What is a legal ghost weapon

USA: Just assemble your own AR-15 semi-automatic rifle? The "Ghost Gunner" makes it possible

It is well known that the special position of the Americans with regard to their firearms belongs to the states like the cheeseburger and Thanksgiving. Despite loose laws that regulate the sale of firearms, a “ghost weapon”, ie a weapon that is neither registered nor traceable anywhere, has created incentives to get one for precisely these reasons. You may neither sell nor buy ghost weapons, but you can make them yourself. This already happens, so you can use a pillar drill and a 3-D printer to produce the only part of a weapon that you cannot legally acquire: the "Receiver" (Wiki).

For the manufacture of an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, a so-called "lower receiver" is required. All other parts of the weapon are legal to purchase in the US without serial numbers. The receiver is a piece of metal or, optionally, hard plastic that connects the barrel, shaft, handle and magazine. It is the core of every handgun, and for this very reason it is the only one that cannot legally be purchased in the USA without a serial number. However, an “80% lower” can be acquired legally anonymously. This is an almost finished receiver that is still missing a few holes and edges so that it can be used.

In an article published by wired, the editor tries to turn this “80% lower” into a functional “lower receiver” and thus successfully manufacture a ghost weapon, in this case an AR-15. Mainly for this purpose there is now the "Ghost Gunner" to buy in the States. A $ 1500 “computer numerical controlled” (CNC) milling machine that is supposed to make the production of a “lower receiver” child's play. Conveniently, you only need to enter an address when ordering the milling machine online. Since payment also works with Bitcoins, you can come into possession of the machine completely anonymously and consequently manufacture the ghost weapon completely anonymously.

The editor tried to produce a functional “lower receiver” using the three methods mentioned above: pillar drilling machine, 3-D printer and ghost gunner. It quickly became apparent that by far the simplest and most effective variant of production implied the use of a ghost gun.

I installed DDCut and found that for its primary purpose of finishing a lower receiver, the Ghost Gunner is absurdely easy to use — mostly because I was never given the chance to make any choices. Once DDCut began running the AR-15 file and cutting into my 80 percent-lower receiver, my only interaction with the software was clicking “next” through a 22-step set of instructions and then doing things to the aluminum part that the software told me to do.

Before testing the assembled weapon, a weapon specialist confirmed to the author that only the “Lower Receiver” manufactured by the Ghost Gunner is suitable for assembling the weapon. The then-completed AR-15 shot like a commercially made weapon.

Even before the Ghost Gunner was invented, it was possible to manufacture the “Lower Receiver” and thus assemble a ghost weapon, but it has now become a lot easier. Every American is now basically able to build his own ghost weapon, even without any manual skills. The AR-15, including all parts, cost the author 2,272 dollars.

When this story published, the Ghost Gunner still sat in a storage room of WIRED’s office a few blocks away. It's ready to make another lower receiver at any time. And Defense Distributed has already sold more than a thousand of their gun-making boxes, each one a tiny, easy-to-use, anarchic rifle factory. In other words, to paraphrase the rifleman’s creed again, this ghost gun was mine. But there will be many like it.

About the author


Adrian Schultze studies political science at the Free University of Berlin. At netzpolitik.org he was an intern in the editorial team in 2015. He is particularly interested in data protection and the Internet of Things.
Published 2015-06-04 at 6:13 pm