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Fact Sheet

5 Things You Need to Know About Ghost Guns

Publication Date

September 2021


National Policing Institute


The term ‘ghost guns’—derived from the fact that these firearms are un-serialized, difficult to trace, and often remain invisible to the tracking and regulation covering traditionally manufactured firearms—refers to a wide range of homemade or improvised firearms. Assembled from parts, including those developed via 3D-printing technology, or from kits that include unfinished pieces (typically the receiver of the gun), ghost guns require the purchaser to be proficient in only basic machining to make the gun functional. Current federal firearms regulations do not require manufacturers of these parts or unfinished pieces or those assembling them to include serial numbers because the unassembled parts are not considered firearms. Thus, ghost gun parts and kits can be purchased online without being subject to most firearm regulations. Ghost guns present unique challenges to law enforcement agencies and make traditional investigative techniques less effective.

Concerns about the public safety risks posed by ghost guns is increasing. The ease of transforming ghost gun parts and kits into functional firearms and without having to go through background checks has made these firearms more accessible and likely more prevalent. Moreover, because these kits are not currently regulated under federal law, purchasers are not required to submit to a background check for the parts or the finished firearm.

As discussions about ghost guns, their regulation, and concerns for public safety migrate to the public sphere, here are five facts to help navigate the conversation.

See also NPI’s report, The Proliferation of Ghost Guns: Regulation Gaps and Challenges for Law Enforcement.

Recommended Citation

National Policing Institute. (2021). 5 things you need to know about ghost guns. https://www.policinginstitute.org/publication/5-things-you-need-to-know-about-ghost-guns/