St. Louis paper misfires in op-ed on "ghost guns"

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File

One of the hallmarks of the gun control movement over the decades has been the piecemeal gun bans that have been proposed on a regular basis; from the Saturday Night Specials of the 1970s to today’s emphasis on going after “assault weapons” and “ghost guns.” If they can’t ban gun ownership completely, they’ll try to go after one category of firearms at a time, and while the movement has met with more losses than success, thankfully, they’re still at it.

In fact, with the Biden administration set to impose new restrictions on home-built firearms in the coming months and some gun control activists vocally complaining about Biden’s supposed lack of action on the issue, I expect that Democrats are going to push hard for a ban on DIY gun kits between now and Election Day at both the federal and state level. Not only does that allow them to appease their anti-gun base, but it also gives the left a talking point about how to impact rising crime rates that doesn’t involve “reimagining policing” and even portray the GOP as being soft on crime.

That’s the angle the editors of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch took in a new editorial excoriating Republicans for not hopping on the left’s latest gun ban bandwagon.

President Joe Biden’s call to crack down on “ghost guns” — weapons with no serial numbers that are made from kits or 3D printers — should be the easiest lift imaginable. With violent crime being such a top issue with most Americans, how is it possible that any sitting politician of any party favors the proliferation of untraceable guns? And how exactly does that work with the GOP’s “law and order” mantra?

Well, I’d say it’s at least in part because the GOP is less willing than Democrats (generally speaking) to try to impose criminal penalties on the exercise of a constitutional right. But people have also been able to legally make their own guns in this country for as long as the United States has existed, and even before then colonists were making their own arms and ammunition. Is it really that odd that one of the things conservatives would want to conserve is our ability to craft our own guns, particularly when the gun control lobby is working so hard to destroy the firearms industry?

To the Post-Dispatch editors it’s not just odd, it’s unconscionable.

Even the late Justice Antonin Scalia, patron saint of the modern gun movement, wrote in his landmark opinion confirming individual gun-ownership rights in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) that, “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” That right, Scalia noted, is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

Yet only such an absolutist interpretation could justify the position of those opposed to reining in ghost guns. Serial numbers on guns are what allow police to determine where weapons used in crimes came from. Tracing the chain of ownership, of course, is often crucial in attempting to solve crimes.

Crucial though it may be, it’s not like criminals haven’t been defacing serial numbers since the moment they were first required back in the 1960s. And given the fact that most criminals don’t get their guns legally in the first place, I’d argue that tracing has never been the magic bullet that gun control activists claim it is.

There are ongoing efforts in Congress to require that those who sell kits for homemade guns must include serial numbers on the parts just as they would to sell finished guns, and that those who buy them must register them. With Republican opposition so fervent in Congress, the Biden administration is also looking at creating such regulations by regulatory rule through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Arms and Explosives.

The fact that this is such a hot debate only spotlights how irrational the gun lobby and its Republican water-carriers have become on this issue. Republicans who are truly interested in protecting law-abiding citizens from violent criminals should consider what’s more important: bringing these rapidly proliferating weapons under the same long-standing federal rules that have applied to other guns — or pandering to the extremists in the base at, literally, the cost of lives.

Not that the editors of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch give a crap about the actual facts of this debate, but one of the issues with both the proposed Biden rule for 80%-complete receivers and frames (and the idea of regulating home-built firearms in general) is that we’re talking about something that, when sold, isn’t actually a gun. And as Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed has demonstrated, it’s now feasible to mill a receiver (the part of a gun that’s actually considered a firearm under federal law) from a solid block of aluminum in just a matter of hours. How do you stamp or serialize raw metal before selling it to consumers? And would every supplier have to register with the federal government as a firearms dealer?

Keep in mind, when the feds accuse you of owning a gun you’re not supposed to have, you’re generally looking at a prison sentence of at least a five years. I consider myself a law-and-order type, but I don’t see the benefit of putting someone in prison for five years for building a gun without a serial number, particularly if they’re not prohibited by law from possessing a firearm in the first place.

Even if we ban “ghost guns” tomorrow, the technology to build a gun at home still exists and is only improving. Criminals have access to guns from the black market, thefts, and straw purchases as well. Gun bans may make possession illegal, but it doesn’t get rid of the gun itself, and frankly, I want law enforcement to be focused on taking violent offenders off the street regardless of how they acquired their weaponry.

“Supply side” gun controls are doomed to failure in a country with 400-million or so guns and somewhere between 80- to 100-million gun owners (not to mention the constitutionally-protected right to keep and bear them). The only real way to address violent crime is to reduce the demand for guns among those who would criminally misuse them, and the best way to do that in terms of law enforcement is to put in place strategies designed to lead to the arrest and prosecution for those who pull the trigger. Criminalizing building your own firearm isn’t just a red herring when it comes to fighting crime, it’s a big red flag when it comes to our Second Amendment rights.