that are undetectable, untraceable and unregulated—extends far beyond the Trump administration’s dangerous settlement with Defense Distributed. Even if that is ultimately reversed, federal law is ill-equipped to handle the alarming new trend of do-it-yourself weapons. In fact, it’s still technically legal to manufacture your own firearm, allowing anyone to obtain a gun without a background check.
The rise of weapons made by 3-D printers has exposed the stunning ease by which people can manufacture their own firearms. With a cursory Google search, you can obtain component parts or an assembly kit containing parts, instructions and detailed templates for the technical work required to complete the weapon. Need an extra hand? There are scores of tutorials—mostly on YouTube—to walk you through the process of building your weapon. This option has taken on a sinister popularity; YouTube searches for DIY weapons skyrocketed in the wake of the Parkland shooting last February.
The threat of ghost guns is no longer abstract. In 2014, John Zawahri killed five people at Santa Monica City College using a .223 caliber AR-15 type semi-automatic rifle he built himself. Zawahari’s history with mental illness and police record would have disqualified him from obtaining a weapon had he gone through the standard background procedures required by the state of California.
But we have an opportunity to stop this threat. I have introduced legislation with Sen. Kevin Parker, D-Brooklyn, and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence that would make it illegal to possess or manufacture a ghost gun without proper licensing. Those who wish to assemble a gun would have to use parts detectable by a metal detector and would be required to register the gun with law enforcement and obtain a serial number.
It is up to New York to close this deadly loophole that will allow dangerous individuals to get a gun on demand. The safety of our city, state and country depends on it.
Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, is a member of the state Senate.