The next time you hear NBC objecting to “fake news,” you can shout “Remember Rossen!” at the TV.
On Thursday, NBC reporter Jeff Rossen aired a breathless report claiming “Loophole Lets Criminals Buy Untraceable ‘Ghost Guns’ Online,” in which he claimed criminals are buying parts online to easily assemble fully working AR-15s using only simple tools.
In fact, NBC shipped those AR-15 parts to a former ATF agent with a substantial machine shop. Though his lathe, mill and drill press are plainly visible in the video, NBC shows him using only a hand drill.
This is fake news at its worst: Converting an 80 percent completed lower receiver into a reliable, functioning firearm component requires machine tools working to exacting tolerances. The majority of these builds involve a CNC (Computer Numerical Controlled) milling machine. Such machines cannot be borrowed or rented for the purpose; nor can owners of these machines be hired to do the work. Therefore, rifle builders must own the machine to legally complete the project. Even so, further refinements are often required to make a working rifle.
However, Rossen claims, “It takes him just a couple of hours to put it together.” NRA’s American Rifleman tells a different story: “… Most folks want to know how long it takes to build an AR. The time varies based on a builder's preparations, their skill level and the features of the rifle. A supplier I talked to on the phone, who builds ARs as a hobby, said he has it down to about a four-hour process. For my first time out, with everything already in place, it took about seven hours from start to finish.” … NBC shipped those AR-15 parts to a former ATF agent with a substantial machine shop. Though his lathe, mill and drill press are plainly visible in the video, NBC shows him using only a hand drill.
That’s an experienced gun journalist, from arguably the world’s foremost authority on firearms, working with a completed, serialized lower receiver. Starting with an 80 percent lower receiver, as NBC did, multiplies time to completion exponentially. It’s plainly obvious that the skills, tools and funds to build a working AR from a hunk of metal are far beyond those of any 22-year-old gangbanger.
And why would he want to, anyway? Handguns, not rifles, are overwhelmingly the firearms of choice for criminals because they are cheaper and easier to conceal. Yet NBC doesn’t let that inconvenient fact interfere with its fear-mongering.
Rossen blithely refers to “ghost guns being used across the country, from Maryland to California.” However, FBI data consistently proves rifles of all kinds are used in less than 2 percent of U.S. homicides. AR-15 usage in crime is so rare that the FBI doesn’t even bother to track it. Furthermore, Rossen’s “ghost guns” comprise just a tiny percentage of those AR-15s, making their usage in crime infinitesimal.
Back to NBC’s “Ghost Gun” build: At the range, Rossen’s ATF gunsmith fires exactly two rounds before exclaiming, “It works great!” Call us skeptical, but experts agree that home-built firearms are notoriously fussy until the kinks are worked out. What are the odds that NBC’s criminal rifle builders are going to get it right the first time? For that matter, if NBC’s “ghost gun” could have fired a full magazine, don’t you think they would have shown that?
NBC’s fake news doesn’t stop there: Rossen voices over footage of a completed AR-15, saying “This is a real gun, and anyone can buy it—no background check required. It’s perfectly legal.” Whoa, there: Anyone building and selling, or gifting, multiple non-serialized firearms is considered to be “engaged in the business,” in violation of federal law and begging for an unpleasant visit from the ATF.
For example, in May 2016, a Sacramento felon nicknamed Doctor Death was snared by an ATF sting operation for machining 80 percent lower receivers, no questions asked. He was in violation of the law on several fronts, and was ultimately convicted of unlawfully manufacturing and dealing in firearms and possession of an unregistered machine gun. Is this what Rossen refers to as “perfectly legal?” Such reporting will inevitably link the name Rossen to that of CNN’s John Zarrella, who infamously faked a news story on Bill Clinton’s “assault weapons” ban.
By the way, ATF recorded the Doctor using a CNC mill, not a Ryobi power drill.
Rossen also makes a big fuss over the lack of a serial number making their firearm “untraceable.” While it’s true that there is no record of a sale from a manufacturer or through an FFL, such traces rarely solve crimes, anyway. Most guns used in crime are stolen or purchased on the black market—activities that render those guns untraceable through any database. However, crime lab techniques for matching ballistic markings on bullets and casings are as applicable ever.
Such reporting will inevitably link the name Rossen to that of CNN’s John Zarrella, who infamously faked a news story on Bill Clinton’s “assault weapons” ban. Incredibly, Zarrella and CNN allowed footage of cinder blocks being destroyed by rifle fire to be compared to blocks not impacted at all to supposedly demonstrate the devastating firepower of guns on the ban list. CNN was forced to “clarify” its mistake, but never apologized or admitted the fakery.
I challenge NBC’s Rossen to back up his overwrought hit piece. Reveal to us the data showing rampant violent crime and homicides being committed with “ghost guns.” Back up your claim that the skills, experience and tools available to ordinary criminals compare to that of an ATF gunsmith. Tell us why we should fear lawful gun-owning hobbyists who enjoy legally making a rifle for their own use. And finally, let’s give one of your gunsmithing gang-bangers a set of Black and Decker power tools and all the parts you ordered online, and put him on a stopwatch. I’ll bet the farm that a calendar will be more appropriate.
Five million NRA members are waiting for your answer, Mr. Rossen.
Clay Turner has been the creative director for every issue of America’s 1st Freedom magazine, an official journal of the NRA, as well as the associated Second Amendment news website, Americas1stFreedom.org. When not writing and designing for those, Clay leads the design team for each year’s NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits. In between, he races sports cars and shoots just enough competitions to maintain his A rating with the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA).