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Ghost guns are an increasing problem in Rochester. Could a new law help?

WROC Rochester logo WROC Rochester 3/11/2022 Ally Peters
Ghost guns are an increasing problem in Rochester. Could a new law help? © Provided by WROC Rochester Ghost guns are an increasing problem in Rochester. Could a new law help?

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) - A rise in ghost guns across Rochester is concerning police. The guns can be put together at home and don't have a serial number on them, making the weapons harder to trace. 

In the past couple years, the Rochester Police Department has seen more ghost guns infiltrating the streets. In 2020, they recovered 16 of the guns. In 2021, they collected 48. So far this year, they've already brought in 10. 

"They’ve become more and more of a problem for us as, we have an increase in shots fired and shootings within the City of Rochester,” said Lieutenant Greg Bello with the Rochester Police Department. “As we’re recovering some of these firearms, we're recovering more and more of these ghost guns."

The guns are appealing because parts can be ordered online, without a background check. Lt. Bello said most ghost guns are Polymer80s, or 80% guns, that are assembled by the purchaser. 

"They come in a mold with instructions of how to finish that 20% of the manufacturing process, so it gets around loopholes and some ATF laws," Lt. Bello said. "Somebody with the right tools and a drill press, things along those lines, can finish off the last 20% putting it together.”

Lt. Bello said because the guns are self-made, there are also concerns about how dangerous they are.  

"They don’t go through a precision manufacturing process that say a Glock or a Smith and Wesson, or any of those registered, regulated firearm manufacturers do,” Lt. Bello said. “This is something that’s finished off in somebody’s basement, so the quality of the parts is nowhere near as high, the quality of the manufacturing is nowhere near as high.”

But the main problem with ghost guns? They don’t have serial numbers on them.

Bello said fire arms typically have multiple serial numbers on them that are tracked and registered to the owner. The numbers are also registered through the government and added to ones' pistol permit. 

"Without a serial number, it makes them un-trackable," Lt. Bello said. "So they’ve never been sold as an official firearm, they’ve never been registered, or anything along those lines.”

Because they don’t have a serial number, Bello said ghost guns have made it increasingly harder when collecting evidence at crime scenes, like casings and handguns.  

"Oftentimes when we recover a handgun that’s been stolen, we can go back and solve that burglary as well, or we can go back and solve that car larceny. It’s a great clue to solving those other crimes that go with it," Bello explained. "With these ghost guns, with no serial number, it leaves us in a position where we can’t go back and track that, we can’t go back and track any of that."

To address the rise in ghost guns, New York recently passed the Jose Webster untraceable firearms act, banning the purchase and shopping of certain ghost gun parts to the state. It also requires gunsmiths to register and serialize firearms, rifles, shotguns and unfinished frames they assemble. 

Sen. Jeremy Cooney was a co-sponsor of the bill. He said the legislation “modernizes” gun laws in New York, so officials can keep up with technology and hopefully reduce the number of guns on the streets.

The legislation also increases the penalties for the possession and sale of ghost guns.

"We’re talking about a felony charge here. This could really impact someone’s life,” Sen. Cooney said. “So it really incentivizes individuals who may already have these non-serialized guns to get rid of them or to turn them back into local law enforcement."

Under the new law, Sen. Cooney said a person can turn in a ghost gun with no questions asked. 

"If you currently have one of these weapons, you can go to a local gunsmith or gun shop and turn it in, or to local law enforcement," Sen. Cooney said. "There won’t be any questions asked or penalties given. It allows you to recognize this as a new law, and that you don’t want to be held accountable under the new law."

While there's still work to be done when it comes addressing ghost guns, he believes the bill is a good place to start.

"We know that if we remove more guns from the streets, there’s going to be less incidences of gang violence, drug sales, etc.," Sen. Cooney said. "So this is a multifaceted approach, working with local law enforcement agencies, the sheriff's, the state police, to make sure that we get guns off the street and keep families and neighborhoods safe."

The Jose Webster untraceable firearms act goes into effect on April 19th. You can read more about the legislation by clicking here

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