They are untraceable, assembled from parts and can be ordered by gang members, felons and even children. They are increasingly the lethal weapon of easy access around the U.S., but especially California.

Max Mendoza’s parents awakened just after dawn to the echoing clap-pop of a gunshot, and ran from their bedroom to find their 12-year-old son propped against the couch, eyes wide in pain, terror and surprise, the New York Times reported.

“It’s the real one. It’s the real one,” Max whispered, clutching his chest, seemingly astounded that a weapon resembling a toy, a cheap-looking brown-and-black pistol, could end his life in an instant.

But it did. Investigators in this city just south of San Diego are still trying to determine exactly what happened on that Saturday morning in July — if the seventh-grader accidentally shot himself, or if his 15-year-old friend, who the police say had brought the weapon into the apartment, discharged it while showing it off.

What is certain is the kind of weapon that killed Max. It was a “ghost gun.”

Ghost guns — untraceable firearms without serial numbers, assembled from components bought online — are increasingly becoming the lethal weapon of easy access for those legally barred from buying or owning guns around the country. The criminal underground has long relied on stolen weapons with sanded-off serial numbers, but ghost guns represent a digital-age upgrade, and they are especially prevalent in coastal blue states with strict firearm laws.

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