Teenage gun ownership remains a concerning issue for schools. The emergence of ghost guns deepened that concern. According to NPR, ghost guns are personally assembled and untraceable. The “buy build shoot” kits can be ordered online or 3D printed. Some take only thirty minutes to put together. Everytown Research and Policy tracks incidents of gun violence. According to Everytown, in the first eight months of 2023 alone, there were at least seventeen shootings involving ghost guns. Five of those incidents involved teenagers. The Department of Justice reports that in 2021, law enforcement agencies confiscated approximately 25,785 ghost guns nationwide. This was a 33 percent increase from the previous year. These unserialized firearms have been linked to a range of violent incidents, including homicides and armed robberies. With a simultaneous increase in threats against and violence in schools, administrators and educators must be vigilant regarding ghost guns and teenagers.
Ghost Guns and Teenagers: One Tragic Example
In an article for the Washington Post, Tom Jackman and Emily Davies discuss the tragic consequences of teenagers purchasing ghost guns. They begin with the story of Zachary Burkard of Springfield, Virginia. At 18, Zachary Burkard, who dealt with mental health issues, couldn’t legally buy a handgun from a licensed store. Instead, he purchased a gun kit with no serial numbers from an online seller. Two months later, Burkard used this homemade gun to shoot and kill two schoolmates during a fistfight. Neither victim was armed. One was shot twice in the back while trying to flee. Everytown for Gun Safety is now supporting the families of the victims in suing both the online vendor and kit manufacturer for gross negligence in supplying Burkard with a weapon.
Ghost Guns and the Law
According to Jackman and Davis, Burkard’s case shows how easy it is for teenagers to acquire parts and build homemade firearms. Since 2019, Everytown for Gun Safety has documented over fifty incidents involving teenagers and ghost guns. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) estimates that the company that manufactured Burkard’s kit produced most ghost guns recovered by police between 2017 and 2021. Ghost guns are difficult to trace. Nevertheless, they have been linked to homicides, nonfatal shootings, mass killings, and school shootings. The Biden administration and ATF published a rule stating that the frames from which ghost guns are built qualify as firearms. Therefore, kits would require serial numbers and background checks before sale. However, this rule faced legal challenges, and several courts ruled against it. The case will likely continue through the legal system, potentially reaching the Supreme Court.
LearnSafe Can Help to Keep Ghost Guns Out of Schools
The tragic incident involving Burkard highlights the need for increased awareness of how easy it is for teenagers to get ghost guns. This is especially true for schools, where teenagers spend most of their time. The National Center for Education Statistics found that more students were afraid of being harmed at school than off of school property. Screen monitoring software, like LearnSafe, can help schools establish a safe learning environment and prevent gun violence. LearnSafe can detect mentions of and attempts to purchase ghost guns on school computers. Moreover, LearnSafe can detect evidence of criminal activity. For example, LearnSafe detected a student’s social media posts admitting to criminal activity outside of school hours. A LearnSafe Digital Safety Specialist alerted school authorities and provided them with screenshots. This information helped authorities solve a string of violent crimes.* In this way, LearnSafe can help keep schools – and even the surrounding communities – safe.
*Note: for the protection of those involved, additional information is not available at this time.