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'Ghost guns' and other trends fuel fire on national gun debate

FARGO-Both law enforcement and legislators are taking a closer look into growing gun trends that have come to light in the wake of some of the worst mass shootings in modern U.S. history.The gunman, who killed his wife and four others in Northern...

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FARGO-Both law enforcement and legislators are taking a closer look into growing gun trends that have come to light in the wake of some of the worst mass shootings in modern U.S. history.

The gunman, who killed his wife and four others in Northern California last week, managed to use one of those trends to find a way around his court order prohibiting him from having firearms.

Kevin Neal, who police have identified as the shooter, committed the crimes with two high-powered rifles that he built at home - also known as "ghost guns."

A California court order previously blocked Neal from buying guns due to his criminal history, which included stabbing his neighbor, domestic violence, along with being the subject of neighborhood complaints involving firing off hundreds of rounds of ammunition on his property.

"Ghost guns," known by law enforcement as 80 percent lower receivers, are made from parts ordered online without serial or registration numbers. They don't require background checks, licenses or any identifying information to order.

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"It states it in the name. It's an 80 percent lower. So there's still 20 percent work that has to be done to complete it, and then you have to put it all together," Brent Brattloff, the manager at Bill's Gun Shop & Range in Fargo explained.

Because the 80 percent lower receiver isn't fully developed, by law they're not considered a firearm.

Lowell Erickson, the special agent in charge of North Dakota and Northwest Minnesota's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF) says while ghost guns are concerning, they're perfectly legal.

"We have run across them in criminal investigations over the last couple years," Erickson said. "They are not regulated at this point by the federal government, even if I built it and made it operational, a citizen of the United States can make his own firearms."

A WDAY-TV investigation found that 80 percent receivers are online and easy to order. The next stages require a CNC machine or other drill press to mill out metal and properly drill in trigger holes. Countless how-to's and video tutorials exist online to help the individual through the process.

Clay County Investigations Lieutenant Stephen Landsem says because 80 percent receivers aren't considered guns, people banned from having firearms can legally purchase those parts. However, once it's completed, it's illegal for them to own.

"There's nothing we can do until that's finished and somebody that's prohibited to having that stuff has it, then we have laws in place to affect the individual that's doing that," Landsem said.

Bump Stocks

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Another gun trend that has been brought to light are accessories called bump stocks; like gun ghosts, they require no license or background check to purchase.

Bump stocks have been hurdled into the national spotlight after the Las Vegas mass shooting.

Landsem said, "It's a part that enhances how fast it is fired, which is a perfectly legal thing. It can be devastating if it's used in the wrong way, as we saw in Las Vegas."

Twelve of the 23-gun arsenal discovered in shooter Stephen Paddock's 32nd floor room at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino were modified with bump stocks, according to authorities. These devices rigged his rifles to simulate fully automatic machine gun fire, with fast, repetitive rounds.

Authorities say between 10:08 p.m. and 10:19 p.m., Paddock injured over 500 people, killing 58, before taking his own life.

In the days following the shooting, gun control advocates, lawmakers and the National Rifle Association (NRA) demanded Congress change regulations on bump stocks.

Bipartisan legislation was introduced to restrict bump stocks; yet the only thing that happened with bump stocks after the shooting is the leading manufacturer of the device, Slide Fire, resumed selling them. The manufacturer had temporarily suspended the sales after the shooting.

"It makes it a novelty item, but they can be dangerous," Landsem said.

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WDAY-TV tested the theory by ordering its own bump stock from Slide Fire; it arrived a little over a week, easily attaching to the ghost gun in the station's possession.

The AR15 shot 16 vs. 40 rounds in just five seconds during a side-by-side comparison test. The bump stock cost under $200.

"I can foresee some changes coming down on the parts that can enhance in the future, some regulation on that," Landsem said. "But until that happens, they're legal to possess to purchase, and our hands are tied on that."

As these shootings shift the spotlight on ghost guns and modifiers, individual states like California passed a law requiring all homemade guns be registered, regardless of what federal law states, a change not yet seen in our region.

"We're not going to take away someone's civil rights because it's a legal product. The illegal act or the criminal element out there is what makes it scary," Landsem said.

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