Minnesota law bans possession of ghost guns. Critics want to dismantle it.

When a 17-year-old standout basketball player was shot and killed in Brooklyn Park in 2022, investigators recovered a "ghost gun" connected to the crime. 

Investigators say the firearm tied to Syoka Siko’s death did not have a serial number and was purchased online by someone underage. 

The gun was one of 44 ghost guns recovered by the department since 2022. 

Siko’s death remains unsolved and highlights the challenges facing police as they try to address shootings fueled by firearms that are easy to get and hard to trace.

"Most of the crimes that we see that involve firearms, they’re ghost guns," said Brooklyn Police Inspector Elliot Faust.  

Under Minnesota law, the simple possession of a firearm without a serial number is a crime. As the FOX 9 Investigators previously found, it’s a statute law enforcement has increasingly leveraged to target ghost guns.

"We’re looking for ways to use that statute to try and impact the problem," Faust said

However, this week the Minnesota Supreme Court will hear arguments on a case that challenges the validity of the state law. 

Gun rights advocates say the law is "unconstitutionally vague" and unfairly penalizes law-abiding gun owners.

But supporters of the law, including police in Brooklyn Park, say stripping it down would impact public safety.

State charges surge 

A FOX 9 Investigators analysis of state court data reveals police in Minnesota are finding more ghost guns than ever, including during murder investigations, drug operations and even shoplifting cases. 

Last year, 170 people were charged – that’s 10 times the amount in 2020. At least 71 people have been convicted in that same timeframe.

Herbert Campbell of Sherburne County was convicted after law enforcement found a loaded AR-15 without a serial number hidden in his bathroom wall in 2021 while investigating a meth trafficking operation.

When Logal Vagle was involved in a single-vehicle rollover crash in Anoka County in February 2022, a responding state trooper discovered a Glock 19 pistol without a serial number.

Vagle was charged under the state statute for possession of an unserialized firearm. But his case is now at the center of the debate and headed for the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Minnesota Supreme Court 

When Vagle’s case was initially thrown out, the district court judge in Anoka County called the law "exceedingly vague" and pointed to discrepancies with federal law. 

Prosecutors appealed the lower court’s decision. During the appeal hearing, Vagle’s defense attorney Anders Erickson argued that under federal law "there’s no requirement" for a privately made firearm to need a serial number. 

"If my client would have brought his firearm to a gunsmith, the gunsmith would have been charged with a felony because the gunsmith is possessing a privately made firearm without a serial number," Erickson told the appellate court. "There has to be some sort of specific explanation for Minnesotans – law-abiding Minnesotans – how they follow the statute."

The appellate court reversed the district court’s decision – and now the case is scheduled to be heard by the Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday. 

Ownership and accountability

In a statement to the FOX 9 Investigators, the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus added that the state statute would also make "a great number of heirloom firearms also illegal." 

However, attorney Megan Walsh said the language of the law is "very clear" and that Minnesota has the right to prohibit firearms without serial numbers because of "huge safety concerns." 

Walsh authored a brief for the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office defending the state law. 

"This statute has been on the books for decades and gun owners, just like every citizen and person in Minnesota has an obligation to know what the law is and to comply with it," Walsh said. 

As communities throughout Minnesota continue to grapple with gun violence, Brooklyn Park Inspector Faust hopes the current statute will stay intact. 

"I don’t think that having a serial number is going to make criminals stop using guns in crimes but it does help us investigate it," Faust said. "It helps there to be a little more accountability over who owns the gun."