Ghost Guns in Pennsylvania: Legal or Not?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | May 12, 2021 | 0 Comments

If you're a gun owner, you can be forgiven for being confused about gun laws these days. That's true in the United States at large, but it's especially true in Pennsylvania. Between executive orders, legislation, and court cases, gun regulation seems to have become an ever-shifting landscape.

The most recent debates seem to be over “ghost guns.” But just what are ghost guns, and, more importantly, what does the law have to say about them? The answers are complex, but knowing them can help you stay on the right side of the criminal justice system.

Ghost Guns

In simplest terms, a ghost gun is a homemade firearm. Because it's made at home by the individual owner, it isn't subject to other common gun restrictions. Unlike commercially sold guns, for instance, a ghost gun doesn't have a serial number. And in many places, you don't have to go through a background check to buy one.

Homemade guns weren't a problem twenty years ago. Making a gun from scratch is a tricky business, and it's not all that difficult to simply blow yourself up in the process. Then the gun manufacturing industry developed a new product: the gun kit. These days, you can buy a complete kit and put a gun together in an afternoon. With the advent of 3-D printers, you don't even need to visit a gun shop to purchase a kit. Using a credit card, you just download everything you need.

With more and more ghost guns being built, though, and more and more changing hands, law enforcement has seen a rise in ghost-gun-related crime. 250 ghost guns, for instance, were recovered in Philadelphia in 2020, up some 150 percent from the previous year. As a result, ghost guns have become a prime target for police and politicians alike.

Ghost Gun Laws

So what does the law have to say about ghost guns? Very little at the moment, but that may be changing soon.

Federal law: For now, ghost guns are entirely legal under federal law. They are governed by the Gun Control Act of 1968, which includes language allowing individuals to build their own firearms.

Pennsylvania state law: Ghost guns are also legal under Pennsylvania law, though you must be legally entitled to own a gun in order to own a ghost gun. In fact, the situation has become increasingly complicated in recent years. In late 2019, Pennsylvania's attorney general, Josh Shapiro, wrote in a legal opinion that unfinished gun frames (gun kits) should be treated as firearms and regulated as such. In short, buying a kit required a background check. Within a month, Commonwealth Court Judge Kevin Brobson had issued a preliminary injunction saying that the wording of Shapiro's opinion was “unconstitutionally vague.”

Local law: Within Pennsylvania, some cities have made ghost guns illegal. Philadelphia, for instance, banned using 3-D printers to build guns without a license. In early 2021, that law was amended to prohibit the sale of unfinished frames (gun kits) without a license.

Want Even More Information?

The law is far from settled when it comes to ghost guns. If you should find yourself in legal jeopardy over a ghost gun, pick up the phone and our Criminal Law Team and the LLF Law Firm. Our Criminal Law Team is committed to protecting legal gun owners from over-zealous prosecutors. We are experienced attorneys with a long history of defending clients in Pennsylvania, and we knows how to get you the outcome you deserve.

For more information, contact the LLF Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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The LLF Law Firm Team has decades of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the LLF Law Firm today! Our Criminal Defense Team will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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