GUEST EDITORIAL: Whether you buy a gun or build one from a kit, the same rules should apply

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Rifles are offered for sale at Freddie Bear Sports on April 8, 2021 in Tinley Park, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/TNS)

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has taken a firm stance when it comes to the so-called "ghost guns" made from do-it-yourself kits or 3D printers — they should be subject to the same regulations as other guns, including background checks on buyers and the requirement of a serial number. It's a commonsense position that the Biden administration supports in a proposal now under review that should be enacted into law.

In April, President Joe Biden ordered the Justice Department to draft a rule that cracks down on ghost guns, closing a loophole in federal law that allows those purchasing gun-building kits to skirt requirements for serial numbers and buyer background checks. The proposal, which is now in a 90-day public comment period, is the type of gun reform that almost makes too much sense. Whether someone purchases a gun or builds one at home, there should be a background check and the weapon should have a serial number so that it can be traced.

Shapiro, who testified before a Senate panel in mid-May to make the case for federal regulation of ghost guns, has been out in front of this issue for several years. In 2019, he ordered the state police to treat the unfinished frames and receivers, the components of the guns, as firearms under state law. State police then directed gun dealers to perform background checks on those buying the parts.

In January 2020, Commonwealth Court issued a preliminary injunction on the policy, calling it "unconstitutionally vague," but Shapiro continued to press the issue. In March of this year, he reached an agreement with the state's largest gun show promoter to ban sales of ghost gun kits at its events.

There is good reason to be concerned about closing a loophole on the ghost gun purchases. The Justice Department said some 23,000 guns without serial numbers have been recovered by law enforcement at crime scenes, including 325 that were connected to homicides or attempted homicides.

Shapiro told the Senate panel of an alarming rise in the use of ghost guns in Philadelphia, where law enforcement recovered 13 of them connected to criminal investigations in 2018. The number soared to 250 in 2020, and police estimate they will recover more than 600 ghost guns related to crimes in the city this year.

Closing the loophole will not prohibit law-abiding citizens from purchasing the kits and building a gun at home. It will only require the same enforcement of laws related to other gun purchases. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that the proposal targets those who are not permitted to own a gun but are using the loophole to "escape detection by law enforcement."

Cracking down on the ghost gun loophole will not infringe on Second Amendment rights to own firearms. It will, however, make it more difficult for those barred from owning a gun to obtain one. It's a commonsense piece of gun reform that we all can live with.