LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Law enforcement officials tout first arrests of ‘ghost gun’ traffickers

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

On Monday, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced that investigators confiscated six so-called ghost guns and the parts to build a couple more.

“They’re not registered, they don’t have serial numbers, and they’re sold without any background check process whatsoever,” Grewal said.

They were AR-15 guns, the weapon of choice for the New Zealand mosque and Pittsburgh synagogue shooters, but these versions were sold online as DIY kits and are untraceable. The weapons were allegedly built and trafficked by four Camden County men caught in a yearlong guns and drugs sting called “Operation Stone Wall.”

“This case is particularly alarming because it shows that the threat of ghost guns to public safety and to law enforcement safety is not abstract. It’s real. It highlights the black market that exists among criminals for these untraceable guns,” Grewal said.

Authorities say the men ordered AR-15 rifle kits to a Philadelphia suburb where they picked them up and then drove them back to Lindenwold, New Jersey for assembly. The men apparently knew about New Jersey’s 2018 law that was signed by Gov. Phil Murphy banning ghost guns. Investigators intercepted a conversation between the two suspects discussing having to cross the state border to get them.

“This is the first time any defendant has been charged in a ghost gun trafficking case under the new criminal statute,” said Jill Mayer, deputy director of the Division of the Division of Criminal Justice at New Jersey Office of the Attorney General.

Last year, the attorney general sent online gun makers cease and desist letters ordering them not to market ghost gun do-it-yourself kits in New Jersey. He said Monday that the ghost guns confiscated in the sting sold for up to $1,300 each — twice the price of AR-15s on the legal market — and arrived 80 percent assembled. Buyers finished the guns using parts sold by the same companies that make the kits.

Gun club advocates say there’s a place for DIY gun kits.

“We commend the Attorney General’s Office for targeting nefarious activities, however we don’t believe that a father teaching his daughter how to make an AR-15 at home for personal use should be a crime,” said Alexander Roubian, president of NJ Second Amendment Society. “These firearms are being sold to millions of people across America and they’re being used for lawful reasons with no criminal intent.”

“When you see repeatedly the same address, with the same individuals, at the same location continuing to order parts and parts and parts and parts for the same types of guns, some red flags have to go up, that what’s going on here is not somebody who’s an enthusiast or a hobbyist, but rather somebody who’s engaged in illegal trafficking. And that is part of the problem with ghost gun manufacturers, that they are playing fast and loose with our rules,” Grewal said.

The attorney general wouldn’t identify the ghost gun’s parts manufacturer in this case. He said it’s part of an ongoing investigation to identify what he calls “bad faith” dealers.