If you’re handy with tools, they’re easy to make. And with no serial number, their origins are difficult to ascertain. Ghost guns are untraceable weapons that have become a headache for law enforcement as more and more criminals deploy them.
Several ghost gun cases have recently made headlines in the Delaware Valley.
Montgomery County detectives, Hatfield Township, and federal authorities worked to bring down a ghost gun trafficking organization. It resulted from an investigation that began in May of this year when U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials intercepted a shipment of firearm silencers from China at JFK International Airport in New York. That shipment was sent to Tony Phan Ho, 32, who resides in Hatfield.
A “ghost gun” is a firearm sold in a disassembled form and then put together into a fully functional deadly weapon using common household tools. Ghost guns can be acquired without a background check and are often used by those who cannot legally own a firearm, including minors. Because they don’t have serial numbers, law enforcement cannot trace them to their original buyers.
Ghost gun components manufactured in China have shown up in other federal criminal investigations. A 2022, a federal investigation codenamed Operation Silent Night targeted the smuggling of suppressors into the United States from China and seized almost 45,000 silencers, according to a report by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“HSI Operation Silent Night targeted the smuggling of firearm silencers into the United States from China,” the report said. “The operation, led by the HSI National Targeting Center-Investigations, targeted the manufacturer, supply chain, and end users of these illegal weapon components. HSI’s efforts on this operation help to keep dangerous weapon components out of the hands of criminal organizations and off our streets.”
It included 42,888 firearm silencers seized, 4,868 firearms seized, and 204 defendants arrested.
Although unrelated to the Montgomery County investigation, ghost guns have been recovered in other recent crimes. In July, Philadelphia police arrested alleged mass shooter Kimbrady Carriker, who investigators say was armed with two ghost guns. Carriker allegedly killed five people and wounded two others.
Following that incident, Philadelphia officials filed a lawsuit against two companies, Polymer80 Inc. and JSD Supply, which allegedly manufacture and sell ghost gun kits. “Polymer80 Inc. and JSD Supply have created a public nuisance by supplying illegal ghost guns to unlicensed individuals in Philadelphia, consequently perpetuating gun violence and causing devastating harm across the city, most often in Black and Brown neighborhoods,” said City Solicitor Diana Cortes.
On July 18, defendant Andrew Bizon of Morrisville was convicted of possessing five firearms, including three ghost guns. Bizon was found guilty of five felony counts of prohibited possession of a firearm and one misdemeanor count of possession of an instrument of crime.
In August, Abington Township police arrested a 17-year-old who brought a loaded ghost gun to a football game between Cheltenham and Abington high schools. The teen had two magazines and a laser sight on the weapon when taken into custody, police said.
In the Montgomery County investigation, Ho, who couldn’t legally own a firearm and silencers because of his criminal record, has been charged with corrupt organization, conspiracy, person not to possess a firearm, illegal firearms sales, dealing in the proceeds of unlawful activities, materially false statements, statement under penalty, criminal use of a communications facility, make/repair/sell offensive weapons and other firearms charges.
According to investigators with Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele’s Detective Bureau Violent Crime Unit and the Hatfield Township Police Department, Ho initially seemed remorseful for ordering the silencer components. But detectives quickly determined from their examination of his communications that Ho was allegedly a source of illegal guns, “with a business-like approach to the illegal manufacturing and distribution of firearms. He is alleged to have boasted in texts, ‘I make the ghostie guns.’”
Steele said Phan Ho had perfected his manufacturing methods.
In the affidavit of probable cause, investigators reported Ho “bragged on the extent of his customer base saying, ‘I (know) a whole bunch of n—–, like straight up hood n—–, that come all the way here to grab s—.’”
Rithga Ngoy, 32, of Hatfield, and Michael Phan Nguyen, 32, of Lansdale, are charged with corrupt organization, conspiracy, illegal firearms sales, and other related offenses in the same case.
“So when we investigated this case, it appears the defendant was able to make these guns in about 30 minutes. Sometimes between 30 and 50, but he had perfected the work on this,” Steele said. “In essence, a lot of guns can be put out during that period. He was running a gun manufacturing business; he’s distributing guns throughout our community. He was putting the guns into the hands of criminals, and that’s a danger to everyone in our community.”
“You’ve seen a situation here where somebody is distributing multiple guns, putting dangerous instruments out upon the streets – putting them in the hands of criminals, people who can’t legally buy a gun,” Steele added. “And so that’s what we’ve been able to stop here. Someone who clearly knows how to manufacture is clearly doing it at a fast pace and clearly putting them in the hands of people who can’t have them, and he faces significant consequences.”