Hi, I’m Mike Giaramita, Independent Program Attorney for U.S. LawShield of Pennsylvania. Today we’re going to talk about what some people call “ghost guns.” If you’ve never heard the term “ghost gun,” you have to understand it’s not legally defined under either federal law or Pennsylvania law.

What is a “Ghost Gun?”

It is a term created by the media to scare people and push a particular agenda. For the purposes of our discussion, a ghost gun is a firearm that you build yourself, with no serial number. Because it doesn’t have a serial number, it can’t be traced; hence the term “ghost.” There is nothing new or scary about “ghost guns.” In fact, Americans have always had the right to build their own firearms.

Serial Numbers

Many people are skeptical about possessing a firearm without a serial number. However, prior to the federal Gun Control Act of 1968, even licensed firearm manufacturers were not required to place serial numbers on the guns they manufactured. There are firearms manufactured before 1968 which have no serial number, yet are perfectly lawful to own and possess. Keep in mind that a gun that never had a serial number is completely different than a gun that used to have serial numbers, because possessing a firearm with altered, changed, removed, or obliterated serial numbers is a crime under both state and federal law.

There is no federal law or Pennsylvania law against making a firearm without a serial number for your own personal use. A quick caveat: we’re not talking about firearms like fully automatic weapons, short-barreled rifles, short-barreled shotguns, or anything else covered under the National Firearms Act; that would be for a completely different discussion.

The 80% Receiver

In recent years, 80% receivers have also become popular. The term “80% receiver” is used to describe a receiver with no serial number, that is 80% complete, but cannot be used without additional manufacturing. The term “receiver” is used loosely because it’s not finished, so it’s not really a receiver, which is the point. It can’t function as-is. It will only function if someone completes it.

For the purposes of the Gun Control Act, these 80% receivers are not considered firearms under federal law. Last year, the Pennsylvania Attorney General issued an opinion that unfinished receivers can be considered firearms under Pennsylvania law, but the Commonwealth Court has suspended this interpretation for the time being, issuing a preliminary injunction. For now, in Pennsylvania, 80% receivers are still not firearms.

For any questions regarding “ghost guns” in Pennsylvania and what modifications are legal or illegal, call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.

The preceding should not be construed as legal advice nor the creation of an attorney-client relationship. This is not an endorsement or solicitation for any service. Your situation may be different, so please contact your attorney regarding your specific circumstances. Because the laws, judges, juries, and prosecutors vary from location to location, similar or even identical facts and circumstances to those described in this presentation may result in significantly different legal outcomes. This presentation is by no means a guarantee or promise of any particular legal outcome, positive, negative, or otherwise.