Police entered a home in New Britain this month and reportedly seized a stockpile of more than 100 homemade guns. In January, officers entered a home in East Hartford and heard the whirring of a 3D printer, allegedly printing more weapons before their eyes. Just four months into the year, these two isolated incidents led to the seizure of more than 130 untraceable homemade weapons in two Connecticut towns.
Already this year, Hartford police have seized 20 of these so-called “ghost guns” from city streets, more than three times as many as in 2019. The guns, often made by 3D printers or ordered part per part online in DIY kits, lack serial numbers that would allow them to be registered and identified.
Authorities seized 29 in the city in 2021, more than four times as many as the previous year.
Across the country last year, police reported about 20,000 suspected ghost weapon seizures to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, 10 times more than in 2016, according to a statement from the White House. Connecticut authorities are cracking down on those making the weapons, including targeting the sale of internet kits.
So far in 2022, New Haven police have seized 10 ghost guns from the streets. In 2021, they seized 15 in Elm City, up from three the year before. In Waterbury, police have seized four so far this year, up from nine in 2021 and three in 2020. 341 guns – the concern is how fast the number of ghost guns seized is growing.
“What is alarming is the upward trend in this number,” Hartford Police Department Sgt. said Christopher Mastroianni. “There is an increasing trend.”
He agreed that the most alarming part is the rate at which the number of ghost guns being taken off the streets is increasing.
Whether they fall into the hands of a criminal or a hunter with a gun, they pose a major problem for the police: they cannot be found. They pass from maker to owner after owner under a cloak of invisibility that makes them all the more dangerous, authorities say.
“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of ghost guns on the streets, and that’s reflected in the number of ghost guns our police have seized in recent years,” Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said. It’s an increase that he says correlates with an increase in gun crime.
“I think you’ve almost tripled the number of phantom guns seized for two years in a row and I don’t think there’s any question that the accessibility and availability of firearms is part of the spike in gun violence that cities and communities have seen across the country over the past two years,” he said.
The massive New Britain bust came after a months-long collaborative investigation that led police to the home of 39-year-old Steven Gerent-Mastrianni.
Police said they seized 125 firearms, a pile of parts that would make more fully automatic firearms, the 3D printer that made them and three pipe bombs from Mastrianni’s Hillhurst Avenue home. and his car.
The seizure included machine guns and a stockpile of other automatic weapons that could be made with illegal silencers. Gun license holder Gerent-Mastrianni faces a long list of charges, including selling high-capacity magazines, possessing a machine gun and illegally transferring an unnumbered manufactured firearm series.
“This guy was an entrepreneur. It had a cottage industry going on,” James Rovella, commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Safety, said at a news conference about the bust last week.
It did its own testing, did its own manufacturing and handled its own distribution, Rovella said. Police said it was a suspected one-man gun store with no legal record of where the guns ended up.
Ghost guns, Rovella said, are usually a combination of parts ordered from the internet and homemade parts, like those from a 3D printer.
“These weapons end up in the wrong hands. They circumvent our licensing and firearms laws. They end up in the wrong hands and sooner or later they will end up hurting someone,” he said.
Rovella said the key to combating the exponential growth of phantom weapons is to “trace each of these weapons back to the ground” – to determine who made the parts, who ordered them, and into whose hands they ended up. Police are now working to trace where every gun made in New Britain at home has been sold.
Mastroianni said that in January, police traced phantom guns to an address in East Hartford. When they arrived to search the property, their suspect was operating his 3D printer, allegedly printing more firearms.
The arrest and seizure stemmed from the exact tactic Rovella explained: they found someone in possession of a ghost gun, asked where they got it, and followed the trail to the location. where it was made.
“It was kind of a situation where we got one, got another; we started talking to these people; this led us to an address; this investigation turned into finding us a 3D impression of a person when we walked through the door,” he said.
“One little arrest led to another, another,” he said. They kept asking, “Where did you buy it? Who did you buy it from?”
While details of an ongoing federal investigation stemming from the East Hartford incident have not been released, police say they arrested a man and seized eight completed firearms – many of which were assembled with plastics of different colors, like bright yellow and blue – and a huge number of parts and parts to transform into ghost guns.
Mastrioanni said he believes the availability and accessibility of 3D printers and internet vendors has led to a rapid increase in the number of ghost weapons they seize. Anyone who wants a gun, he said, can go online, order 80% of a gun, then download instructions on how to build it.
His department, he said, is working with state and federal investigators, including ATF teams, to try to track vendors selling gun parts online.
Bronin said in Hartford, across the state and across the country, phantom guns are a real problem.
“Four or five years ago, the ghost gun problem could have been a theoretical problem or a distant problem. Today it is a very real and current problem,” he said.
Last week, President Joe Biden announced his administration would crack down on phantom guns in an effort to tackle gun crime nationwide.
The U.S. Department of Justice has issued a final rule to bring the ghost weapon problem under control, prohibiting the business of manufacturing highly accessible ghost weapons, such as “buy-to-build” kits ordered online that can be purchased without verification antecedents. These kits, the White House said, allow Americans to make their own weapon in less than an hour with supplies they likely already have at home.
The new rule says these kits are considered firearms under gun control law, which means their manufacturers must be federally licensed, must do background checks on their buyers, and must manufacture their weapons with serial numbers, according to the White House.
The lack of serial numbers on these guns makes it increasingly difficult for law enforcement to trace guns found at crime scenes back to their purchaser.
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The rule also requires federally licensed dealers and gunsmiths to add serial numbers to guns already in circulation — such as ghost guns sold to pawnshops — thereby turning ghost guns into numbered, traceable firearms.
Also this year, the DOJ launched the National Ghost Gun Enforcement Initiative in February — an intensified effort to deter criminals from using ghost guns to cover their tracks.
Speaking at One Police Plaza in New York about the initiative, Biden reminded the public that anyone who uses a ghost gun to commit a crime will now face federal charges in addition to state and local prosecution.
“Ghost guns are the guns that everyone in this room knows about that can be bought in pieces, assembled at home, without a serial number, and can’t be traced. And they’re as deadly as anyone. what another weapon. But the fact is they are out there,” Biden said.
The new initiatives are part of an effort to keep guns out of reach of those who shouldn’t have them, he said, and to revoke the invisibility of ghostly weapons.
Bronin said he is proud of the work done by police in the city and state and welcomes any action at the federal level to help them tackle the invisible market.
“The ease with which these weapons can be purchased and crafted means that they [police] are swimming against a very strong tide,” he said.