Shusterman: Ghost guns kill real people; It's past time to address their use

Ghost guns – unserialized, privately made firearms – have become an increasing and dangerous problem in the United States and right here in Pennsylvania.

The White House says last year approximately 20,000 ghost guns were reported to the federal ATF as having been recovered by law enforcement in criminal investigations.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has said that in 2021, law enforcement seized 571 ghost guns in Philadelphia, and so far, this year, 113 have been seized.

Thankfully, President Biden recently announced federal steps to crack down on ghost guns.

The U.S. Department of Justice has issued a final rule that would ban the business of manufacturing the most accessible ghost guns – such as unserialized buy-build-shoot kits – and clarify that the kits qualify as firearms. Manufacturers will have to become licensed and include serial numbers on the kit's frame or receiver, and sellers must become licensed and run background checks.

Just last week, Governor Wolf announced, following President Biden’s new rule on ghost guns, Pennsylvania stands ready to implement the same regulation at the state level.

This is welcome news, particularly in the absence of action here in the state legislature.

My own bill to address 3D-printed firearms has been stuck in the House Judiciary Committee, on which I serve, since January 2021. My legislation would ensure a 3-D printed firearm is treated as a standard firearm under the law and prohibit anyone from printing a firearm without a license from the federal government to manufacture firearms.

3D-printed firearms have the same potential to cause violence and harm to our communities that other traditionally made firearms do. Without adequate safeguards in place, they are readily available and undetectable – and our communities are less safe.

The president’s steps have put us on the path of bringing some sense to firearm safety and reducing gun violence. But we should still put these safeguards against ghost guns into law here in Pennsylvania to ensure their endurance. Already, gun groups are threatening legal action against the federal initiative.

Of course, my bill is just one of many reasonable firearm reform bills that the majority chairman of the House Judiciary Committee will not call up. Even the most common sense firearm legislation is not going to move forward, such as universal background checks, safe storage legislation, and lost and stolen reporting requirements. It’s frustrating to see these bills languish without action, while our communities suffer.

Gun violence affects lives across the commonwealth every day. We can’t wait any longer for responsible firearm reform – to both protect the rights of responsible gun owners and to prevent more tragedies from occurring.