President Joe Biden recently signed an executive order that would close a loophole that allows the sale of untraceable guns and accessories, and proposed new legislation for the states that would prevent high risk people from obtaining guns. 

The order comes in the wake of mass shootings in Atlanta and, more recently, in South Carolina, resulting in the combined death of 13 people.

In signing his executive order, Biden called gun violence a “public health crisis” and said that his recommendations in no way affected the 2nd Amendment.

He added: “Whether Congress acts or not, I’m going to use all the resources at my disposal as President to keep the American people safe from gun violence.”  

Ghost guns are a kind of weapon made from kits or individual parts and therefore have no serial number or any unique identifying marks. The guns have been around a long time, but are becoming increasingly popular

They also provide a way to avoid background checks, making them easier to obtain by people who are prohibited from owning them and harder for law enforcement to trace. Ghost guns can come in almost any form, from small handguns to large high caliber rifles. 

Reliable data on the proliferation of ghost guns in the South is difficult to find, but in 2019, around 10,000 ghost guns were recovered nationwide, according to the ATF. In California, for example, 30% of all guns retrieved at crime scenes were ghost guns.

Despite current links to crime, kit guns also have a long history with law abiding hobbyists who could likely be affected. The first kit gun was released by Smith & Wesson in 1911. In addition, large gun manufacturers have production lines in the South, underlining the popularity of gun culture in the region. The Austrian-owned Glock has a factory in Georgia and Remington has its headquarters in North Carolina and a factory in Arkansas. Kimber recently moved its corporate headquarters from New York to Troy, Ala.

The red flag plan, which will be published in the next 60 days by the Justice Department, will allow family or law enforcement agencies to petition state courts to temporarily block people from obtaining firearms if they present a danger to themselves or others. In the South, only Florida has a red flag law. Biden’s executive order will also better define and regulate stabilizer braces, an accessory that turns a pistol into a short-barreled rifle. 

But the South is an epicenter of gun trafficking in the country. Known as the Iron pipeline, the I-95 corridor acts as a delivery system for guns to flow from the weaker gun control states in the South to stronger gun control states in the North. Similarly, authorities have determined that many of the guns used in street crimes in Chicago are purchased out of state, including in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Texas.

Stolen guns are also part of the trafficking problem.

Of the top 10 states where guns are stolen, the South features significantly, according to a report by the Center American Progress, a Washington DC-based nonpartisan policy institute that is dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans

For example, between 2012 and 2017, approximately 270,000 guns were stolen in Texas, the most of any US state. That means a gun was stolen every 12 minutes in Texas. Florida saw over 122,000 stolen in the same time period, while Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee saw 104,000, 97,000, 96,000 guns stolen, respectively.

However, it’s important to note that there has been an increase in the reporting of guns that haven’t actually been stolen, but instead sold and reported stolen so they can be sold to who are prohibited from owning the weapon. 

Currently there is no federal law banning the trafficking of weapons across state lines.

ATF data from 2006 and 2016, shows how the South is a biggest provider of guns that travel North. A further study, set to be released by the National Library of Medicine in June, also confirms the continued existence of the Iron Pipeline.

What does the executive order mean for the South?  

While the executive order is expected to make it harder for felons to obtain such weapons, the tracking of handguns and rifles will remain difficult in the South. To date, no Southern state keeps a registry of gun sales, according to Giffords, a Washington D.C.,-based gun control advocacy organization. In fact, Florida and Georgia have laws banning such registries.

Alabama and Florida, however, do require all dealerships to retain the sale records of handguns, according to Giffords. In Alabama, those dealership records are to be held permanently.

In Alabama, Florida, Tennessee and Virginia background checks made through a state agency must be purged in no less than 60 days. Some states destroy the record immediately.

The order also does nothing to tackle the gun show loophole, which allows a person to purchase weapons from private sellers at gun shows. Only licensed dealers are required to conduct background checks. North Carolina requires a background check on handgun sales at gun shows. No other Southern state requires such checks.

The gun show loophole, which essentially allows the sale of guns between a buyer and private seller, is also used by people on Facebook to sell weapons. The practice is banned on the social media platform, but some sellers flout the rules by concealing the sale of the physical weapon by only offering to sell the case or other gun-related items. Once contacted, the sale of the weapon is then negotiated offline.