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Limits on 'ghost gun' kits need debate in New York State 

Untraceable weapons -- also known as "ghost guns"

Untraceable weapons -- also known as "ghost guns" are displayed at a news conference on June 26, 2015. Credit: Craig Ruttle

Last month, a Sayville man was arrested with 800 bags of  heroin — and something even more frightening: three "ghost guns." Suffolk County police say Christopher Swanson had an assault rifle and two handguns he built from kits he bought online.

In New York, bans on the sale and possession of such kits or strict limits are needed. On Monday, New York Attorney General Letitia James ordered online companies to quit selling kits for "assault weapons" in New York, but that only deals with a tiny part of the issue.

Ghost guns are kits  with some assembly and machining still necessary. The kits make guns that cannot be traced. They are legal because federal law allows people to make their own guns. The key part, the lower receiver, can be sold with no background check if it is less than 80 percent complete.

That means a dangerous person with the right tools could have a gun to use or sell an hour after a kit arrives. Swanson, convicted of a felony in 2008, cannot legally possess a firearm.

Ghost guns are a growing problem. In March, a police officer with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection was charged with illegally manufacturing and selling dozens of guns.

The ghost gun industry exists to thwart federally mandated background checks, laws limiting specific weapons and gun tracking. The kits should be outlawed federally, or sold only after hobbyists pass background checks. That’s unlikely in this Congress.

A bill proposed last week by two Long Island lawmakers, State Sen. Anna Kaplan and Assemb. Charles Lavine, to outlaw ghost gun kits in  our state is a good starting point for the debate. — The editorial board