(FOX 9) - As the Twin Cities metro continues to face violent crime challenges, law enforcement agencies are increasingly encountering ghost guns tied to a variety of crimes.
Ghost guns are privately made firearms that have no serial number and are often bought online via build-to-shoot kits without a background check required, allowing criminals and teenagers to exploit the loophole to get their hands on a gun.
The FOX 9 Investigators conducted a survey of 18 police departments throughout the Twin Cities, which reveals at least 120 ghost guns have been tied to crimes over a 17-month period, although some police departments do not track ghost gun data.
In Minneapolis, police recovered 69 ghost guns between January 2021 and June 2022. In that same timeframe, St. Paul police recovered 38 ghost guns.
NYE Mall of America Ghost Gun Shooting
On New Year’s Eve, Kahlil Wiley, 19, fired a single gunshot in the Mall of America, which was packed with thousands of holiday shoppers. A teenage victim was shot and injured, while a bystander was grazed by a bullet. Surveillance video shows the terrifying moments for shoppers as they ran or hid for safety.
Wiley told investigators he was being chased by someone he had a beef with when he opened fire. Wiley is currently serving a 45-month prison sentence for the shooting.
The gun used in Wiley’s case was, in fact, a ghost gun — a firearm he flaunted on social media posts.
In a recorded police interrogation obtained by the FOX 9 Investigators, Wiley told police the kind of gun he brought to the mall was a "P-80… a glock," referring to a Polymer 80.
Wiley also told investigators the gun was "handmade" and had "a flashlight, two laser beams and a muzzle" and that he ordered it online.
Ghost Gun Tied to Richfield School Shooting
A ghost gun may have also played a key role in the deadly school shooting which took place outside the South Education Center in Richfield back in February.
The FOX 9 Investigators have confirmed a ghost gun was recovered by authorities in connection to the shooting where 15-year-old Jahmari Rice was killed.
Two teenage suspects face murder charges in the case.
Ghost Guns Legality
So-called ghost guns have no serial numbers and can be purchased online via unassembled kits without a background check. At the moment, that is legal since ghost gun kits are not technically considered a firearm by the federal government, at least for now.
"They're perfectly legally following the law as it exists," said Special Agent in Charge William McCrary, of the ATF in St. Paul. "It allows juveniles and prohibited people, felons to potentially get their hands on those."
McCrary told the FOX 9 Investigators anecdotally that law enforcement has seen a "doubling just about every year" of ghost guns tied to crimes.
Ghost Guns & Criminals
The pipeline for ghost guns to criminals is shockingly brazen, as exemplified by the criminal case against 23-year-old Dayton Sauke of Owatonna, who first caught the attention of federal investigators in December 2020.
Videos posted on social media show Sauke shooting a variety of firearms and showing off, ghost guns he apparently built from online kits. Sauke claimed he sold 120 glocks in 2020 alone, according to court documents.
"He was advertising and catering toward people with felony convictions… as customers," said AFT Special Agent Sara Thomas.
In January 2021, Sauke was busted in an undercover sting shortly after he made threatening posts on social media about killing cops and violence at the state capitol.
As part of the investigation, the ATF seized Sauke’s trove of ghost gun kits and tools, including an automated machine designed to accelerate the manufacturing of potentially hundreds of guns.
Sauke is now serving a 31-month sentence for possession of an unregistered firearm.
New Ghost Gun Rule
The White House is set to enact a new rule regulating ghost guns this week.
The new rule will require ghost guns — including those unassembled build-to-shoot kits – must have a serial number to make it easier to track if used in a crime. Background checks will also be required.
"These guns are weapons of choice for many criminals," President Biden previously said. "We’re going to do everything we can to deprive them of that choice."
The new rule would prevent convicted felons like Sauke and the New Year’s Eve Mall of America Shooter Kahlil Wiley from being allowed to legally purchase a ghost gun directly from an online vendor.
However, it’s unclear how the new rule might affect violent crime throughout the Twin Cities especially given that not every police department is currently tracking ghost gun data.
The rule is scheduled to take effect on August 24.