Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

The Elusive Definition of “Ghost Guns” in Massachusetts

One of the most notable buzzwords in modern American gun regulation is “ghost gun.” This is especially true with the rise of 3D printing. The problem is that many people – including responsible, legal gun owners – have no idea what this phrase actually means. It does not help that ghost gun legislation in Massachusetts is often vague and misleading, causing many gun owners to accidentally commit firearms offenses. So what exactly is a “ghost gun” in Massachusetts, and how can you avoid charges related to these weapons? 

An Example of a Ghost Gun Charge in Massachusetts

On September 25, 2023, it was reported that a suspect had been arrested with a firearm in Boston. Police were reportedly on a routine patrol when they encountered a suspect who was wanted for a recent assault with a firearm. The police then approached the individual and began a conversation. After searching the defendant, the police discovered a firearm. Upon closer inspection, the police saw that the firearm in question was a so-called “ghost gun.” They also reportedly found illegal drugs on the individual. 

As a result, the defendant was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm, unlawful possession of ammunition, possession of a firearm during a felony, and possession of class A and B drugs with intent to distribute. 

What Exactly is the Definition of a Ghost Gun in Massachusetts?

So, what exactly was this defendant caught with? An image from the police report seems to show a normal handgun. While the lower section of the handgun is made from a gray plastic material, this is not altogether abnormal in the world of modern firearms. In fact, manufacturers such as Glock sell factory-made pistols with “concrete gray” lower components. In addition, Glock and many other pistol manufacturers use plastic composites for their firearms, including nylon-based polymers. In other words, police may not find it easy to distinguish between factory-made pistols and those with 3D-printed plastic components. 

The real definition of a ghost gun involves serial numbers and not necessarily the materials or methods of construction. According to numerous sources, ghost guns are firearms that have no serial numbers or identifying marks. These are often constructed by gun owners who collect numerous parts from various sources before assembling the final firearm. 

Note that it is legal to construct your own firearm from various parts in Massachusetts – and there is no specific law against untraceable firearms in the state. However, there are a number of considerations and caveats:

  • Once you build your firearm, you must register it within seven days
  • If you are not legally permitted to own a firearm, you still cannot possess a ghost gun
  • You cannot deface or obliterate a serial number from a firearm

The last issue is the most important, as those found guilty can face between one month and two and a half years behind bars. Note that even if you knowingly receive a firearm with a defaced serial number, you can still face this charge. That said, there is no legal penalty for possessing or receiving a firearm that never had a serial number in the first place

Where Can I Find a Boston Defense Attorney?

If you’ve been searching for an experienced Boston criminal defense attorney, look no further than Edward R. Molari. Ghost gun legislation can be incredibly confusing for the average gun owner in Boston, and it often takes an experienced attorney to make sense of it all. Book your consultation today to discuss any potential legal consequences you might be facing as a result of so-called ghost guns.