United States | Joe Biden toughens rules against ‘ghost’ weapons

(Washington) Joe Biden tightened Monday in the name of “common sense” the regulation of so-called “phantom” weapons, which are difficult to spot in the absence of a serial number and can be assembled as a kit at home in just a few minutes.

Posted yesterday at 4:58 p.m.

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The US president pointed out, during an event at the White House bringing together families and loved ones of firearm victims, that the number of these “ghost guns” reported by the police had multiplied by ten in five years, between 2016 and 2021.

While saying he was in favor of the second amendment to the United States Constitution, which establishes the right to own a weapon, he criticized the powerful arms lobby, the NRA, for calling its regulations “extreme”.

“Is it extreme to protect the police? To protect our children? It’s not extreme, it’s common sense, ”said the US president, who handled one of these kit weapons in front of the cameras to show how easy it is to assemble.

Joe Biden, whom Republicans accuse of being lax in the repression of delinquency, has been trying for several weeks to show his firmness and his support for the police.

According to a new decree, spare parts that can be easily assembled into a firearm will be subject to the same requirements as already assembled weapons.

Resellers of such kits will need to conduct background checks on potential buyers or include a serial number on the component parts.

Less than 1%

From January 2016 to December 2021, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) was only able to trace the owner of a “ghost” weapon in 0.98% of cases , particularly in homicide and attempted homicide investigations.

According to the organization Gun Violence Archive, more than 11,700 people have died by firearm since the beginning of the year in the United States, including suicides.

Over the whole of 2021, the number was 45,000 dead, according to the same site, which regularly leads the White House to speak of an “epidemic”.

But the powers of the executive, beyond certain regulations issued by decree, are limited.

Joe Biden on Monday repeated his calls for Congress to ban the sale of assault rifles or impose a universal system of criminal and psychiatric background checks for gun buyers.

These calls are akin to wishful thinking given Joe Biden’s limited parliamentary room for maneuver, particularly in the face of certain elected Republicans who are fiercely opposed to any regulation.

Tom Cotton, senator from Arkansas, said in a press release that “regulations only complicate access to weapons for law-abiding citizens. »

The NRA for its part criticized Joe Biden for unveiling “yet another hollow plan” intended to “please his wealthy pro-gun supporters.” »

Conversely, former House Democrat and shooting survivor Gabrielle Giffords welcomed the executive order.

“The battle to end gun violence is still long but we have won an important victory,” she wrote on Twitter.

Eric Adams, mayor of the state of New York where these “ghost guns” circulate a lot, also welcomed the decision: “Untraceable ghost guns are as deadly as other firearms, they must be treated in the same way and not as curiosities”.

But this former policeman also felt in a press release that “it was not enough” and called for a regulatory authority, the ATF therefore, “resolute”.

Joe Biden revealed on Monday the name of his candidate to head this agency: Steve Dettelbach, a former prosecutor. This is the second attempt by the US president to fill the position. His first, with a staunch supporter of regulation as a candidate, had failed for lack of parliamentary support and in the face of a virulent campaign from the firearms lobby.

What to know about ghost weapons

What is a “ghost” weapon?

Most guns sold in the United States are either produced by licensed manufacturers or imported.

These two types of weapons are distributed by authorized sellers and must bear a serial number, generally engraved on the weapon. Thanks to this serial number, law enforcement can trace any weapon linked to a crime.

Kit weapons, also known as “80% weapons”, are sold partially assembled, with the rest of the assembly to be done by the buyer.

They do not have a serial number and, since they are not considered weapons throughout the sales process, do not require a license to carry a weapon or submit the buyer to a control criminal and psychiatric history.

Easy to obtain online, they quickly became an ideal solution for people who are otherwise prohibited from buying a weapon for reasons of criminal record or age.

Is it difficult to get one?

A survey by Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocates for better gun control, found that a kit to make an AR-15 assault rifle – one of the most popular guns in the United States States, and often involved in the deadliest shootings – can cost less than $400.

The study indicates that the weapon is touted online as very easy to mount. “Assembly […] doesn’t take very long. You can try it on the shooting range after an hour or two. And tutorials boasting hundreds of thousands of views are easy to find on YouTube.

How many are in circulation?

No figures are available on the matter, due to the absence of serial numbers and non-existent regulations, but American law enforcement authorities report a sharp increase in seizures of these “ghost” weapons. “.

LAPD Deputy Chief Kris Pitcher said he confiscated 800 kit guns in 2020 alone.

And according to the federal firearms agency, two-thirds of those guns were seized in California.

This southwestern state “is kind of the epicenter” of this trend, says Adam Skaggs, legal director of the Giffords Law Center – an NGO named after former lawmaker Gabby Giffords, who survived after being seriously injured by a bullet to the head in 2011.

Law enforcement officials across the country say mentions of “ghost” weapons in police reports have doubled between 2020 and 2021.

What are the authorities doing?

Several cities, including San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles have adopted laws limiting or banning the sale of these weapons in kit form.

And the White House is getting involved, via an executive order issued Monday by Joe Biden and subjecting these weapons to the same requirements as already mounted firearms available for purchase.

Sellers of these parts kits will now be required to conduct background checks on potential buyers as well as include a serial number on the component parts of these firearms.

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