What It Means When NYPD Recovers More "Ghost Guns"

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File

Over the last couple of years, the term “ghost gun” has been pretty much synonymous with any firearm built from a kit that bypasses federal laws on the buying and selling of firearms. Of course, there are ways to build a firearm without any such kit which would still be unserialized, but some people just can’t wrap their heads around that particular fact.

Regardless, so-called ghost guns have also been mentioned as if they’re the greatest scourge of the 21st Century. Stories pop up all the time trying to warn us of the danger.

Unfortunately, when you look at it in context, you see that there’s not really all that much danger to speak of.

But what about in New York City, where they’re recovering more “ghost guns” than ever before?

So far this year, the NYPD has seized or found at least 200 “ghost guns,” firearms that lack any serial numbers and are assembled from component parts, usually ordered online. That figure surpasses last year’s total of 145, and dwarfs the 48 recovered in 2019 and 17 recovered in 2018.

“It is definitely something we are treating as an emerging problem, and I expect the numbers to continue to increase in New York City,” said Courtney Nilan, an NYPD inspector in the department’s Intelligence Bureau. “When you look at the exponential growth, that is what is alarming.”

Ghost guns have become increasingly popular in recent years, especially in jurisdictions where gun control regulations make it difficult for ordinary residents to obtain guns legally.

“Right now, if you buy one of these guns online, you don’t have to go through any background check,” said Christian Heyne, vice president of policy at Brady, a gun control advocacy group. “You don’t have to do anything at all. They’re cheap, and if you have ever put together Ikea furniture, you can put together one of these firearms.”

At least 200 ghost guns. That’s a lot, right?

Well, considering that the NYPD’s CompState reports there were over 1,300 shootings, more than 400 murders, over 11,000 robberies, and who knows what else, I’m going to take a stab in the dark and guess that 200 guns aren’t really the root of the problem.

Let’s just call it a hunch.

So what gives?

All over the country, the demand for firearms has been more than most manufacturers can keep up with. Those are, of course, for law-abiding gun sales, but demand is demand.

However, we also know that not all criminals carry guns just to rob people. They, too, carry for self-defense. That suggests their demand went up.

When demand goes up, supplies rise to meet that demand if at all possible.

What we’re not getting here is what percentage of firearms are ghost guns year after year. We don’t know the total number of firearms recovered in criminal hands. That’s a more telling tale, and it’s likely not included for a very good reason. At some level, everyone involved knows the numbers aren’t that high as a percentage of overall firearms used by criminals, but they want this to be an issue. They want people to be concerned, so they remove the context.

As a result, people are frightened over what amounts to a non-issue.

After all, if “ghost guns” went away forever, the problem of violent crime would still exist. Criminals got guns easily enough well before the “ghost gun” fears and they’ll keep getting them. This is why focusing on the tool and not the tool using it is a losing proposition. The bad guys will find a way around whatever barriers you put in place.

So let’s not get too worked up over 200 so-called ghost guns in New York City. The city has a lot bigger problems than them.

Nov 26, 2021 10:30 AM ET