Right-wing embrace of “ghost guns” presents threat to U.S. democracy Right-wing embrace of “ghost guns” presents threat to U.S. democracy
Backstories

Right-wing embrace of “ghost guns” presents threat to U.S. democracy

    NHK Los Angeles Bureau
    Producer

    American gun culture has long been a source of morbid fascination for the rest of the world. Spurred by the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees the right of citizens to keep and bear arms, Americans dominate global gun ownership, with twice as many firearms per capita as the second-place country, Yemen. The United States is, in fact, the only country in the world with more guns than people.

    The easy availability of firearms has long been a problem, with mass shootings dominating headlines and guns claiming nearly 40,000 lives each year.

    Untraceable firearms

    Now, law enforcement officials and anti-gun advocates are sounding the alarm over a new trend: the growing popularity of so-called ghost guns. Put simply, ghost guns are weapons that can be assembled at home and lack a serial number, which means that when one is recovered at a crime scene, police have no way to determine where it came from or who last purchased it.

    Ghost gun

    Shockingly for many people outside the U.S., these untraceable firearms are completely legal in 41 states. The Biden administration is taking steps to restrict them, but the proposals are still a long way from being implemented. In the meantime, law enforcement officials say the problem is only getting worse.

    “Where we’re at today, the technology exists where the average person with basic skills can mass produce untraceable firearms at home,” said Carlos Canino, the former head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Southern California. The number of ghost guns in the U.S. is impossible to pin down, but Canino tells NHK that, in recent years, they accounted for nearly one-third of the guns seized by his office.

    Carlos Canino
    Carlos Canino, formerly of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, says ghost guns represent a growing threat.

    “If you can put together IKEA furniture…”

    Ghost guns weren’t a problem 20 years ago, Canino says, because the technology simply didn’t exist to allow people to easily make them at home. The ease of manufacturing ghost guns has made them popular with criminals because the parts can be ordered online and assembled with a minimum of knowledge or experience.

    “If you can put together IKEA furniture at your house, you can make yourself a gun at home,” he says.

    Ghost guns have become particularly popular among the American far right, with sales fueled by fantasies of violent confrontations with government agents.

    NHK World spoke with Eric Hargrave, the owner of a gun shop In Oregon that specializes in ghost guns. He said it’s essential for Americans to buy the weapons so they can fight back when the government tries to put them in concentration camps, which he believes is secretly being ordered by President Joe Biden.

    Eric Hargrave
    Gun-shop owner Eric Hargrave says ghost guns are a necessary tool to fight an imagined government takeover.

    “[The government is] going to start taking children away, start taking adults away and putting them into FEMA centers and encampments,” he said, before asserting that Biden is a dictator. Hargrave also falsely believes that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, and COVID-19 is a lie to control the American people. He said he knows the ghost guns he sells will not end up in the hands of criminals because prayer will ensure that only good people buy them.

    The far-right ghost gun fans

    This kind of far-right conspiracy theorizing is common. A gun shop in Southern California specializing in ghost gun parts promotes the idea of the “Boogaloo,” a right-wing fantasy of a second Civil War. And in early 2020, the FBI arrested members of a white-supremacist terror cell who were allegedly plotting to use ghost guns to attack a political rally in Virginia.

    Traditional firearms lobby groups like the NRA have also attacked Biden’s attempts to restrict ghost guns, and Republican politicians, including newly elected Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin, have opposed any new gun-control laws whatsoever. Though some states have taken action on their own, Democrats are unlikely to be able to push new gun laws through Congress any time soon, and the Biden administration’s proposed federal bans have a long way to go before they’re implemented. Which means that, for now at least, ghost guns are likely to haunt American society for the foreseeable future.