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Pritzker signs bill requiring serialization of unfinished ‘ghost guns’

Gov. JB Pritzker signs House Bill 4383 Wednesday at an event in Chicago, regulating the possession and sale of "ghost guns."
Gov. JB Pritzker signs House Bill 4383 Wednesday at an event in Chicago, regulating the possession and sale of "ghost guns."

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Owners of firearms that do not have serial numbers – referred to as ghost guns – will have 180 days to take them to a federal firearm dealer to have them serialized or they will risk being charged with a misdemeanor.

Gov. JB Pritzker signed the measure containing that provision, House Bill 4383, into law Wednesday at an event in Chicago, aiming to crack down on the growing use of unserialized ghost guns that can be obtained without a background check.

“Unserialized, untraceable ghost guns have left a gap in the criminal law for those who wish to inflict violence and chaos on our streets, and they have abused and exploited that loophole,” Rep. Kam Buckner, the bill’s House sponsor and a Chicago Democrat who is running for mayor, said at a news conference.

The governor called the measure “one piece of a larger strategy” in reducing gun violence, but he said ultimately the federal government must take a more sweeping approach.

“We're engaged in a multi-intergovernmental effort to interdict the transport of guns across state lines illegally,” he said. “We know that 60 percent of the guns that are involved in shootings in the city of Chicago come from out of state, they come from Indiana mainly. But go downstate and talk to people where guns are coming across from Missouri. … Other states that surround us have much more lax laws for acquiring guns. That's a real challenge for us.”

The measure applies to 3D-printed guns as well as unfinished receivers, which include “any forging, casting, printing, extrusion, machined body, or similar article” that can be converted into a functional firearm. It does not apply to antique, permanently inoperable guns or those manufactured before 1968.

The owner of an unserialized firearm or unfinished frame will have 180 days from Wednesday’s signing – or until Nov. 14 – to take it to a federal firearm dealer to receive a serial number.

After that span, possession of an unserialized, unfinished firearm will become a Class A misdemeanor for a first offense, punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. A subsequent violation would be a Class 3 felony, punishable by 2-5 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.

Sellers of those guns or frames would be guilty of a Class 4 felony, punishable by 1-3 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000, for a first violation. Subsequent violations would be a Class 2 felony punishable by 3-7 years and a fine of up to $25,000.

Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly said ISP labs analyzed 62 unserialized ghost guns in 2020, 180 in 2021 and already 164 in 2022.

“So we're gonna double it every year at this rate,” he said. “Criminals are finding it easier and cheaper to buy an unfinished firearm frame than to steal a gun or find one on the streets where the serial number has been defaced. With a little work, the unfinished frame becomes a fully functioning firearm.”

Kelly said ghost guns include pistols, AR-15s and extended and high-capacity magazines.

Pritzker said the measure builds on a Firearm Owners Identification card overhaul passed in 2021 that strengthened ISP’s FOID enforcement abilities and directed the agency to create a searchable database with serial numbers of stolen guns.

He also touted the state’s increased investments in ISP crime labs and new ISP officers and said guns are only part of the problem.

“It's also the underlying challenges – poverty in our communities, mental health treatment and substance use treatment – these are things that we have gone about significant efforts and dollars to try to build back up in our state,” he said. “It was better seven years ago and then we had two years of a budget impasse that wiped out a lot of those services. We're now not only rebuilding but actually doing better than before, and that's the direction we need to go because you want to prevent violence before it happens.”

Pritzker signed the bill in Chicago, where the city’s police department has recorded 207 murders this year, down from last year’s number of 223 over the same time frame but far outpacing 2018-2020.

Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said ghost guns are a growing threat, and he noted there’s been a 500 percent increase in shootings at police officers in Chicago over the past two years.

“It's just a ruse to not have a serial number or a way to track and hold someone accountable to either manufacturing or buying and selling the gun,” he said of the increase in ghost guns. “So this bill will close that ability to really hide from consequences, particularly in our courts, because it's not serialized.”

The Gun Violence Prevention PAC, which backed the measure, said in a news release Illinois was the 12th state and first in the Midwest to regulate ghost guns.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government that is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.
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Jerry Nowicki | Capitol News Illinois