Untraceable guns from kits are proliferating, but GOP still balks at reforms

St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board (TNS)

President Joe Biden’s call to crack down on “ghost guns” — weapons with no serial numbers that are made from kits or 3D printers — should be the easiest lift imaginable. With violent crime being such a top issue with most Americans, how is it possible that any sitting politician of any party favors the proliferation of untraceable guns? And how exactly does that work with the GOP’s “law and order” mantra?

Throughout modern times, there has been some degree of tension between the competing interests of the right to bear arms and the right of society to protect itself from gun violence. But it’s only been relatively recently that so many elected Republicans have adopted an absolutist attitude against any form of gun restrictions. That unconditional stance isn’t inherent in the Second Amendment, which literally specifies a condition for the right (the necessity of a “well regulated militia”).

Even the late Justice Antonin Scalia, patron saint of the modern gun movement, wrote in his landmark opinion confirming individual gun-ownership rights in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) that, “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” That right, Scalia noted, is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

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Yet only such an absolutist interpretation could justify the position of those opposed to reining in ghost guns. Serial numbers on guns are what allow police to determine where weapons used in crimes came from. Tracing the chain of ownership, of course, is often crucial in attempting to solve crimes.

At San Diego Police Department headquarters on July 14, 2021, in San Diego, officers presented a ghost hand gun that was recently confiscated. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

No wonder untraceable guns are getting so popular with criminals. According to the Justice Department, there were 1,750 ghost guns recovered from crime scenes nationally in 2016, but that number had jumped to 8,712 by 2020. By some estimates, between one-quarter and half of all violent crimes committed in California alone are committed with ghost guns.

There are ongoing efforts in Congress to require that those who sell kits for homemade guns must include serial numbers on the parts just as they would to sell finished guns, and that those who buy them must register them. With Republican opposition so fervent in Congress, the Biden administration is also looking at creating such regulations by regulatory rule through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Arms and Explosives.

The fact that this is such a hot debate only spotlights how irrational the gun lobby and its Republican water-carriers have become on this issue. Republicans who are truly interested in protecting law-abiding citizens from violent criminals should consider what’s more important: bringing these rapidly proliferating weapons under the same long-standing federal rules that have applied to other guns — or pandering to the extremists in the base at, literally, the cost of lives.

— From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board (TNS).