Manhattan DA backs law to make it felony to manufacture ghost guns on 3D printers
People who own and sell ghost guns are committing a crime — but there’s no law against making the deadly weapons that authorities say are a rising threat to New Yorkers.
Anyone with a 3D printing machine capable of churning out magazines, receivers and other firearm parts can whip up an untraceable semiautomatic weapon in their kitchen in less time than it takes to cook a turkey.
Creating deadly weapons without consequences is a growing concern that has pushed Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg to back new legislation introduced by Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, that would make manufacturing guns with three-dimensional printing machines a felony in New York.
The DA described it as the crucial next step to laws banning the ownership, sale and shipping of ghost gun parts.
“We had the ‘Iron Pipeline’ that we were concerned for, then the ‘polymer pipeline’ with the ghost gun parts being shipped in. Now, we have, basically, the kitchen table,” Bragg told the Daily News. “They’re printing them right at their kitchen table. This (legislation) would make that a felony.”
Ghost gun enthusiasts have taken full advantage of the troubling loophole. The easy-to-make weapons now account for half of the untraceable firearms confiscated on the city’s streets. The NYPD seized 17 in 2018, with that number increasing more than 52-fold to 365 last year.
“It’s on the rise,” Bragg said. “We obviously still have traditional guns, and we’re focusing on that, that’s a significant public safety issue, but that 75% uptick in seizures, which I think is a good proxy for what’s on the street, is disturbing.”
The proposed bill is the latest effort by New York authorities to tackle the alarming proliferation of ghost guns. The legislation would also make it a crime to sell and distribute instructions online on how to make them.
Assembled from kits without serial numbers and sold without background checks, ghost guns present a major issue for criminal investigators.
“For conventional gun manufacturers, they would have to embed a serial number on the shell casing of every fired bullet. Obviously, that’s not gonna happen with the ghost guns,” Hoylman said.
Hoylman pointed to a recently passed law in Albany that imposed civil liability on gun manufacturers. He said it should extend to companies and individuals contributing to the expansion of ghost guns.
Ghost guns are not only easy to make and order online, but they’re budget-friendly, too.
“A magazine is going to cost you about $10 to print, whereas you could never order a traditional magazine for that small amount,” NYPD Inspector Courtney Nilan said. “The lower receiver, it’s going to cost you about $15. And then to make the rest of the parts for the gun, and order whatever parts you need, you’re going to get a fully functional firearm for around $150, which is cheaper than a traditional ghost gun price and cheaper than a commercially made firearm.”
Nilan said making a ghost gun with cheaper printers takes six to eight hours, but the newer ones can get it done in just two.
Assistant District Attorney Bonnie Seok said the legislation would make her job much easier.
“From a prosecutor’s standpoint, when I have cases involving someone who’s manufacturing or printing these 3D-printable receivers, we can currently only charge a (class) A misdemeanor for the possession of that lower receiver, but with this new bill, we would be able to charge a D felony, which is a huge difference for me as a prosecutor,” Seok said.
“It’s done repeatedly, and we just currently don’t have the tools to charge it as more than a misdemeanor,” Seok added.
The new law wouldn’t only cover weapons made by 3D printing machines. Authorities also want to crack down on increasingly popular ghost gunners — machines slightly bigger than a toaster oven capable of mass-producing semiautomatic weapons for about $1,500 apiece.
“You’re able to just throw in a block of aluminum,” Seok said. “And it’ll mill out a lower receiver.”
Nilan said all users have to do is throw in metal or plastic, and the ghost gunner will whip up a working weapon.
“For people too lazy to press the button on that 3D printer, this is gonna do everything for you,” Nilan said.
Bragg said New Yorkers with ghost guns are welcome to turn them in next Saturday, no questions asked, at the next buyback event in central Harlem.
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