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“Ghost Gun” Law Haunts Nevada Gun Owners

A new ban on “ghost guns” could haunt gun owners and activists in Nevada for years to come. Here’s the story.

What Is a Ghost Gun

Guns are certainly an incendiary topic: whether we should have them, keep them, or even have access to them in the first place. Now, all eyes are on Nevada as Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a ban on “ghost guns,” but what is a “ghost gun,” and why are they so important to the greater gun rights debate?

Basically, a “ghost gun” is a firearm without a serial number.

Serial numbers are on everything, so many things that we miss them most of the time. Do you notice serial numbers on your food products, cars, or devices? Probably not, but an identification number can make a huge difference between legal and illegal gun sales for those in the gun business.

Just like with most items, a serial number on a firearm is kind of like a social security number. It’s an eight to ten-digit number unique to that specific gun that allows interested parties like the government or gun distributors to track where a weapon has been.

In some cases, this seemingly insignificant series of numbers can make the difference in an investigation or a nationwide search. One gun, in particular, number A301256 was traceable from the manufacturer in Massachusetts, to a nurse from Chickasha, Oklahoma, to the murder weapon used to kill two and injure five in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

If the weapon didn’t have a serial number, the rich and surprising history of the gun would be lost, along with a critical detail of the case. Many cases go on for years because there is no trace of the murder weapon. These are the cases that likely motivated Gov. Sisolak to sign the ghost gun ban into law.

What About Gun Owners?

The primary focus of gun restriction laws is often about the owner, not the gun itself. While many firearms seem to be legends in their own right (i.e., the weapons wielded by gunslingers in the West and larger-than-life serial killers in modern times), they’re basically a hunk of metal.

In the opinion of lawmakers like Sisolak and others, including President Joe Biden, guns pose a real threat to public safety. Historically speaking, they may have a point. In the last 20 years alone, horrific school shootings and racially motivated slayings have been mainstays in the news.

One way to appease victims and shore up support among constituents is to take a strong stance against “loose” gun laws. Nevada, in particular, has seen several gruesome tragedies over the last few years, with the 2017 Las Vegas Strip shooting at the top of most people’s minds even now.

However, the reason why gun restrictions are so often divisive is that Americans do have the right to own a firearm, according to the U.S. Constitution. The Second Amendment gives you the freedom to own a gun, and many use this amendment to push against restrictions on ownership.

Ultimately? Yes, everyone has the right to own a gun, but many crimes are committed with a firearm, and there are some people who the law would say forfeit their right by committing these crimes. These are the people the ghost gun law is targeting.

The Big Picture

Untraceable firearms make getting a gun easier, especially for felons who legally can’t own one. Whether it’s a gun with the serial number filed off or a DIY firearm (yes, they exist), guns can get into the wrong hands whether groups like the National Rifle Association want to admit it or not.

The point of this law is not to ban all guns – it bans unserialized firearms. It’s also a tiny part of a massive national debate over where, why, and how Americans can or cannot get a gun. The focus is Nevada today, but more likely than not, it will shift somewhere else tomorrow.