Ghost Guns

Ghost Guns, Hobbyists, Hackers, and the Homemade Weapons Revolution by Mark A. Tallman is a thorough report on the independently fabricated small arms that go by many names: “homemade,” “DIY,” “80%,” “component” builds, etc; terms that are clearer than the one embraced by media: ghost guns. Homemade firearms have existed for a millennium, but the term ghost gun is more recent. The first media use of the term to reference actual firearms might be a 2001 article on plastic flare guns that the Real Irish Republican Army converted to fire live cartridges. More recently and infamously, the term became popular after California senator Kevin de León held a notably confused press conference in 2014 where he displayed a firearm he referred to as a “ghost gun” with a “30 caliber clip” and firing a “30 magazine clip in half a second”.

While FBI statistics indicate a 51 percent decline in violent crime between 1993 and 2018, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics suggests a 71 percent decline, decades of polling indicates that majorities of Americans consistently believe crime to be rising. Mass shootings regularly represent less than 1 percent of gun deaths, and the risks of a student being fatally shot at school have declined 300 percent from the 1990s. Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox maintains that neither mass killings nor school shootings have risen significantly enough to indicate an “epidemic” and Harvard’s David Ropeik observed that the probability of a student being killed by a gun in school on any given day is roughly one in 614,000,000, “far lower than almost any other mortality risk a kid faces.”

There are many studies and stats on homemade firearms in Ghost Gun. The book includes chapters on the “4th Industrial Revolution”, the history and current state of gun making around the world, criminal and terrorist misuse, what the potential real effects may be, and what sort of policies might make sense.

Among other advice, Tallman suggests a focus on violence and illegal demand. Some quotes:
“Other countries have guns and they don’t have the crime. At the end of the day it’s still more a social and behavioral issue than a technology issue.”
—Greg Moser, State of Colorado Counterterrorism Coordinator (Ret.)

“Most adult men in Switzerland have a rifle, and there’s been one mass shooting in its history. It’s because the culture is different. I think you need to build consumer and technology cultures that are healthy!”
—Jonathan Poritz, Cryptographer/Computer Science professor

Read more in the October 2020 issue.

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