Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Contact 90.5 WESA with a story idea or news tip:

PA Attorney General Targets Illegal Possession Of Kit Guns

Ed Mahon
PA Post
Guns, including ones made through DIY kits, are displayed on a table in the Governor's Reception Room of the state Capitol on Dec. 16, 2019.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is trying to crack down on the illegal possession of so-called ghost guns — a term used to refer to firearms made with DIY kits.

Under a legal opinion Shapiro issued Monday, 80 percent receivers — which Shapiro called the “skeleton of the gun” — will be treated as guns. 

“These are the paint-by-numbers of firearms,” Shapiro said.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives defines “80 percent receiver” as “an item that some may believe has not yet reached a stage of manufacture that meets the definition of firearm frame or receiver found in the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA).” 

Under the attorney general’s opinion, someone banned from possessing a gun, such as people with felony convictions, could face criminal charges for possessing one of the 80 percent receivers.

Shapiro’s legal opinion will not ban guns made from kits, he said. The opinion only targets people banned from possessing guns. 

Shapiro said more than 100 completed ghost guns have been recovered in Philadelphia this year.

“Every single one of these deadly ghost guns were seized from a prohibited purchaser,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro’s office will now work with Pennsylvania State Police on an implementation strategy. Shapiro didn’t provide a timeline for when that will be completed.

It’s not clear yet how the opinion will affect people who sell 80 percent receivers. Shapiro declined to say whether the opinion will require sellers to complete a background check on customers. He said that issue is going to be part of the review by the state police.

David Pucino, staff attorney with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said New Jersey, Washington, Connecticut and California have passed laws aimed at “ghost guns.” But he’s not aware of any other state changing the definition of firearm to include unfinished frames or receivers.

“This interpretation is quite sound: unfinished frame and receiver products are explicitly designed to be used in firearms, and the sellers have worked quite hard to make it so that their products may be readily converted into fully functioning firearms,” Pucino said in an email.

Find this report and others at the site of our partner, PA Post.