We Can’t Get Even Regular Gun Control. How Are We Going to Deal With Ghost Guns?

Mark this on your April calendar: Joe Biden does something about ghost guns.

OK, just sort of. But let’s be thankful for a start.

First, a little ghost gun background. The only truly good news is that they have nothing to do with evil spirits of long-deceased revolvers floating around your house in the middle of the night.

The bad news is that they’re very easy to obtain and pretty darned popular — perhaps because they often have no serial numbers. They’re regulated in only 10 states.

Those of us who worry about gun proliferation used to obsess about “the iron pipeline,” a.k.a. I-95, along which weapons were ferried from Southern states where they were easy to purchase to Northern destinations where they could be sold for a very tidy profit.

Now shipping through the iron pipeline is sort of like keeping in touch with all your friends and family by writing lovely letters on your personal stationery and taking them to the post office to buy stamps and put them in the mail. So … 20th century. Today if you want an off-the-records gun, you go online, of course. You order a ghost, which arrives at your home in pieces, ready to be assembled. You can even order a 3-D printer to make one from scratch.

“This is as big a threat as anything I’ve ever seen,” said John Feinblatt, the head of Everytown for Gun Safety. “They’re a dream come true for a prohibited person — a felon. Or an armed extremist. They’re invisible. They’re well made.”

The New York Police Department, which reported seizing 47 ghost guns in 2019 and 375 last year, said that as of early this week, it had already confiscated 106 in 2022. True, it’s still only a small chunk of the total number of weapons the police collected, many of which had probably been hanging around the house/gang/car trunk for ages. But think about the ghost guns that’ll be piling up in the years to come.

Meanwhile, shootings keep coming. Two weekends ago, 29 people were hit in New York City, one of them mortally wounded during an argument in the Bronx. And New York’s hardly alone. Los Angeles and San Francisco are in similar nightmares. Miami Beach officials declared a state of emergency after two shootings over a spring break weekend. “We can’t endure this anymore, we just simply can’t,” said Mayor Dan Gelber.

He was talking about the invasion of the party-hearty crowd. But you could apply the same sentiment to gun proliferation.

It’s a tough time for gun safety in general. The Supreme Court decided to take a look at New York regulations that set a pretty high bar on the right to, say, carry a revolver in your pocket when you go out for a walk. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. “The Supreme Court keeps me up at night. For all kinds of reasons,” Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut told me.

Lawmakers from Connecticut tend to be very concerned about this kind of issue, an obsession that goes back to 2012, when a 20-year-old stole his mother’s gun and then killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, 20 of them children.

The Newtown shooting shocked the world, and many of us — simpletons that we were — presumed it would be the start of a whole new American attitude toward guns.

Certainly didn’t imagine that this month we’d be watching activists, many of them survivors of the Parkland high school shooting in 2018, place 1,100 body bags on the National Mall. Each bag stood for about 150 lives lost to guns since Parkland — including homicides, accidental gun deaths and suicides. Organizers said there was no way to include one for each victim since that would have meant 170,000 body bags.

And how’s Biden, who clearly sees himself as a champion of gun safety regulation, doing? “It depends on what your expectations were,” Blumenthal said, carefully. While many anti-gun activists say they’ve been disappointed, Blumenthal still has a lot of hope. “He’s more passionate and determined than any president in my memory,” the senator said.

Definitely more than the guy who came before. Like most New Yorkers, Donald Trump sympathized with gun control for most of his life. Then he began making political speeches and told people he was stunned — stunned! — by how enthusiastic Republican crowds got if you gave a shout-out for the right to bear arms. Instant switcheroo.

Biden’s been consistent, if not always successful. His first attempt to name a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives imploded when the Second Amendment lobby managed to torpedo the nomination of gun control activist David Chipman last year. “Either this was impossible to win or the strategy failed,” Chipman said afterward — an analysis that could be used for many, many administration encounters with the United States Senate.

But Biden, who’s still without a permanent A.T.F. director, did direct the Department of Justice to help stop ghost gun proliferation. That was a year ago. The department complied rather quickly, opening the new rules for comment last May. Public comment closed in August and then ….

Well, here we are. Waiting for word.

Biden also requested a ton of money for the A.T.F. in his budget — presuming the budget gets passed and there’s a new director who’ll know how to spend it.

So how’s the president doing? Feel free to vote:

A. Ghost guns! Hey, he’s got a start.

B. Ghost guns! Good grief, is that all he’s done?

C. Well, as long as he delivers before the Easter Egg Roll.

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