PHILADELPHIA - The spike in gun violence during the pandemic has unnerved residents, elected officials and community leaders alike, but the concern is growing over firearms described as ghosts.
"Ghost guns are essentially a firearm that comes in two separate parts with a couple of screws to drill the gun together and you have a firearm in just a few minutes," Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro told FOX 29.
Shapiro is concerned about the growing threat because ghost guns are untraceable and sold online in kits that do not require a criminal background check to purchase.
For him, the main point of the issue is that people with criminal backgrounds, who cannot own a gun legally, can obtain one this way. Ghost guns do not have serial numbers etched on them that provide the gun's make, model and history.
Critics argue ghost guns flow in the underground stream of crime guns and vanish when subjected to the tracking and tracing investigators use to combat gun crime.
"Typically, people are buying them at gun shows by the duffle bags, taking them back to a facility, putting them together and selling them on the streets," Shapiro said.
The numbers show a startling rise in ghost guns, also referred to as privately made firearms.
MORE LOCAL HEADLINES
- 2 injured in North Philadelphia double shooting, police say
- Center City shooting: Suspect turns himself in after parking dispute ends in shooting
- 3 men injured, 1 critical, after East Frankford shooting, police say
The Philadelphia Police Department reported recovering 95 ghost guns in 2019 and 250 in 2020. The number more than doubled in 2021, with 571 ghost guns taken off the streets.
Shapiro wrote new rules that made purchasing a ghost gun kit subject to a background check like other firearms, but not everyone agrees.
After trying to enforce the background checks for the ghost guns, Shapiro says gun lobbyists sued him and he's still dealing with litigation.
He also says a bill in Harrisburg would enforce background checks for these guns, but it has not been approved yet.
Ghost guns are far from the only weapons fueling the violence that took 561 lives in Philadelphia last year. Stolen weapons and firearms bought by straw purchasers are a significant source of violence.
Shapiro, who is also a Democratic candidate for Governor, says he would not move to impose a one gun per month limit on firearm purchases in Pennsylvania, but he does see areas for gun reform along with restricting ghost guns.
He is urging Pennsylvania legislators to act now as efforts on Capitol Hill are likely to be challenged in court or delayed.