What Does the Rise of Homemade Guns Mean for Gun Laws? We Made One To Find Out.
Virtually anyone can buy a kit online to build a gun from parts — without a background check. That raises questions about the future of gun regulation.
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[GUN CLICKS] This is a gun I made myself. The government doesn't know I have it, but it's totally legal. You can buy a kit online with all the parts you need to build a Glock 19. You don't need a 3-D printer or fancy tools, and you don't need a background check. I purchased the Glock 19 during Glocktober, so I got $100 off. People call these ghost guns. And they're becoming more popular, especially for people who want a gun, but don't want any record that it exists. I'd like to see how easy it is to build one of these guns and to find out what these kits mean for the future of gun regulation. Order is confirmed. All that's left to do is build it. I don't have a handgun license in New York, so I sent the kit to Virginia, where you don't need one. Let's make a gun. I get the appeal of making a gun. I like building stuff. And for a lot of people who buy these kits, that's the point. They're fun to make. "Hey, guys. Today we're going to be going over how to build your Full Conceal Polymer80 frame. So it's actually fairly quick to do this." "Kind of paint by numbers in a sense." The lower receiver or frame is the only part of the gun that's technically considered a firearm under U.S. law. Gun kits aren't regulated like firearms because they come with unfinished lower receivers. "So this is the lower receiver, and it's in this jig. So what we'll need to do is remove the extra pieces that are sticking up out of the jig." [SNAPPING] Yeah, instead of shop, I took early childhood development. It was actually really awesome. The finished lower receiver looks almost identical to the unfinished one. You just drill a few holes and remove these extra bits of polymer. Then you assemble and add the rest of the parts. If you do it right, you'll have a working firearm. On a factory-made gun, the serial number would go here. But the gun I'm building won't have one, so there's no way to trace it. Gun kits aren't regulated at all in most states. There are no records of sales. And for a lot of people, that's the appeal. "Hey." "Hey." "Andy Lander." "Jeremy White." Andy Lander is a firearms expert who worked for the N.R.A. for 13 years. He's built guns before. "We're still technically a free country. And I think that one of the greatest freedoms is having privacy. To me, if you bought 100 guns, it's none of my business." It's impossible to say how many ghost guns are out there or who owns them. Last year, nearly a third of all firearms seized by law enforcement in California were homemade without serial numbers. Still, Andy says the kits aren't the problem. "A criminal is going to steal a gun. He's going to either rob somebody and get a gun. He's going to get a gun anyway. I'm not worried about a guy building a Glock 19 in his garage." "Nope. Drop it in from the top." "Drop it in." "Straight down." "Oh, it has to be all the way —" "You have to clear that, yeah. Push down till it pops. Yeah, that's it." [GUN CLICKS] "There you go. You're done." "Wow. Thanks for your help." [GUN CLICKS] It took me about six hours to build my ghost gun. [GUN CLICKS] If I had to do it again, I could do it much faster. Still, there's no guarantee that it will work. "Scot Thomasson." "Jeremy White." "Nice to meet you." "Good to meet you." "How are you?" "Good." "Good. It's the same damn gun." "Really is." "The difference is right there, serial number. And that's important." Scot Thomasson is a retired A.T.F. agent. He's letting me try out my new gun on his property. "Looks O.K. Looks like it's not going to blow up anybody's hand, so that's a good thing." "Let's go test it out." [GUN CLICKS] [GUN FIRES] "Hit." [GUN FIRES] "Hit." [GUN FIRES] "O.K." "That's a working gun." "Yeah, sure enough is. Listen, I worked violent crime my whole career for 26 years. You want those officers to have every means possible bringing to justice those who use that firearm to commit acts of violence. And without a serial number on that firearm, you can't do it." "So if these kits had a serial number and were sold through licensed dealers, do you see any problem with that?" "No problem whatsoever. So what?" "Right now we really don't know what we don't know, because these guns are completely untraceable." Jennifer Wexton is a representative from Virginia's 10th district and a co-sponsor on two bills that would broaden the definition of firearms to include assembly kits. so you couldn't buy them without the government knowing. "Normally the serial number would be here." "No. And look, there's nothing there." "There's nothing there." "Yeah. That's part of the allure of these kinds of ghost guns, by the way. So when they're picked up in crime scenes and things like that, we know that they are out there. And we're seeing it happen more and more." "What do you say to the Second Amendment advocate that says, these laws are an invasion of my privacy when it comes to gun ownership?" "I think that guns should be traceable. So I think that weighing the interest in not having a serial number on your firearm versus the overall public safety, I come down on the side of public safety." In the end, the government does find out about my ghost gun. Without a handgun license, I can't bring this gun back to New York, so I'm turning it in to the local police. They interview me, do a background check and file a police report. That's a lot more screening than I went through to get the gun in the first place. For most people, this isn't the easiest way to get a gun. It takes time and skill. Some people may like that challenge. Most people would rather just buy one from a gun shop or a licensed dealer. But if you're a felon, or underage, or you can't legally buy a gun for some other reason, these kits make it remarkably easy to get one anyway.