Baltimore police report a 400% increase in untraceable ‘ghost guns,’ mirroring a state trend

Baltimore Police said they saw a sharp increase last year in recoveries of so-called “ghost guns,” untraceable firearms that can be built from kits.

Baltimore Police Lt. Col. John Herzog told legislators Wednesday that city police recovered 126 ghost guns last year - compared to 29 seized in 2019. The amount of ghost guns seized in Baltimore last year was more than the total number of ghost guns seized statewide in 2019, when 117 were recovered.

“That’s an extremely dramatic increase,” Herzog said. “We know they are becoming more popular for criminals and gun traffickers.”

The guns, termed “privately assembled firearms” by the ATF, are legal for people to own and possess - unless they are prohibited from possessing firearms - and are typically ordered as kits online. According to the ATF, assembling a parts kit into a functional firearm can take as little as one hour with minimal effort, expertise, and equipment, and they use the same type of ammunition as a traditional firearm.

“In form and function, a conventional firearm and ghost gun are identical, except that ghost guns typically lack serial numbers and identifying markings that are required by federal law,” an ATF expert wrote in a filing in the case against Martrel Reeves, a DC rapper known as Fat Trel who pleaded guilty in the fall to possessing a ghost gun.

Maryland legislators have introduced a bill in the General Assembly that seeks to restrict the prevalence of ghost guns. It would require serial numbers and registration.

“Ghost guns are the fastest growing public safety problems in our nation when it comes to gun violence,” said Sam Levy, of Everytown for Gun Safety.

Herzog said that there were 21 such guns linked to violent crimes, including 15 that he said were directly linked to a homicide or shooting, either by being recovered at the scene or during follow-up investigations.

The Southwestern District, which had the most violence of the city’s nine police districts with 59 murders and 107 non-fatal shootings, also led the city in ghost gun recoveries, with 26, he said.

Levy said the weapons are “designed to subvert gun laws” - “a way for prohibited persons to access firearms they could not buy legally by passing a background check, a way to stymie law enforcement investigations for those who want to use those guns to commit crimes because they are untraceable.”

Gun advocates say that legislators are pursuing restrictions that would infringe on hobbyists and which would be difficult to comply with.

“This is not a bill to address public safety, this is not a bill to address violence - it’s a bill to ban firearms by its very nature and structure, and there’s no way anyone can comply,” said John Josselyn, of 2A Maryland, a gun-owners advocacy group.

DJ Spiker of the National Rifle Association told legislators that only five states plus Washington DC have implemented such restrictions, and that the guns continue to pop up in those jurisdictions.

“It’s a highly technical, difficult area of the law to understand for individual legislators and legislatures,” Spiker said.