Friday, July 12, 2024

What Exactly is a Ghost Gun?

Photo credit: U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives website and not evidence photos from arrests herein reported.

Recent arrests in Blairstown and Columbia have drawn attention to so-called ghost guns, a type of firearm that is illegal under New Jersey law.

Warren County Prosecutor James L. Pfieffer announced that William Pollard, 53, of Blairstown was arrested for domestic assault and weapons charges on January 16. Police later obtained a search warrant for his Mohican Road residence.

“The search revealed additional, unlawful weapons, tools for manufacturing or modifying firearms – including the means to create automatic, or ‘machine guns,’ weapons without serial numbers or ‘ghost guns’ and firearms suppressors – both homemade and purchased,” Pfieffer said. 

Pollard was charged with 35 offenses, including seven counts of possession of a weapon without a serial number.

In a separate incident, Morris County Prosecutor Robert J. Carroll announced with Pfieffer the arrest of 33-year-old Joseph Palumbo, Jr. of Columbia for manufacturing and selling ghost guns on February 8.

“During the subsequent execution of a search warrant on Palumbo, Jr.’s Columbia residence, an alleged ghost gun manufacturing facility was located in the basement,” Carroll said.

Among the slew of charges, Palumbo, Jr. faces eight counts of unlawful possession of a firearm without a serial number.

But what, exactly, is a ghost gun?

According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), a “ghost” gun is a privately made firearm (PMF) that is completed, assembled, or otherwise produced by someone who is not a licensed manufacturer, without a licensed manufacturer’s serial number. 

Privately made firearms are called “ghost guns” because it is difficult to trace the guns’ origins and link them to related crimes, according to the ATF website.

But the bureau also said “not all PMFs are illegal and not all firearms are required to have a serial number” under federal law.

However, under a law signed by Governor Phil Murphy in 2018, it is illegal in New Jersey to purchase parts to manufacture or distribute information to print “ghost guns,” homemade or 3D printed firearms that are untraceable by law enforcement.

That law was strengthened in 2019. Legislation passed in 2022 increased the penalties for ghost gun violations from third-degree to second-degree crimes. Second degree crimes are punishable by up to five to 10 years imprisonment, a fine of up to $150,000 or both.

At the state level, New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin has also been active in opposing ghost guns. 

Platkin co-led a multi-state filing supporting federal regulation of ghost guns in federal court in 2022 after Gov. Murphy signed a sweeping set of gun bills into law that July. The attorney general’s office also sued gun show operator Eagle Shows and gun show vendor JSD Supply in December 2023 for the unlawful sale to New Jersey residents of products designed to create ghost guns.

Morgan Gardiner
Morgan Gardiner, Contributing Writer

Morgan Gardiner is a journalist and broadcaster based in Northwest New Jersey. Born and raised in Warren County, Gardiner graduated from McGill University and was previously an on-air newscaster, reporter and producer for WRNJ-AM. When not chasing down a news story, Gardiner fills his time with books, family, friends and traveling.