The Public Safety Implications of Ghost Guns

The Public Safety Implications of Ghost Guns
Duration: 60 Minutes
Module 1Module 1
Recorded on: 2022-01-19
Unit 1Presentation Materials: The Public Safety Implications of Ghost Guns
Unit 2Transcript: The Public Safety Implications of Ghost Guns
Unit 3Workbook: The Public Safety Implications of Ghost Guns
Unit 4Recording: The Public Safety Implications of Ghost Guns

Traditional firearms can be traced using unique identifiers utilized by law enforcement in investigations to be able to make sense of who are the firearm sources and the trigger pullers in the streets. Ghost guns, however, are untraceable homemade firearms, posing a new set of challenges which further complicate the existing issue of crime gun violence. This session delves into the intricacies of ghost guns – what it is, its prevalence, its implication to public safety, and what policymakers and law enforcement agencies are doing to mitigate this concern.

This session’s key resources are:

  • Katherine Hoogesteyn, Senior Research Associate at the National Police Foundation
  • Joseph Young, Manager of the Firearms Examination Unit for Prince George’s County Police Department
  • Courtney Nilan, Inspector with the New York City Police Department heading its Field Intelligence Program

Topics covered in this discussion include:

  • What a ghost gun is – its features, distinction from the traditional firearms, and its appeal to hobbyists, gun collectors, and individuals with criminal intent.
  • The pervasiveness of ghost guns in different states in the country, and the specific characteristics that make ghost guns more prevalent in specific regions.
  • The profile of individuals who tend to be interested in, purchase, and possess ghost guns.
  • The recorded growth in ghost gun recoveries for the New York City Police Department and the Prince George’s County Police Department over the last few years.
  • How ghost guns are making it to the streets alluding to the simplicity and ease of obtaining and assembling these.
  • The double-edged sword of ghost gun awareness which drives for the creation of stronger legislation while also creating interest for those with criminal intent.
  • How the ease of purchasing and assembling ghost guns allows more youth to access it and thereby increase youth-involved violence.
  • The rise of 3D printed guns driven by stricter regulations on the sale of lower receivers and ghost gun kits, the accessibility of 3D print CAD files online, and the price dropping for materials in 3D printing.
  • The different materials used for ghost guns and the safety implications that comes with lack of familiarity for both users and the officers recovering these.
  • Changes employed in the legal process and investigations to accommodate complexities brought about by ghost guns as a part of the New York City Ghost Gun Initiative.
  • A glimpse into how law enforcement agencies are processing and tracking ghost guns and the modifications in the procedure to allow accurate classification of firearms particularly ghost guns.
  • The critical training component to familiarize police officers, the courts, and other criminal justice branches with ghost guns for safety, reporting, legal procedures, and prosecution aspects.
  • Preparing for the implications of crime-involved ghost guns through education and awareness, accurate reporting, standardization of practices and processes, and proactive efforts to identify and address emerging trends that may develop.
  • Legislative efforts at the state and federal level to regulate the purchase and manufacture of ghost guns through serial numbers, background checks, detectability, and licensing.

Points raised during the Q&A were about:

  • The process of ballistic toolmark analysis for ghost guns.
  • Sources of intelligence to interdict ghost gun distribution and use.
  • The iron pipeline and its role in traditional gun trafficking.
  • Differences in charging ghost guns vis-à-vis traditional firearms with obliterated or defaced serial numbers.
  • The possibility that the same traditional firearms trafficking people are also the ones involved in the sale of ghost guns.


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Audience Comments

  • “The most valuable thing I learned is just how prolific this issue is. I have a much better idea and awareness of this topic now. Thank you!” — James
  • “I am a criminal analyst on a weapon/gang group and presenter Courtney went over what they were seeing in New York with gangs and the ghost guns and we are seeing the exact same thing here in San Diego, CA. Good to get some affirmation that we aren’t really seeing anything unusual.” — Janel
  • “Ghost guns can have serious implications for law enforcement as it relates to their investigations, especially as it relates to tracing their origins. I obtained very significant information from the resource individuals from the Webinar.” — Benson
  • “How prolific this is. I’m all for having to screen with background checks and engrave serial numbers on ghost guns and parts. More webinars on this please!” — Nancy
  • “This was a well-researched, fact-filled presentation that increased my awareness of this growing criminal trend.” — Lauchlin
  • “This was a very interesting training, as i really had no knowledge of ghost guns before. It is alarming how prevalent they are becoming.” — Laura
  • “This is an up-and-coming crime that everyone should be paying attention to in the future.” — Colleen
  • “Great subject matter experts” — Craig
  • “Great variety of guests, covering all aspects of the topic.” — Hannah



Established in 1970 through a large grant by the Ford Foundation, the National Police Foundation (NPF) is the oldest nationally known 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan, and non-membership-driven organization dedicated to improving American policing. NPF is a research organization with a long history of successful partnerships with law enforcement, cities, states, universities, federal agencies, other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and private foundations. NPF’s growing portfolio of scientific research and experiments remains the catalyst for significant changes in policing, informing scholars and practitioners alike, and serves as a model for the systematic examination of real-world challenges. Over the course of the last 50 years, NPF has conducted seminal research in police behavior, policy, and procedure, and continues leading efforts in new evidence-based practices and innovations to law enforcement. To accomplish this mission—Advancing Policing Through Innovation and Science—NPF works closely with public safety and criminal justice agencies across the country and internationally. Today, NPF continues to advance the impact and delivery of police services through reform, advancements and enhancements. The NPF also works with communities across the United States and internationally to provide research, training, and technical assistance relating to community engagement and problem solving; promoting safety and healthy organizations and officers; the reduction and prevention of violence; and equitable and fair justice for all.  In addition to designing, conducting, and evaluating controlled experiments, NPF also provides a range of services to local public safety agencies that includes training, technical assistance, management analyses and planning.



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