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Debate limits on 'ghost gun' kits in New York State

Untraceable weapons -- also known as "ghost guns"

Untraceable weapons -- also known as "ghost guns" are displayed at a news conference on June 26, 2015. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Last month, a Long Island man was arrested with 800 bags of  heroin, and something even more frightening: three "ghost guns." Suffolk County police say Christopher Swanson had an assault rifle and two handguns he built with parts from kits he bought online.

 In New York, a ban on the sale and possession of such kits or strict limits are needed. On Monday, New York Attorney General Letitia James ordered 16 online companies to quit selling kits for "assault weapons" in New York, but that only deals with a tiny part of the issue, at best.

Ghost guns are kits delivered with some assembly and machining still necessary. The kits make guns with no serial numbers and cannot be traced. They are legal because federal law allows people to make their own guns. The key part, called the lower receiver, can be sold with no background check, if it is no more than 80 percent complete.

That means a dangerous, handy person with the right tools and the wrong mindset could have a working gun to use or sell an hour after a kit arrives. Swanson, convicted of a felony drug offense in 2008, cannot legally possess a firearm.

Police say ghost guns are a growing problem. In March, a police officer with the NYC Department of Environmental Protection was charged with illegally manufacturing and selling dozens of guns, including a fully automatic assault rifle, semi-automatic rifles and handguns.

The ghost gun industry exists almost entirely to thwart the background checks federal law requires for the sale of any gun by a licensed dealer, state and federal laws designed to limit specific weapons and the tracking of guns used in crimes. The kits ought to be outlawed federally, or sold only after innocent hobbyists pass a federal background check. That’s unlikely in a Congress where gun regulations seldom pass.

A bill proposed last week by two Long Island lawmakers, State Sen. Anna Kaplan and Assemb. Charles Lavine, to outlaw the sale of ghost gun kits in  our state is a good starting point for the debate.

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