ATF prepares for ghost gun rule change in hopes of reducing violent crime

On April 11, 2022, the Biden Administration announced plans to crack down on ghost guns.

SAN ANTONIO – A rule change for cracking down on ghost guns comes with the hope of reducing violent crime, but not everyone believes this will be effective.

Nearly a month ago, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a rule to rein in ghost guns.

According to a White House release, “There were approximately 20,000 suspected ghost guns reported to ATF as having been recovered by law enforcement in criminal investigations – a ten-fold increase from 2016.”

The lack of serial numbers makes it hard for law enforcement to trace if that gun was used in a crime.

“Privately made firearm, which is a PMF, is often called a ghost gun because it’s not marked with a serial number,” said Melissa Garcia, the public information officer for ATF Houston Field Division.

Garcia said ATF is gearing up to implement changes soon.

“Require markings, including a serial number, so that their firearms can be traced if recovered by law enforcement. And it also requires a background check to be completed before a partially completed firearm or firearms kits can be sold,” Garcia said.

The rule update would also update the definition of a firearm to include kits and unfinished firearms and receivers.

According to San Antonio Police Department data, there have been 62 homicides so far this year. That’s up from 49 this time last year.

National data from ATF shows between January 2016 and December 2021, 45,000 reports of suspected ghost guns were recovered by law enforcement. Of those, 692 were used in homicides or robberies.

In San Antonio, exact numbers are hard to get, but trends are clear.

“There’s definitely been an increase,” Garcia said.

Lone Star Handgun president Josh Felker doesn’t think this rule change is the answer to reducing violent crime.

“A criminal is all of the sudden they can’t get or manufacture their own gun in the house or steal it from somebody else. There’s millions and millions and millions of guns out there,” Felker said.

Felker said a gun with a serial number could be made untraceable by filing it off.

As this rule change rolls out, KSAT has gotten questions regarding firearms with its serial numbers filed off.

Garcia said “If a firearm serial number has been altered or destroyed in any way, that’s simply considered a firearm with intent iterated serial number. And that’s unlawful for any person to possess or receive any firearm which has a serial number removed or obliterated or altered.”

He said Lone Star Handgun conducts background checks, but dealing with a stolen firearm can be difficult.

“If I were to be able to go quickly online and go, Hey, this gun was stolen, you’re a criminal or you’re dealing with a stolen firearm. No, I’m...I buy it. We hope that it’s not stolen,” Felker said.

The rule changes for ghost guns don’t go into effect until August.

Senator Ted Cruz and 21 others introduced a Congressional Review Act Joint Resolution of Disapproval to try and block the changes.

About the Authors

Leigh Waldman is an investigative reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.

Joe Arredondo is a photojournalist at KSAT 12.

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