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Are Ghost Guns Legal?

Recognized as a legal expert and a criminal defense attorney with over 25 years of experience representing clients in federal court, Page Pate is frequently contacted by the media to discuss important legal cases appearing in the news.

In this case, Page was contacted by 11 Alive News to discuss “ghost guns,” and the legality of these firearms. “Ghost guns” are firearms that are created from parts that are purchased online and are then untraceable because they were not purchased from a regular firearms dealer and do not have a serial number.

Page tells 11 Alive News “you don’t have to be of a certain age to buy the parts online” and says that “Federal law right now does not control or cover ghost guns. And so no matter who you are, if you’re a child, if you’re a convicted felon, if you’re a terrorist, you can go online and purchase these parts, get the parts, construct a firearm, even though it would have been illegal for you to possess that firearm if you went to the store and tried to purchase it.”

Page also explains that scratching off a serial number from a firearm is a federal crime. However, he says since “ghost guns” originate as just parts that are ultimately put together to create a firearm, they don’t have a serial number, which creates a loophole in federal firearm laws. Page further explains that “Under federal law, the part for a firearm is not a firearm. And federal law only regulates firearms. Now, there’s an exception if it’s an automatic weapon, a part of a machine gun is still a machine gun. But for a regular firearm, a semi-automatic firearm, a part is not the firearm.”

In a recent case in Douglas County, Georgia, a 13-year-old boy was making “ghost guns” and selling them on the street. In an altercation surrounding the sale of one of his guns, he accidentally shot and killed his sister. Page is asked if in this case, the parents could possibly be charged criminally. He responds, saying “There is a Georgia law called reckless conduct. And it can apply when a parent is so negligent that he or she is allowing things to happen in the house that could be criminal and that could ultimately hurt someone, and that’s exactly what happened here.” He also comments that “You have a certain obligation as a parent to know what’s happening in your house, especially with your kids. Because if the parent basically says, “Look, you know, whatever happens in that room, I don’t know about,” that’s not good enough under Georgia law.”

TRANSCRIPT

Ron: 11Alive’s Dawn White is in the studio with us tonight, explaining why they’re called ghost guns and why anyone can legally buy parts to make them, Dawn.

Dawn: Well, ghost guns are untraceable firearms made from parts bought online. The Atlanta criminal defense lawyer that we spoke to for this story, he says, “You don’t have to be of a certain age to buy the parts online.”

Page: Federal law right now does not control or cover ghost guns. And so no matter who you are, if you’re a child, if you’re a convicted felon, if you’re a terrorist, you can go online and purchase these parts, get the parts, construct a firearm, even though it would have been illegal for you to possess that firearm if you went to the store and tried to purchase it.

Dawn: 11Alive legal analyst Page Pate says it’s a federal crime to scratch off a serial number from a firearm. But there’s a loophole with ghost guns since they’re made without a serial number and are sold as just parts.

Page: Under federal law, the part for a firearm is not a firearm. And federal law only regulates firearms. Now, there’s an exception if it’s an automatic weapon, a part of a machine gun is still a machine gun. But for a regular firearm, a semi-automatic firearm, a part is not the firearm.

Dawn: The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office says the brother had been making and is selling the homemade weapons on the street. Now, some people may be wondering, could his parents face criminal charges?

Page: There is a Georgia law called reckless conduct. And it can apply when a parent is so negligent that he or she is allowing things to happen in the house that could be criminal and that could ultimately hurt someone, and that’s exactly what happened here.

Dawn: Pate says it doesn’t matter if a parent knew their child was making guns in the home.

Page: You have a certain obligation as a parent to know what’s happening in your house, especially with your kids. Because if the parent basically says, “Look, you know, whatever happens in that room, I don’t know about,” that’s not good enough under Georgia law.

Dawn: President Joe Biden proposed measures to curb gun violence in the spring. One of them will direct the ATF to classify gun kits as firearms. Public comment for that measure ended in August, but the agency still hasn’t acted. Coming up at 6, Pate’s message to parents.

Ron: All right, Dawn. Great story. We will see you at 6 o’clock for the very latest…