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What Are Ghost Guns And Why Is Law Enforcement Worried?

A white 3-D printed gun on a white grid with a black background.
Federal Bureau of Investigations

3-D printers are becoming more and more accessible to the public, making some worried about their ability to create weapons that are untraceable. One Utah undergraduate student researches these so-called ghost guns, investigating the impact these guns can have on law enforcement and possible solutions.

"So 3-D printed guns are under this umbrella term of ghost guns, which is basically just another term for untraceable firearms. These are firearms that have been built by individuals and so they don’t have any of the identification numbers that would come with a commercially purchased gun, so they’re 'ghost' to the system," said Tori Bodine, an undergraduate student in statistics at Utah State University.

She is studying ghost guns across the nation and says since these guns have no identification, they are not traceable. And the government does not know how many ghost guns exist in the US.

"Because of the nature ghost guns, they’re usually completely invisible to law enforcement until they show up at a crime scene," Bodine said. 

She says that unknown can have severe consequences.

"There was a case of a man in California who had been banned by the police for owning firearms because of two assault charges," Bodine said. "He ended up buying the components to build one of these guns and killing his wife and four other people."

Her research investigates how emerging technologies like ghost guns are impacting law enforcement, and possible solutions for agencies like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"Generally I want to have a conversation about the unique challenges that law enforcement are facing because of emerging technologies and the need for support," she said. "Things that I would suggest? Requiring people that are building their own guns to have register it with a serial number. Also, my other recommendation is increasing the communication between local law enforcement and federal organizations."

Bodine will be one of 30 Utah scholars presenting their work to Utah legislators and policymakers on Capitol Hill on March 5.