If you're a gun owner, you can be forgiven for being confused about gun laws these days. That's true in the United States at large, but it's especially true in Pennsylvania. Between executive orders, legislation, and court cases, gun regulation seems to have become an ever-shifting landscape.
The most recent debates seem to be over “ghost guns.” But just what are ghost guns, and, more importantly, what does the law have to say about them? The answers are complex, but knowing them can help you stay on the right side of the criminal justice system.
In simplest terms, a ghost gun is a homemade firearm. Because it's made at home by the individual owner, it isn't subject to other common gun restrictions. Unlike commercially sold guns, for instance, a ghost gun doesn't have a serial number. And in many places, you don't have to go through a background check to buy one.
Homemade guns weren't a problem twenty years ago. Making a gun from scratch is a tricky business, and it's not all that difficult to simply blow yourself up in the process. Then the gun manufacturing industry developed a new product: the gun kit. These days, you can buy a complete kit and put a gun together in an afternoon. With the advent of 3-D printers, you don't even need to visit a gun shop to purchase a kit. Using a credit card, you just download everything you need.
With more and more ghost guns being built, though, and more and more changing hands, law enforcement has seen a rise in ghost-gun-related crime. 250 ghost guns, for instance, were recovered in Philadelphia in 2020, up some 150 percent from the previous year. As a result, ghost guns have become a prime target for police and politicians alike.
Ghost Gun Laws
So what does the law have to say about ghost guns? Very little at the moment, but that may be changing soon.
Federal law: For now, ghost guns are entirely legal under federal law. They are governed by the Gun Control Act of 1968, which includes language allowing individuals to build their own firearms.
Pennsylvania state law: Ghost guns are also legal under Pennsylvania law, though you must be legally entitled to own a gun in order to own a ghost gun. In fact, the situation has become increasingly complicated in recent years. In late 2019, Pennsylvania's attorney general, Josh Shapiro, wrote in a legal opinion that unfinished gun frames (gun kits) should be treated as firearms and regulated as such. In short, buying a kit required a background check. Within a month, Commonwealth Court Judge Kevin Brobson had issued a preliminary injunction saying that the wording of Shapiro's opinion was “unconstitutionally vague.”
Local law: Within Pennsylvania, some cities have made ghost guns illegal. Philadelphia, for instance, banned using 3-D printers to build guns without a license. In early 2021, that law was amended to prohibit the sale of unfinished frames (gun kits) without a license.
Want Even More Information?
The law is far from settled when it comes to ghost guns. If you should find yourself in legal jeopardy over a ghost gun, pick up the phone and call Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm. Joseph D. Lento is committed to protecting legal gun owners from over-zealous prosecutors. He's an experienced attorney with a long history of defending clients in Pennsylvania, and he knows how to get you the outcome you deserve.
For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.