Intensify Interstate Efforts to Combat “Phantom” Weapons



Firearms traffickers frequently operate across state borders, moving nearly 60,000 firearms between states each year. Traffickers buy guns – legally or illegally – in one state and sell the guns to criminals in other states to evade gun laws.

This problem is compounded by the rise of home-made “ghost weapons” that cannot be found. Because they are sold in “do it yourself” kits, phantom weapons are not considered “firearms” under the federal definition. These guns are not subject to laws that apply to gun sales – such as mandatory background checks – or serial number requirements that allow law enforcement to trace guns used in crimes. up to buyers.

It is this loophole that makes phantom weapons the weapon of choice for criminals.

In New Jersey, the number of non-serialized weapons recovered by law enforcement has continued to increase: during 2019, law enforcement seized 55; so far in 2021, it has seized 135, representing 5% of all gun recoveries statewide. In Pennsylvania, the increase is greater. In Philadelphia alone, law enforcement recovered 99 phantom weapons in 2019, 250 in 2020 and 382 already in 2021.

READ MORE: Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro Takes Action To Reduce Access To ‘Phantom Weapons’

To stop interstate trafficking, our offices announced a partnership in 2020 – the PA / NJ Initiative Against Arms Trafficking. This effort relies on intelligence sharing between law enforcement in Camden and Philadelphia and has an impact in ending gun-fueled violence.

Our regional partnership has already had significant success in a short period of time. Earlier this month, we gathered in Camden to announce the arrest of three men who were operating a gun smuggling ring on both sides of the Delaware River. Our operation secured nearly two dozen phantom weapons, assembled in “construction houses” in Philadelphia, transported across the river, and ultimately sold illegally on the streets of Camden. These unserialized and nowhere to be found weapons included 10 AR-15 style assault rifles, high-capacity handguns, and a fully automatic handgun.

Last year we announced the results of “Operation Zombie”, which led to the seizure of 38 firearms, including the weapon that killed 2-year-old Nikolette Rivera.

Collaboration produces results. This is how law enforcement should work – here and across the county. It’s not enough to sit in silos and solve problems only in your communities, neighborhoods, or even states.

READ MORE: Camden gun smuggling ring dismantled as state and federal officials target illegal guns

And our work is not done. We need to expand the coalition of law enforcement by keeping the lines of communication open. We have met with our neighbors in New York, Delaware, Maryland and Connecticut about creating a formal mechanism to share information on illegal gun trafficking and are pushing for something to happen soon. put in place.

But the responsibility cannot lie strictly with states. We need to be able to see federal data. As it stands, local law enforcement is unable to access important gun trafficking data and trace data from other states. New Jersey and Pennsylvania have pushed for more data sharing at the federal level – most recently they met with the Biden administration to demand better access to gun trafficking data. We have also worked closely with the ATF to close the phantom gun loophole at the federal level.

Every neighborhood in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and across the country deserves to be safe from gun violence. Community members, law enforcement, state and federal partners: We are all in the same boat because we know that it will take a multidimensional and unified approach to end this violence.

The stakes are high. We live in an age where anyone looking to do harm can go online and buy an untraceable gun without a background check. Criminal activity is not limited by state borders – neither is our response.

Josh Shapiro is the Attorney General of Pennsylvania. Andrew Bruck is the Acting Attorney General of New Jersey.



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