Philly's 'Ghost Gun' Hysteria Missing Much Needed Context

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File

The hysteria surrounding unserialized firearms isn't exactly new at this point. We've seen it time and time again. Much of it is based on a few faulty premises, the biggest of which is that without the availability of homemade, unserialized guns, criminals wouldn't be able to get them.

However, there's also the way they're being presented in the media.

Are "ghost guns" really a problem? Are they the principle way criminals are getting guns?

We don't know. The reason we don't is because much of the alarmist rhetoric we get from law enforcement and anti-gun officials lacks the context to really understand what they're pushing, and the latest out of Philadelphia is no different.

In the first of three hearings set for this week, Harrisburg legislators spent Monday in Philadelphia to discuss the issue of ghost guns, determine how these kinds of firearms are used and what can be done to address concerns with them.

And, members of the House Majority Policy Committee, in a hearing hosted by State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Phila.), learned that the proliferance of ghost guns on the city's streets has grown exponentially.

Ghost guns, as they are called, are unlicensed firearms that have no serial number and cannot be traced and can be obtained by anyone without a background check. They are typically made by parts created with the use of 3D printers.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner was one of the first to testify on issues with ghost guns, noting the state has a wealth of laws concerning violence and murder, but needs legislation to fix a "gap" in gun laws concerning ghost guns.

"Ghost guns are technology that was designed to run through the loopholes in existing statutes in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania." said Krasner.

In addressing lawmakers, Assistant District Attorney and head of the DA's gun violence task force, Bill Fritze said about 575 ghost guns were recovered in the city in 2022.

In a statement from Rep. Kenyatta's office, the lawmaker noted the increase in use of ghost guns on Philly's streets grew by 311% from 2019 to 2022.

Now, if I'm doing my math right--and I'm not going to swear that I did--then there were 185 "ghost guns" recovered in 2019.

But the question I have is still just how many guns were recovered in total.

Those numbers don't seem to be readily available, but it's kind of important to know how many of the total number of firearms recovered were unserialized--and just how many were made without serial numbers and how many had them removed.

After all, with a population of over 1.5 million, you'll forgive me if I don't think 575 "ghost guns" represents a major issue in the city, especially in light of the fact that we know 

For example, we know that there were more than 500 homicides in Philadelphia in 2022. There's absolutely no chance that all of them were committed with unserialized firearms, for the record, and we also know that there were thousands of other violent crimes, including a lot of non-fatal shootings.

Even if every "ghost gun" recovered represented a gun used in a crime, it's still only a fraction of the total number of guns use illegally in 2022.

And there's no reason to believe that all of the recovered guns were used in violent crime. At least some were recovered by law enforcement during arrests for other offenses.

In 2022, we finally got a glimpse at this supposedly major problem when we learned that since 2016, "ghost guns" had been used in just 325 homicides or attempted homicides. It seems unlikely that suddenly, after those numbers were made public, that Philadelphia saw more homicides with these guns than we'd seen in six year prior.

What we have here is a case of using bits of data to paint a picture of something as being bad, even when it's just a fraction of the supposed issue.

What's really going on is that unserialized, homemade firearms represent a lack of control for the powers that be. If you're able to make your own guns, you won't need to approach the Crown, hat in hand, and say, "Master, may I?"

Making your own guns is something a free person can do. It makes sure they stay free as well.

All the hysteria around "ghost guns" is just a distraction. It's about making sure the authorities can keep a boot on who gets guns and when, all so they can cut it off the moment they're able. These homemade guns represent a threat to that goal and we all know it.