Fact Check: Is NC a top state for ghost gun confiscations?
It’s time for our weekly fact check of North Carolina politics. This week, we look at a claim made by a federal prosecutor about a certain type of gun. Mike Easley, Jr. is a U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina. During the announcement of a new violent crime prevention initiative in July, Easley said ghost guns are a growing problem in North Carolina. The prosecutor added the state is, "among some of the top states in the country for the number of ghost guns that are seized as crime guns." For more, "Morning Edition" host Marshall Terry talks to Paul Specht of WRAL.
Marshall Terry: Paul, what is a ghost gun?
Paul Specht: Ghost guns can be any type of firearm. They're known as ghost guns because they're hard to trace. They don't have serial numbers and they're often made using 3D printers. Or people also will buy parts to the gun online from a kit and then assemble them at home.
Terry: Are they illegal in North Carolina? Or can you have one if you have a permit?
Specht: Well, they're not very well regulated at all. In fact, only 10 or 11 states have regulations at all. Now, of course, in some circumstances, they're not allowed if they don't have a serial number. But they're coming to the fore now, A, because of the advancement of technology and, B, because they're showing up at crime scenes. And that was sort of the impetus of the statement by Easley is he was talking about the number of ghost guns that are showing up in crime scenes across America.
Terry: OK, so is Easley right that North Carolina is among some of the top states in the country in ghost gun seizures?
Specht: He appears to be right. When we reached out to his office, they referred us to a media report that quoted a different federal prosecutor in the Western district and they quoted ATF. ATF is the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. More than likely just referred to as ATF. And they say that North Carolina confiscated 400 ghost guns in 2021 as part of crime investigations. When we reached out to them, they said that is comparable to other top states in the U.S. and for some perspective, President Biden held a press conference earlier this year where he said 20,000 ghost guns were confiscated across the country in 2021 as part of crime investigation. So, we had 400 of those 20,000.
Terry: So, the ATF says 400 ghost guns were confiscated in North Carolina in 2021. But you found in doing this fact check getting exact numbers is a bit tricky because these guns can be hard to track. Why is that?
Specht: And not just because they don't have serial numbers or because the technology is advancing, but because this is such a new phenomenon. A lot of law enforcement agencies don't know how to collect or report their confiscations to the higher-ups if you will. This is sort of new. There's no built-in training for how to label these things, for how to send reports to the state or to the feds. And so ATF told us that there's just a lot of inconsistency in even reporting these ghost gun seizures.
Terry: How did you rate this claim by Mike Easley, Jr.?
Specht: We rated it mostly true, and the mostly the caveat there is because ATF has not produced a state-by-state breakdown of all these guns. We know that there were 20,000 collected in 2021 across America, 400 were in North Carolina. But when we asked the ATF like, hey, can you send us a list of the top ten states and the number of ghost guns that each of those states collected in 2021? They said that's confidential information. They can't release that list. So, we're sort of left wondering, you know, how does that 400 stack up to Texas, California, Florida or other big states that might have large ghost gun numbers? So, we're sort of taken ATF's word here that Easley is correct. It's just unfortunate that we can't list for our audience a breakdown of how we compare.