The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Imaginary Ghost-Gun ‘Loophole’

Guns are sold inside of Dick’s Sporting Goods in Stroudsburg, Penn., February 28, 2018 (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

ABC News reports that “House Democrats to introduce legislation aimed at closing gun loopholes:”

Eight House Democrats are set to introduce gun legislation on Wednesday in an effort to close existing loopholes and prevent mass shootings, according to a statement obtained by ABC News from the office of Representative Val Demings, (D., Fla.) one of the bill’s sponsors.

As I’ve noted before, in Washington “loophole” is almost always a euphemism for some perfectly legal thing that Democrats have decided they want to regulate. Who doesn’t want to close a loophole, right? The media regurgitates this language, creating the impression that some unforeseen ambiguity is undermining existing law. This is rarely the case. Sometimes, in fact, the opposite is true. When gun-control advocates talk about closing the “Charleston Loophole” by expanding background check time limits from three to ten days, they are attempting to alter parts of existing law already negotiated at the time of passage. Democrats may dislike the three-day waiting period that protects gun owners, and they may one day change it, but it is not by any definition a “loophole.”

Moreover, neither Demings nor ABC News offer any evidence that regulating “ghost guns” — a scary-sounding, but largely meaningless, designation like “assault weapon” (or now, the even more chilling “concealable assault rifles”) — would do very much of anything in preventing mass shootings. “Ghost gun” typically refers to firearms made by hobbyists who buy 80-percent finished receivers and then finish the gun themselves. The majority of mass shooters pass background checks. There are very few incidents in the past decade I could find involving homemade weapons — and most of those firearms would have been illegal to make anyway. Criminals have a far easier time obtaining a gun without any serial number than buying expensive parts and building one.

Over the past few years, there have been numerous pieces written about the rise of “ghost guns.” In most of them, unskeptical journalists allow law-enforcement officials to make rather improbable claims. The ambiguity of the phrase “ghost gun,” it seems, allows gun-control advocates to conflate homemade guns with firearms that have had their serial numbers removed (which is illegal.) Last year, for instance, the Special Agent in charge of the ATF Los Angeles Field Division told ABC News that “almost half our cases we’re coming across are these ‘ghost guns.'” Does anyone really believe that over 40 percent of guns used in Los Angeles crimes are homemade? (Not to mention that the story notes that most gun kits aren’t even legal California.)

The ghost-gun scare is about “doing something.” Which usually means inhibiting law-abiding gun owners, and doing nothing about the underlying problem.

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