Ghost guns: How criminals circumvent firearm laws | KOB 4

Ghost guns: How criminals circumvent firearm laws

Chris Ramirez
Updated: April 08, 2021 05:04 PM
Created: July 19, 2018 11:00 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The gun debate in our country has been polarizing, and the voices on each side seem to grow louder and louder by the day.

But the one thing most people agree on is that people who have violent and evil intentions with a gun should not have one.  The truth is people with those intentions have circumvented laws and court orders to make their own guns. 

Police call those homemade firearms “ghost guns” because they are untraceable.


The KOB 4 Investigates Team built its own AR-15, and all it took was a few minutes of internet research and a couple YouTube tutorials to figure out what we needed to buy. 

After spending about $1,200 and waiting for a week, our gun parts arrived by mail.  We never went through a background check and no one ever asked us any questions. 

As a result, we had all the ingredients to build an unregistered, non-serialized firearm and it was perfectly legal.

One of the most important parts of the AR-15 is a lower receiver, which houses internal parts including the firing mechanism.  U.S. law recognizes the lower receiver as the legal firearm and is required to contain a serial number.


If a lower receiver is sold partially finished, it’s not required to be serialized.  Partially completed receivers are generally called “80 percent receivers” because they are about 80 percent ready. 

If an 80 percent receiver is purchased, it doesn’t come with a serial number—U.S. law recognizes it as nothing more than a hunk of metal. 

However, with basic tools, anyone could mill out the holes needed to complete the full receiver. Assembly of our AR-15, with the 80 percent receiver we purchased, took about four hours.     

“These weapons are out there,” said Commander Mizel Garcia with the Albuquerque Police Department.  “It might be someone who is trying to conceal their purchase of a weapon.”


A man named Kevin Neal used ghost guns in November of 2017 to kill five people in a northern California shooting spree. 

Before that shooting, a judge presiding over an assault case involving Neal ordered him to turn over his firearms and prohibited him from purchasing more.  To go around the judge’s orders, police say Neal manufactured ghost guns for his shooting spree.

In 2013, John Zawahri shot and killed five in Santa Monica with guns he assembled himself to evade California’s gun laws. And, this past summer, undercover Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm agents, along with Los Angeles Police, seized 45 ghost guns raided from known criminals.

“It is problematic that there is no serial number,” Garcia said.

He added that ghost guns can create layers of complications to gun crime cases, but new technologies have helped crack difficult investigations.

“What we need to realize is that every firearm, every casing, has a specific footprint. So we may not have the serial number on the weapon, but we will have other evidence available to us,” Garcia said. “We can pretty much indicate that these casings came from this weapon.”


While local law enforcement has found ways to work around the gun loophole, some members of Congress are trying to close it. 

Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., introduced legislation this year that amends the federal criminal code to broaden the definition of a firearm to include guns parts intended to be built into a gun.

KOB-TV’s management decided to turn over the ghost gun that KOB paid for and manufactured to the Albuquerque Police Department for destruction.  

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