A “ghost gun” suddenly appeared in a horrifying manner the evening of July 10 in a local restaurant parking lot.

Preliminary evidence and investigations indicate that Christopher T. Fernanders used a homemade P80 polymer 9mm pistol, also known as a ghost gun, to shoot and kill his former wife, Heather Sue Campbell, 46, of Trevorton, and Matthew T. Bowersox, 52, of Mifflinburg, just outside a restaurant in Hummels Wharf, according to court documents spelling out criminal homicide charges lodged against Fernanders, 55, of Paxinos.

These weapons are called ghost guns because they are built with kits that provide about 80 percent of the parts necessary for a working firearm. There are no serial numbers included in the box of parts and there are no firearm registrations or background checks, so the assembled weapon is rendered untraceable.

Snyder County District Attorney Michael Piecuch, who will prosecute the Fernanders murder case, said he has been aware of ghost guns showing up in some Pennsylvania cities, but this will be his first criminal case involving one.

Nearly eight months ago — in December — Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro issued a legal opinion to the Pennsylvania State Police that ghost gun frames, also known as “80 percent receivers,” qualify as firearms.

In a letter to State Police Commissioner Col. Robert Evanchick, the attorney general noted that the gun kits become firearms if they are designed to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive, or if they can be readily converted to do so. Shapiro also noted that ghost guns are increasingly being found in the hands of people who are barred from possessing firearms. On Jan. 31, Commonwealth Court Judge Kevin Brobson issued a preliminary injunction, ruling that the state policy on 80 percent receivers was too vague, but Shapiro said he would continue to defend his position.

The ghost gun will be a key piece of evidence in the Fernanders murder case. As part of a protection from abuse order taken out by Campbell against her former husband, Fernanders relinquished his legally obtained weapons about a week before the murders. The homemade 9mm handgun was found in the parking lot after the murders and police then discovered equipment used to make a firearm during a search of Fernanders home, according to court documents.

Piecuch, who was elected president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association last week, said ghost guns “allow an end-run around the protection that the Legislature has put in place and creates a very dangerous situation.”

This is an issue that lawmakers must immediately address. As the Snyder County district attorney notes, and as the murders of Sue Campbell and Matthew Bowersox make vividly clear, “This is not a gun control issue, it’s a public safety issue.”

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.

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