Building privately made firearms, also known as ghost guns, has exploded in recent years, according to former law enforcement officer Rob Pincus, who now creates gun safety programs.
Ghost guns don't require a background check or a serial number, which makes them practically untraceable. It’s part of the appeal, and it’s federally legal to make these firearms for personal use.
This year, gun builders across the nation came together for the second annual National Gun Makers Match in St. Augustine, Florida.
"The opportunity that we are creating is for safe enthusiastic gun builders to get together to exchange ideas," Pincus said.
They also show off their shooting skills.
The firearms being used at the gun makers competition are either 3D printed or created using a building kit.
"It's just a lot of fun to be able to make stuff that is not being made by commercial manufacturers," said John Snow.
Pincus hopes to dispel what he says are common mistakes misconceptions.
"Even though this looks like a rifle, it's technically a pistol by by law, and because it's a pistol, this is actually a brace," Pincus said. "It's not a stock. If you don't understand the nuances, you don't know that this is far less powerful than the standard AR-15."
Gun builders say it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to weeks to get the details just right.
"I've printed a bunch of them, but this one specifically took maybe a week and a half to get all the parts," said Ed Brock, who was attending his first annual match.
Newsy's Adi Guajardo took aim at making her own ghost gun. Following verbal instructions from Pincus, she carved out parts of the lower receiver and filed them down.
More than two hours later, she created a firearm like many of the attendees.
Matthew Abrams, a self-proclaimed gun nerd a COVID long hauler, nearly swept the awards.
"I'm a little emotional, actually," Abrams said. "Like a year and a half ago, I didn't have the strength to even lift a rifle."
While some take pride in their firearms, others are reminded of dark memories at the sight of a weapon.
"I just walked around a corner within a step and a half — bam, bam, bam — you know, I walked right into it," Steven Ely Melt said. "It was crazy. Guy was shooting a ghost gun."
Melt, a 70-year-old retired San Diego teacher, was shot. He was one of four injured and one killed in a mass shooting, and he said his recovery was brutally painful.
"I didn't want to live anymore," Melt said.
Now he wants tighter laws around ghost guns and feels a responsibility to target gun violence and ghost guns — a highly contended issue under intense scrutiny.
Ginger Colburn is a spokesperson for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — a government organization working hard to crack down gun violence fueled by ghost guns.
"We're seizing these ghost guns from everyone, whether they be minors, whether they be gang members, whether they be people who are slinging dope," Colburn said.
Between 2016 and 2021, about 45,000 ghost guns were recovered from suspected crime scenes by law enforcement. ATF says 692 were tied to homicides or attempted homicides.
In 2021 alone, approximately 20,000 suspected ghost guns were recovered and reported to ATF, a ten-fold increase from 2016.
"We're seeing them in domestic violence incidents, we're seeing them in interpersonal violence, and we're seeing them sadly involved in school shootings as well," said Adam Skaggs, with Giffords Law Center.
Skaggs filed a lawsuit in 2020 against ATF to close what he calls a "ghost gun loophole." He paused his suit when he heard changes were in the works.
From the Rose Garden, President Joe Biden took aim at ghost guns and promised the new rules would help save lives.
"The United States Department of Justice is making it illegal for a business to manufacture one of these kits without a serial number," Pres. Biden said.
The new rule legally defines gun kits with all the parts as a firearm.
Retailers will now be required to run background checks on full kits. Federally-licensed firearms dealers and gunsmiths must add serial numbers to 3D printed guns or unserialized firearms they take into inventory.
ATF says kits commercialized as 80% kits, like the one Guajardo made, which require additional parts to be bought separately, are still not considered a firearm, and they do not require a serial number.
Gun kit supporters at the match said education is key, not more gun regulations.
"A criminal isn't going to be stopped by serial numbers," said Edgar Antillon, with the nonprofit Guns for Everyone National.
At least 11 states have banned or restricted the sale of ghost guns, and California is suing gun kit providers Blackhawk, MDX and Glockstore.
NEWSY'S ADI GUAJARDO: It took us about 2 hours and 17 minutes to put this together. Families that have lost loved ones to ghost guns may say that's just too easy. What would you say to them?
ROB PINCUS: Yeah, there are negative outcomes involving firearms, but it's not the fault of how long it took to build a gun. It's ultimately going to be the fault of the person that pulled the trigger.
GUAJARDO: How do you make sure that the person purchasing the kit is responsible?
PINCUS: You can't. Freedom isn't safe. I believe in that pure interpretation of the Second Amendment and our gun rights — that they shall not be infringed by the government. However, I realize that all of our rights come with responsibilities.