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NY AG, Onondaga County DA go after untraceable ‘ghost guns’

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick holds a 'ghost gun' used in Syracuse.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James has sent cease-and-desist letters to 16 websites that manufacture or sell untraceable gun parts that can be turned into assault weapons. There are more than a dozen pending cases involving so-called “ghost guns” in Onondaga County. 

Credit New York State Attorney General's Office
New York State Attorney General's Office
A diagram of the receiver and other parts of a gun.

The websites sell incomplete lower receivers, which hold the other parts of the gun together and fires the bullets. Because it lacks certain holes, slots or cavities, the incomplete lower receiver is not considered a firearm and is not subject to federal regulations. But people who buy the parts online, can drill the holes themselves to make the firearm functional. Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said in one case they had, the gun was turned into a fully automatic weapon, which could fire multiple rounds from one pull of the trigger.

“I don’t care where you stand on the Second Amendment, this practice has got to stop," Fitzpatrick said. "You cannot allow people, who should not have access to weapons, the ability to simply get online and for a fee, get what is essentially, 80 percent of a handgun, and then with minimal effort on their part, turn it into an operable instrumentality of death.”

Credit New York State Attorney General's Office
New York State Attorney General's Office
An unfinished receiver compared to a finished one.

Fitzpatrick said he has been in contact with Rep. John Katko and Sen. Charles Schumer’s office about banning the practice.

In New York State, possessing, manufacturing or selling assault weapons is illegal. New York Attorney General Letitia James is threatening financial restitution and penalties if the website operators do not stop selling and advertising the gun parts to New Yorkers.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.