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Mike Easley Jr., the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, stands with Raleigh Police Chief Estella Patterson on July 12, 2022. Mike Easley Jr., the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, stands with Raleigh Police Chief Estella Patterson on July 12, 2022.

Mike Easley Jr., the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, stands with Raleigh Police Chief Estella Patterson on July 12, 2022.

Paul Specht
By Paul Specht August 9, 2022

Easley Jr. mostly right about North Carolina ghost gun numbers

If Your Time is short

  • The U.S. Attorney’s Office based its comments on data from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, known as ATF.
  • A spokesperson for ATF's Charlotte division confirmed that North Carolina's ghost gun confiscation numbers are among the top 10 states for recoveries.
  • However, ATF hasn't publicized a state-by-state comparison of ghost gun confiscation statistics and the bureau declined to do so, saying the data is confidential.

A federal prosecutor says North Carolina law enforcement authorities are among the leaders in confiscating homemade guns that are hard to track. 

Mike Easley Jr., the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, stood on a stage in Raleigh on July 12 with leaders of local law enforcement agencies and announced indictments of 27 people from in and around the Raleigh area on gun and drug charges. Together, authorities seized significant quantities of cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, crack and more than two dozen firearms. 

One seized weapon was a so-called ghost gun. These firearms are hard to trace because they’re often made privately using 3-D printers or assembled from a kit.

Easley said ghost guns are a growing problem in North Carolina, adding that the state is "among some of the top states in the country for the number of ghost guns that are seized as crime guns," he said.

Is Easley right about North Carolina being among the leading states in ghost gun confiscations?

When asked to verify the claim, Cari Boyce, a spokesperson for Easley’s office, pointed to an article that quoted the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. The U.S. Attorney’s Office based its comments on data from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. 

Boyce also referred PolitiFact NC to ATF.

Although Easley’s comments reflect what federal agents have said, and North Carolina may have confiscated a high number of ghost guns in 2021, it’s difficult to know how these numbers stack up to other states. 

The federal government hasn’t disclosed a state-by-state comparison of ghost gun seizures, according to Erik Longnecker, a deputy chief in ATF’s public affairs division, and some departments aren’t regularly reporting such seizures.

A growing concern

President Joe Biden said in April that law enforcement agencies are finding more and more ghost guns at crime scenes and announced that the U.S. Department of Justice and the ATF would be cracking down on ghost gun makers and users involved in crimes. The Transportation Security Administration is on track to intercept a record number of guns this year, CNN reported, and there’s concern that advancements in technology will make the guns undetectable to metal detectors.

About 20,000 suspected ghost guns across the country were confiscated and reported to ATF in 2021, Biden said, adding that last year’s numbers marked a tenfold increase since 2016.

North Carolina seized more than 400 ghost guns last year, according to Corey Ray, a spokesperson for ATF in Charlotte. That figure represented a sevenfold increase over the previous year, although the 2020 figure may have been underreported. 

Ray said in an email that North Carolina is among the "top 10 states" for recoveries, but he wouldn’t be more specific. He also said a state-by-state comparison isn't available to the public. Ray declined to release a ranking, saying that such information was sensitive. He added that he himself hasn’t seen a complete list or a specific breakdown. 

Ray said Texas, Arizona, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia have reported some of the highest numbers of recoveries, and that North Carolina "has seen similar recoveries." But he also said tracking that information is difficult and that the quality of data varies widely among agencies across the country. As awareness and reporting increases, there will likely be more specific information available, Ray said, "but for now those are all the details that can be shared." 

He added that the ATF has struggled to pinpoint how many ghost guns are being seized in the field because privately made firearms are such a new phenomenon and some law enforcement agencies are still learning how to recognize and document them. 

"Many agencies may still be in an educational phase — what makes a ghost gun a ghost gun, how are they constructed, how do you report such a device when recovered at a crime scene?" Ray said in an email.

So, although ATF says North Carolina is among the top states, as Easley claims, the agency still leaves us with an incomplete picture of how the state’s confiscation numbers compare with others.

A PolitiFact North Carolina review of ghost gun confiscations mentioned in news articles found that the Tar Heel state’s 400 recoveries is likely lower than at least five other states. 

California collected at least 2,400 among Los Angeles (1,949), Oakland (275) and San Francisco (190). New York confiscated at least 500 among New York City (375), Buffalo (70) and Rochester (48).

Pennsylvania seized at least 600 between Philadelphia (571) and Pittsburgh (50). In Illinois, Chicago alone captured 455. Maryland recovered at least 423 between Baltimore (352) and Montgomery County (71). The District of Columbia also has confiscated at least 400.

Our ruling

Easley Jr. said "North Carolina is among some of the top states in the country for ghost guns seized as crime guns."

His office cited a claim by ATF, which said North Carolina is among the top states for ghost gun confiscations.

But the agency hasn’t released a state-by-state breakdown. An ATF spokesperson also acknowledged that data is spotty because some law enforcement agencies aren’t reporting some ghost gun recoveries or are still learning how to document them.

Easley’s statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information, which is our definition of Mostly True.

Our Sources

WRAL video and story, "'The violence must stop': Federal partnership leads to indictment of 27 people in Raleigh on gun and drug charges," posted July 12, 2022.

Email exchange with Cari Boyce, spokesperson for Mike Easley Jr.

Email exchange with Corey Ray, a spokesperson for ATF based in Charlotte.

Email exchange with Erik Longnecker, a deputy chief in ATF’s public affairs division.

WLOS, "NC a top 10 state in the recovery of 'ghost guns' used in crimes," posted May 11, 2022.

White House, "Fact sheet: The Biden administration cracks down on ghost guns, ensures that ATF has the leadership it needs to enforce our gun laws," April 11, 2022; "Remarks by President Biden at a Gun Violence Prevention Task Force Meeting," Feb. 3, 2022.

Stories by CNN, "TSA on track to find record-setting number of guns," posted by WDAM on July 6, 2022; "What you should know about ghost guns as Biden announces new regulation," posted April 11, 2022; "Growing ghost gun problem adds to America's violence woes," April 5, 2022; "High number of firearm recoveries underscores America's worsening gun violence epidemic," posted Jan. 30, 2022.

ABC News, "Proposed 'ghost gun' rule could reshape battle against homemade guns: Experts," posted March 22, 2022.

NPR, "The Biden administration is regulating 'ghost guns.' Here's what the rule does," posted April 12, 2022.

San Jose Mercury News, "Oakland joins growing list of California cities to ban ghost guns," posted Jan. 18, 2022.

WUSA9, "Activists protest gun violence outside SCOTUS as ghost gun ban in MD goes into effect June 1," May 29, 2022.

WIVB4, "Buffalo Police attempt to crack down on ‘ghost guns,’" updated April 12, 2022.

WROC, "Ghost guns are an increasing problem in Rochester. Could a new law help?" posted March 11, 2022.

WPXI, "State leaders announce crackdown on ‘ghost guns,’" posted April 29, 2022.

Everytown For Gun Safety: Ghost gun recoveries and shootings.

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Easley Jr. mostly right about North Carolina ghost gun numbers

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