Shapiro pointed to Pillus’ case as evidence that better federal regulation is urgently needed, saying the number of ghost guns involved in crimes has exploded in his state. The Philadelphia Police Department recovered 389 in the first eight months of 2021 — up from just 95 in all of 2019.

National data on ghost guns are incomplete, at best. ATF estimates that police recovered 10,000 privately made firearms in 2019. In some cities, the numbers are rising quickly. In New York City, the number seized by police jumped from 48 in 2019 to about 200 from the start of this year through mid-November.

In response, the Biden administration recently proposed a federal rule that would regulate the sale of homemade gun kits like all other firearms, requiring buyers to pass background checks and forcing manufacturers to add serial numbers to the parts. But the rule is still pending.

In the meantime, some states and cities — including New Jersey and Los Angeles — have passed their own laws banning ghost guns or requiring buyers to register them once they’re built.

But the laws aren’t focused on how people learn to build guns, leaving it up to online platforms to police themselves.

Garen Wintemute, the head of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis, said videos showing how to build guns facilitate their production and should be a wake-up call for YouTube and other platforms to do a better job policing content.

“What YouTube and others need to consider is what complicity and what accountability do they face if they continue to allow that information to be provided, given the purposes for which it’s being put out,” Wintemute said.

Gun supporters: Policy too restrictive

But Second Amendment supporters say YouTube already aggressively enforces its rules and charge that it has gone too far in restricting firearm content. Some former YouTube users have moved to more niche alternative sites, such as Odysee or GunStreamer.

“YouTube’s restrictions are keeping gun owners, especially the more than 11 million first-time gun buyers over the past two years, from accessing information that will help to teach safe and responsible firearm ownership and storage,” said Mark Oliva, the director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents the firearms industry.

Oliva said the foundation “supports the use of videos that demonstrate the lawful and safe use of firearms, including those firearms that are built in the home by those within their lawful right to possess firearms.”

“P80 Ralph,” who declined to provide his full name, runs a YouTube channel dedicated to making untraceable guns at home. In a video interview set up through the email account attached to his YouTube channel, Ralph said his curiosity was piqued when a co-worker showed him a picture of an AR-style rifle he’d built. He wondered, “How the hell do you build a gun?” 


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