Authorities have broken up what they say was a South Jersey criminal network trafficking in drugs -- as well as "ghost guns."

The latter are untraceable weapons that can be put together from parts ordered online or otherwise manufactured independently. And they're newly illegal in New Jersey under a measure Gov. Phil Murphy signed last year -- targeted weapons including those 3D-printed from schematics available online.

In the bust announced this week, authorities say, they seized six "ghost" AR-15 weapons, in addition to cash and illicit drugs. Twelve people were charged in all -- though only four of them in connection with the weapons.

According to Jill Mayer, the deputy director of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, “this is the first time any defendant has been charged in a ghost gun trafficking case (in New Jersey)."

The measure Murphy signed outlaws buying, manufacturing, possessing or selling the weapons in the Garden State.

State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said ghost guns are a real and dangerous menace because they cannot be traced.

“They offer criminals, convicted felons, terrorists, domestic abusers, people we all agree shouldn’t own firearms the ability to access them," he said.

He also said the takedown of the alleged Camden ghost gun network, dubbed of Operation Stone Wall, is alarming “because it shows that the threat of ghost guns to public safety and to law enforcement safety is not abstract. It’s real. It highlights the black market that exists among criminals for these untraceable guns.”

He said ghost guns allow criminal networks to have access to weapons “but it also gives the ability to individuals to go online, buy nearly completed firearms, the kits to complete them, and directions online on how to complete them.”

Grewal said those "kits" have nearly ready-to-go weapons.

"Buyers finish them using parts sold by the same manufacturers  following simple instructions that are sometimes posted online," he said.

Even though the Garden State now has a ghost gun ban, the defendants were allegedly able to get the products they were seeking by having them shipped to an address in Bensalem Pennsylvania, which is right across the Delaware River from New Jersey.

Grewal said as efforts to enact a ghost gun ban were being formulated legislatively, “cease and desist” letters were sent to ghost gun manufacturers last June, warning them to stop shipping their products to New Jersey or face legal action.

He said efforts are continuing “to hold manufacturers accountable for helping evade background checks and registration requirements, and for putting dangerous untraceable weapons in the hands of criminals in New Jersey.”

He said he couldn't comment on which manufacturers were respecting the ban, "other than to say we continue to investigate actively any companies attempting to sell ghost guns or ghost gun parts in New Jersey.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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