Ghost guns — untraceable, self-assembled firearms — are quickly becoming the “weapon of choice” for criminals in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Sunday.
A pair of investigations stemming from a single gun show in Berks County led to the arrest last week of four men accused of building and selling the do-it-yourself firearms, which do not have serial numbers.
During an afternoon news conference, Shapiro and city leaders warned of the growing threat of ghost guns, amid a continued uptick in Philadelphia’s shooting and homicide numbers.
“Because they are not sold as fully assembled firearms, the buyer does not have to go through the usual background check,” Shapiro said. “They’re becoming more and more common.”
State investigators who have been monitoring gun shows have noticed buyers showing up with hockey-sized duffel bags and stacks of cash, he said.
Using what’s called an 80% receiver and other parts, they can build the guns in a relatively short amount of time. The process is “incredibly easy,” Shapiro added.
In 2019, about 100 ghost guns were seized by law enforcement in Philadelphia. So far in 2021, authorities have recovered nearly 80. Last year’s data was not immediately available.
Najaye Davis, 19, made $500 in profit for each handmade gun he sold on the streets, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
He allegedly purchased several gun kits at the Morgantown Gun Show on Feb. 27 with the intention of building them at his North Philadelphia home, authorities said.
Officers raided the property Friday and found three complete ghost guns, one 80% receiver, $8,600 in cash, more than 1,000 rounds of ammo, multiple extended magazines and other firearm parts, according to the AG’s Office.
Davis was charged under the RICO Act for operating a criminal organization, and he also faces six counts of illegally transferring a firearm.
A day after Davis’s visit to the Morgantown show, Kenneth Manni, 41, and Malachi Matthews, 46, a convicted felon with an extensive criminal history, made the trip to Berks County, authorities said.
They bought four receiver kits, and detectives followed them to Manni’s residence on the 1200 block of S. 21st Street in Point Breeze, according to the AG’s Office.
Agents searched the property last Tuesday, and Matthews, along with Montague Coker, another convicted felon, tried to escape through the roof, though both were apprehended.
Officers found the gun kits, along with two assembled ghost guns, a revolver, multiple magazines and 13 packets of what is believed to be fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, Shapiro said.
Matthews and Coker, due to their criminal history, are prohibited from possessing guns, and Manni was charged with drug and firearms violations.
Shapiro said his office has been fighting gun rights groups in court to implement restrictions on gun kits, including requiring buyers undergo background checks.
“They (gun lobbyists) are, in part, responsible for the kind of carnage that we’re seeing on our streets here in Philadelphia and in other communities across Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said. “You can draw a direct line between their intransigence and their lawsuits and the violence that we’re seeing in places like North Philly.”
Through February, 300 people had been shot in Philadelphia this year, up about 50% from 2020.
Mayor Jim Kenney has frequently cited lax firearm regulations as the primary reason behind the city’s gun violence epidemic.
“There are too many damn illegal guns and firearms on our streets, and it’s easier to get a gun in this state than to get a driver’s license,” he said Sunday. “We’ve got to start getting some sense out of Harrisburg so we can at least police ourselves.”
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said her officers took a total 5,000 illegal guns off the street last year, an all-time high, and are on track to exceed that number, with about 900 confiscated so far in 2021.